By Marc Silvestrini
OLD LYME — Something had to give.
The girls basketball teams at Cromwell and Old Lyme high schools both entered Thursday’s Shoreline Conference showdown riding long winning streaks.
Old Lyme entered the game with eight wins in a row under its belt. Cromwell had put together a six-game winning streak. Someone was going to taste defeat for the first time in almost a month.
“Cromwell is a good team and tonight they just seemed stronger and more aggressive than us,” Old Lyme coach Don Bugbee said in assessing his team’s 54-34 loss to the visiting Panthers.
“If you start making mistakes and don’t make your shots against a team as good as Cromwell, they’re going to capitalize on that,” he said. “They’re a very tough, very solid team.”
The Panthers used their typically rugged, physical, no-holds-barred defense and rebounding game to wear down the Wildcats and steadily pull away as the game progressed.
After grabbing a four-point lead through the first quarter of play, the Panthers inexorably extended their advantage to 10 at the half and 16 after three quarters. The lead grew to 23 with just under three minutes to play.
Both teams are 8-2 on the season with two games to play. Monday’s matchups – Old Lyme visits first-place East Hampton (10-0) and Cromwell is scheduled to play Hale-Ray — will finalize the seedings for the upcoming 12-team Shoreline tournament.
“We picked up our intensity tonight and played very hard against a very good team,” Cromwell coach Kelly Maher said. “I thought we played well on defense tonight and moved very well without the ball and made our cuts on offense.”
Sophomores Mary Kate Sullivan and Jessica Grodzicki led the Panthers’ scoring parade with 15 and 14 points, respectively, while another sophomore, Adela Cecunjanin, had nine points and 10 rebounds. Senior point guard Monica Dewey posted seven assists and played a virtually flawless floor game.
Senior Emily DeRoehn, clearly one of the conference’s best players, led all scorers with 16 points while Ali Kyle chipped in with seven. DeRoehn and Megan Loflin each had eight rebounds for the Wildcats.
A baseline drive by Sullivan off a feed from Cecunjanin and a layup by Dewey off a pretty pass from Grodzicki enabled the Panthers to break a 7-7 tie in the final two minutes of the first quarter and grab an 11-7 lead they would never relinquish.
Cecunjanin then scored five points in the first two minutes of the second quarter to spark an 8-2 Cromwell run that extended the lead to 10, at 21-11. The teams then traded buckets until the final two minutes of the half when Cecunjanin banked home a feed from Sullivan, and Sullivan scored on a layup off a nifty feed from Nevaeh Clark to increase the lead to 14 at 29-15.
DeRoehn closed the half by swishing a 15-footer and sinking a pair of free throws to set the halftime score at 29-19.
Behind a balanced scoring attack, the Panthers then put the game away by outscoring the Wildcats 13-6 over the first six minutes of the third quarter, stretching their lead to 42-25. Sullivan and Grodzicki both had four points during the game-clinching spurt while Likhita Chanda had three and Cecunjanin had a bucket.
Cromwell, a team primarily made up of four precocious sophomores and two smart and savvy seniors, started the season by dropping two of its first three games. The losses were to league powers East Hampton and Morgan.
Since then, the Panthers have been perfect.
“We knew they had won eight straight, but we also knew we needed to win this game to show everyone in the league what we’re made of,” said Dewey, one of those smart and savvy seniors (Chanda is the other).
“Tonight’s game was a great step forward for us, not only because we won, but because we played well and executed in all the areas we knew we had to execute,” Dewey said. “Tonight,” she concluded, “we played up to our potential.”
Her coach agreed.
“This is a young team and we got off to a rough start, but I think we’re turning things around,” she said. “I think we’re getting better and better every game.”
Monica Dewey 2 0 4, Nevaeh Clark 2 0 6, Jessica Grodzicki 5 3 14, Adela Cecunjanin 4 0 9, Likhita Chanda
2 0 6, Mary Kate Sullivan 7 1 15, Kayla Nappi 0 0 0, Cameryn Hickey 0 0 0. Totals: 22 4 54.
OLD LYME (8-2)
Grace Lathrop 1 0 2, Samantha Gray 2 0 5, Ellery Zrenda 0 0 0, Emily DeRoehn 7 2 16, Megan Loflin 1 0 2,
Ali Kyle 3 0 7, Alexis Fenton 1 0 2, Hayley Cann 0 0 0, Ava Roth 0 0 0. Totals: 15 2 34.
Score By Quarters
C 13 16 16 9–54
OL 9 10 10 5–34
3-Pointers: C—Clark 2, Chanda 2, Grodzicki 1, Cecunjanin 1; OL—Gray 1, Kyle 1.