Pictured: Cromwell’s Sadie Budzik fires up a shot from downtown during the Panthers’ Class M tournament quarterfinal game against SMSA. Budzik scored 11 points as Cromwell rolled into the semifinals 64-39.
By Marc Silvestrini
CROMWELL – After a slow and sluggish start in its CIAC Class M quarterfinal game against Hartford-based Sports and Medical Sciences Academy, the Cromwell High girls basketball team exploded in the second quarter to outscore the Tigers 22-6 on their way to a 64-39 win.
Cromwell, the defending Class M state champion, will now play Bloomfield, an 82-34 winner over Seymour on Monday, on Friday night in the semifinal round at a neutral site to be determined.
The other side of the semifinal bracket includes Holy Cross, the No. 3 seed, and the winner of the Coginchaug-Canton game, which was suspended due to a power outage Monday night and will be picked up again on Tuesday with Canton, the No. 2 seed, holding an 11-point lead late in the first half.
Cromwell is now 17-8 on the season. SMSA ends its campaign at 13-10.
Cromwell coach Kelly Maher said she was pleased with the way the Panthers shook off some early-game jitters and concentrated on doing the things the coaching staff had been emphasizing in the past few practices once the second quarter started.
Those points included putting pressure on SMSA’s guards to prevent them from driving to the basket for easy layups and doing a better job on the offensive boards to create second-chance opportunities.
“We ran our offense much better in the second quarter and we started to rebound and make some shots,” she said. “I thought that once we got over that first quarter and found our rhythm, we really started to play better.
“Overall, I’d say we played pretty well tonight.”
Senior forward Vanessa Stolstajner – the Shoreline Conference’s Player of the Year – played her almost requisite strong all-around game, scoring a game-high 24 points with 7 rebounds and 5 assists.
Freshman Nevaeh Clark chipped in with 11 points and 9 rebounds, Sadie Budzik added 10 points and 4 assists and Adela Cecunjanin, another freshman, had 9 points and a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.
Kalissa Jameson led SMSA with 14 points and 5 assists while Kiatyanna Denmark added 12 points.
Stolstajner scored from underneath in the game’s first minute and Budzik followed with a 3-pointer from the corner to stake the Panthers to an early 5-0 lead, but the Tigers scored six of the next eight to close to within 7-6 with two minutes to play in the opening quarter.
A Cecunjanin free throw stretched the Panthers’ lead to two, but Denmark banked a short jumper with 7 seconds left in the quarter to tie the game after one quarter of play.
“We played a pretty solid first quarter, but then we stopped making shots and it’s pretty hard to beat a good team like Cromwell if the ball isn’t going in the hoop for you,” SMSA coach John Antolini said. “Going into the game, I thought both of these teams were talented and that whoever executed a little bit better would wind up winning the game.
“Well, they simply executed better than we did.”
Led by Stolstajner’s 11 points and 7 from Clark, Cromwell took firm control of the game by hitting the Tigers with a 20-2 run over the first six minutes of the second quarter to build a 28-10 lead. Denmark and Destiny Berrios hit back-to-back jumpers over the final minute and a half to cut the lead to 14, but Budzik closed the first half with a 20-footer to give Cromwell a comfortable 30-14 advantage at halftime.
“We really started jelling in the second quarter and playing our game,” Budzik said. “We stopped relying so much on our outside shooting and started working the ball into the paint. “When we start playing like that, we’re a pretty hard team to slow down.”
SMSA never managed to really slow the Panthers down in the second half. Cromwell’s Monica Dewey opened the third quarter with a baseline drive to pad the Panther lead to 18, before the Tigers scored five in a row to pull to within 13 with 5:54 to play in the quarter.
But the visitors were to get no closer.
Budzik converted a drive through the lane into a conventional three-point play to stretch the Panthers’ lead back to 16, and the two teams traded baskets for the next four minutes before baskets by Jessica Grodzicki and Cecunjanin in the final minute of the quarter stretched the Panther lead to 20, at 46-26, entering the final quarter of play.
The Tigers opened the fourth with a 10-4 run to scramble back to within 14 at 50-36 with four minutes remaining, but Cecunjanin scored six points to spark a 14-2 Cromwell run over the next three minutes that sealed the victory.
“I thought we played well on defense tonight. We really didn’t give them a lot of easy shots,” Maher said, adding that her team – now two wins away from successfully defending its Class M state title – would next be facing a Bloomfield team that’s “very quick, plays good defense and can shoot the three.”
Cromwell 64, SMSA 39
Kalissa Jameson 4 4-12 14, Rebecca Mayer 1 4-4 6, Destiny Berrios 2 0-0 4, Kiatyanna Denmark 5 2-5 12, Chyna Jones 1 0-0 2, Noni Jones 0 1-2 1. Totals: 13 11-23 39.
Sadie Budzik 4 1-1 10, Monica Dewey 1 0-0 2, Khaya Skene 0 2-6 2, Nevaeh Clark 4 3-3 11, Vanessa Stolstajner 7 10-11 24, Adela Cecunjanin 4 1-2 9, Erica Dewey 0 0-0 0, Madison Tessmer 0 0-0 0, Brynn Kovacs 1 0-0 2, Jessica Grodzicki 1 0-0 2, Likita Chanda 1 0-0 2, Marykate Sullivan 0 0-0 0, Grace Mikan 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 17-23 64.
Score By Quarters
SMSA 8 6 12 13—39
Crom 8 22 16 18—64
3-Pointers: SMSA—Jameson 2; C—Budzik 1.
Records: SMSA 13-11, Cromwell 17-8.