Pictured: Cromwell’s Vanessa Stolstajner is challenged by Morgan’s Leah McComiskey on a fourth-quarter drive to the basket in their Shoreline tournament semifinal game. The Huskies won 41-40 to reach the final.

By Marc Silvestrini

DURHAM – With time running out and her team trailing by a point in its Shoreline Conference tournament semifinal game against four-time defending champion Cromwell, Morgan’s Catie Donadio knew she had to do something and do it fast.

So with 31 seconds left on the clock, the junior point guard did what she does best – she drove the ball into the lane, even as three Cromwell defenders collapsed on her as she neared the hoop. Fighting her way through the dense traffic, she stumbled, fell to her knees and managed to throw up a desperate scoop shot just as her knees hit the floor.

The ball went in, the Panthers could not score in the final seconds despite at least two good looks at the basket, and Morgan won a wild and intense thriller of a basketball game 41-40, denying the Panthers a shot at their fifth straight tournament title.

“I barely remember taking the shot,” said Donadio, who finished with a game-high 21 points and was named First Team All-Shoreline during a postgame ceremony. “I just remember thinking time was running out and we had to make something happen real quick.”

Donadio’s game-winning bucket sends No. 3 Morgan to the tournament final on Friday where the Huskies will meet the tournament’s No. 1 seed East Hampton, a 46-21 winner over Old Lyme in the second semifinal Tuesday night.

The championship game will tip off at 7 p.m. at Old Saybrook High School.

“We broke down a little bit on the defensive end towards the end of the game, and, to their credit, Cromwell hit a bunch of big shots late in the fourth quarter to put themselves in a position to win the game,” said Morgan’s Caitlin Woods, the Shoreline’s Coach of the Year.

Catie Donadio (12) dribbles through space as Cromwell’s Sadie Budzik (4), Vanessa Stolstajner (30) and Nevaeh Clark (right) defend in the second half.

“But fortunately for us,” Woods said, “Caitlyn came through in the end, which is something she’s been doing all year, something we’ve come to expect from her. She’s so good, so steady. Nothing she does out on that court surprises us anymore.”

Morgan (17-5) took its first lead since the game’s opening minutes late in the second quarter and held it through most of the second half, building its lead to seven with 3:17 to go in the fourth quarter. But the Panthers (14-8) outscored the Huskies 13-5 over the next 2:39 to take a 40-39 lead with 38 seconds remaining.

“We finally started making some shots late in the game,” Cromwell coach Kelly Maher said. “Earlier in the game we missed a lot of easy shots, but you have to give Morgan’s defense some credit for that.

“It’s disappointing that we’re not going to get a chance to defend our title on Friday night, but I’m very proud of the fact that our kids never gave up and played their hearts all the way to the end of the game.”

Donadio also contributed 6 steals, 4 rebounds and 3 assist, while teammate Caeley Ayer, a freshman, added 10 points and 5 steals. Senior Leah McComiskey – who was also named to the first-team All SLC squad – added 5 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks to the cause.

Cromwell’s Vanessa Stolstajner – who was named the conference’s player of the year for the second straight year – finished with 16 points while Khaya Skene added 8. Freshman Nevaeh Clark tallied 6 points and 10 rebounds.

Stolstajner opened the game with a runner from the baseline to put the Panthers on the board first, but Donadio countered with three points in a row to give the Huskies their first lead at 3-2 midway through the opening quarter.

Buckets by Sadie Budzik and Adela Cecunjanin gave the Panthers a 7-3 lead, but Donadio scored the last three points of the quarter to pull the Huskies back to within 7-6 after one quarter of play.

A 3-pointer from deep in the corner by Stolstajner and a drive by Skene off a Stolstajner feed enabled Cromwell to forge its biggest lead of the night at 12-6 early in the second quarter but three buckets, including a 3-pointer by Ayer and deep 3 by McComiskey helped the Huskies outscore the defending champs 11-3 over the final six minutes of the quarter to grab a 17-15 lead at the half.

Five points from Donadio helped the Huskies stretch their lead to eight, at 27-19, over the first seven minutes of the third quarter before a pair of Stolstajner free throws and a Skene jumper helped the Panthers close the gap to four, at 27-23, heading to the fourth quarter.

Three points by McComiskey, a bucket by Alexandra Kelly and a Donadio drive enabled Morgan to stretch its lead to seven, at 34-27, with 3:17 to play, but Budzik, Clark and Stolstajner each hit 3-point bombs over the next 1:53 to help Cromwell grab its first lead since late in the second quarter at 38-36 with 1:24 to play.

Donadio hit a free throw to bring Morgan to within a point with 1:09 to play, and then stole the ball on the ensuing Panther possession and drove the length of the court for a layup that put the Huskies back in front at 39-38 with 52 seconds left.

Monica Dewey then sank a clutch pair of free throws to enable Cromwell to reclaim the lead at 40-39 with 39 seconds to play, setting up Donadio’s late-game heroics.

“Driving is the best part of my game,” Donadio said about her game-winning scoop. “But I really think tonight was a total team effort. Everybody contributed tonight, especially Leah and Alexandra, who were just great on the boards and kept getting all those rebounds.”

Box Score

Alyse Olcott 0 0-0 0, Caeley Ayer 4 0-0 10, Caitie Donadio 7 7-14 21, Katelyn Martin 0 0-0 0, Leah McComiskey 2 0-0 5, Alex Kelly 2 1-2 5, Rachel Lehn 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15 8-16 41.

Sadie Budzik 2 0-0 6, Monica Dewey 0 2-2 2, Nevaeh Clark 2 1-3 6, Khaya Skene 4 0-0 8, Vanessa Stolstajner 5 4-6 16, Erica Dewey 0 0-0 0, Adela Cecunjanin 1 0-0 2, Jessica Grodzicki 0 0-0 0, Likita Chanda 0 0-0 0, Marykate Sullivan 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 7-11 40.

Score By Quarters
M 6 11 10 14—41
C 7 8 8 17—40

3-Pointers: M—Ayer 2, McComiskey 1; C—Budzik 2, Stolstajner 2, Clark 1.
Records: Morgan 17-5, Cromwell 14-8.

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