Pictured: Lily Sokolowski (31) and Mercy teammate Jasmine Mendez (foreground) defend as Guilford’s Miabella Diaz tries to find space in the fourth quarter of Friday’s SCC Housatonic game in Middletown.
By Paul Augeri
MIDDLETOWN — The Mercy Tigers, with a starting lineup that included three freshmen, defeated Guilford 40-23 on Friday night to qualify for the Class LL tournament.
Coach Tim Kohs would care less about this, but Mercy (8-10) has reached the state tournament every year this century. The Tigers also clinched a spot in the 16-team SCC tournament later this month.
“You know what’s big? We qualified for the league tournament,” Kohs said. “That’s big for us because our league is balanced. There are some good teams, but we can beat anybody. We can lose to anybody as well. Sometimes we’re up and down and spotty, but we have a chance against (the field). There are no super teams out there.”
The Tigers, who have a four-game winning streak, used a balanced offensive attack to put away Guilford (6-11) for the second time this season.
Junior forward Lilly Hedge and freshman guards Sophie Hedge and Abby Bradbury scored 8 points apiece. Ava Giansiracusa, another freshman guard, scored 7. A total of six freshmen played the bulk of the minutes Friday.
The first half was a defensive tussle – full-court pressure, half-court pressure, hand checks, body checks, players sprawling for possession. Mercy led 7-5 after one and 18-14 at the half.
In the third quarter, when the game opened up, the Tigers found their 3-point touch.
The teams traded baskets in the first minutes 75 seconds before a three from Sophie Hedge gave Mercy a 25-18 lead with 6:20 on the clock. Faith O’Donnell’s jumper two minutes later brought the Indians back to within five before three straight scoring possessions by the Tigers sealed Guilford’s fate.
Sophie Hedge buried another 3-pointer at 2:48 for an eight-point Mercy lead. Jasmine Mendez found Lily Sokolowski cutting to the basket for an easy layup. After Sokolowski rejected a Guilford shot from the lane, freshman point guard Avery Kohs knocked down a 3-pointer 49 seconds later for a 33-20 lead that the Tigers would take into the fourth quarter.
“When we shoot the ball well, we’re good,” Kohs said. “When the game opened up a bit, we played better. This is a good group. They work hard, they play hard.”
Sokolowski, the only senior on Mercy’s roster and a first-year varsity player, finished with 4 points and 5 blocked shots.
“Lily has had a great year. She has been solid and we’ve needed her to be,” Kohs said. “She rebounds, she plays good defense and blocks a lot of shots. She’s not a super jumper, but she knows when someone’s going to shoot it and she’s there to block it.”
Kohs also singled out Lilly Hedge, the team’s go-to scorer this season. She had 20 points in Wednesday’s win over West Haven.
“Hedge does EVERYTHING on the court,” the coach said. “We’re a totally different team without her. She has been tremendous – the heart and soul of the team. We just play harder when she’s in the game and involved.”
The Tigers host East Haven on Tuesday (7pm tip-off, wcnxradio.com) in their final home game of the regular season.
Moira Kellaher 0 4-6 4, Elle Petra 3 2-2 8, Sam Leiby 1 0-2 2, Faith O’Donnell 1 4-5 6, Miabella Diaz 1 1-3 3. Totals: 6 11-18 23.
Lilly Hedge 4 0-0 8, Ava Giansiracusa 2 3-6 7, Sophie Hedge 2 2-3 8, Lily Sokolowski 2 0-0 4, Abby Bradbury 3 0-0 8, Avery Kohs 1 0-0 3, Jasmine Mendez 1 0-0 2. Totals: 15 5-9 40.
Score By Quarters
G 5 9 6 3—23
M 7 11 15 7—40
3-Pointers: M—Bradbury 2, S. Hedge 2, A. Kohs 1.