By Marc Silvestrini
CLINTON – There are average defensive efforts in the game of basketball, good defensive efforts and then there is the kind of defense the swarming, aggressive Cromwell High girls’ basketball team played against Morgan on Friday night.
Trailing 19-11 midway through the second quarter, the Panthers limited the Huskies to just 10 points over the game’s final two and a half quarters to take home a 48-29 win in the Shoreline Conference.
“We didn’t play with great intensity on defense at the start of the game. We seemed to be late on everything, we just weren’t very aggressive,” Cromwell coach Kelly Maher said. “But as we got into the second quarter we got things turned around. We started playing tougher, we did a better job of talking and communicating to each other, we started applying some good pressure on them.”
The win improves defending conference champion Cromwell’s record to 5-3 overall, 5-0 in league play. Morgan drops to 5-3 both on the season and in conference play.
The uptick in the Panthers’ defensive effort helped them score nine of the last 11 points in the first half and outscore the Huskies 13-3 in the third quarter and 15-5 in the fourth.
“Cromwell got some momentum going in that second quarter and I think we let it get to us a little,” Morgan coach Caitlin Woods. “Sometimes, when you’re playing a good team that is starting to put some pressure on you and make a run, you can start to panic a bit.”
Noting that her team starts two freshmen and that only seven players saw action in the game, Woods said that fatigue might also have played a role in Morgan’s second-half problems.
“I think our tough second half was a combination of three things,” she said. “I think we got a little flustered by their defense, I think we were a little fatigued and, probably most important of all, Cromwell is a very, very good team.”
The Panthers scored seven of the game’s first 11 points to race off to a 7-4 lead with 2:23 to play, but a layup by Katelyn Martin off a feed from Caeley Ayer and drive through the lane by Caitlyn Donadio gave the Huskies an 8-7 lead with 28 seconds to play in the quarter.
Cromwell’s Nevaeh Clark, however, scored on a put back from underneath in the final second of the quarter to stake the Panthers to 9-8 lead after eight minutes of play.
A steal and layup by Cromwell’s Monica Dewey stretched the lead to 11-8 in the opening seconds of the second quarter, but five points from Leah McComiskey, four from Donadio and a pair of free throws by Ayer enabled the Huskies to score 11 straight points to grab a 19-11 advantage with 3:43 left in the half.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, that was to be their last stand as Cromwell’s defense took charge of the game from there.
Cromwell began its comeback on a pair of buckets by Vanessa Stolstajner and three points by Clark, which enabled the Panthers to score the final seven points of the first half to close to within 19-18 at halftime.
Donadio scored on a putback from underneath to extend Morgan’s lead to 21-18 at the 7:43 mark of the third quarter. A seven-point explosion by Sadie Budzik and six more points from Stolstajner, however, helped the Panthers outscore Morgan 13-1 over the final five and a half minutes as Cromwell sprinted to a 33-24 lead after three quarters of play.
Budzik hit a 3-pointer off a feed from Stolstajner in the opening seconds of the final quarter to extend the lead to 12, at 36-24, and the Huskies were never again able close to within 10 points of the lead.
From there, led by Khaya Skene’s six points, the Panthers outscored Morgan 12-2 to widen their lead to 48-26 before Donadio converted a three-point play in the final seconds to set the final score at 48-29.
Stolstajner paved the way for Cromwell with a 16-point effort while Budzik had 11 and Skene and Clark had six apiece. Skene also grabbed 15 rebounds for the Panthers.
Donadio has 12 points for the Huskies while Ayer had 11 points and 5 assists and McComiskey chipped in with 5 points and 8 rebounds.
Cromwell will host Valley Regional on Tuesday and travel to North Branford next Friday.
Morgan will play two non-conference games next week, a non-conference home game against Old Saybrook on Tuesday and a road game against Amistad in New Haven on Thursday.
Sadie Budzik 4 1-3 11, Khaya Skene 3 0-1 6, Adela Cecunjanin 1 0-0 2, Nevaeh Clark 1 4-8 6, Vanessa Stolstajner 7 2-2 16, Likhita Chanda 1 0-0 2, Monica Dewey 2 0-0 5. Totals: 19 7-14 48.
Catie Donadio 4 4-5 12, Caeley Ayer 2 2-2 6, Alyse Olcott 0 0-0 0, Rachel Lehn 0 0-0 0, Leah McComiskey 2 0-0 5, Alex Kelly 1 0-0 2, Katie Martin 2 0-2 4. Totals: 11 6-9 29.
Score By Quarters
C 9 11 13 15—48
M 8 13 3 5—29
3-Pointers: C—Budzik 2, M. Dewey 1; M— McComiskey 1.
Records: Cromwell 5-3, 5-0; Morgan 5-3. 5-3.