Pictured: Morgan’s Catie Donadio, right, pressures Cromwell point guard Monica Dewey in their Shoreline tournament semifinal game Wednesday in Clinton.
By Marc Silvestrini
CLINTON – Trailing by a deuce entering the final quarter, the Morgan girls basketball team hit Cromwell with a 17-2 run over the first seven minutes to seal a 50-37 win that vaulted the Huskies into their second straight Shoreline Conference tournament title game.
No. 2 seed Morgan (11-3) will play at undefeated East Hampton on Friday (5pm) in a rematch of last year’s tournament final. Cromwell, which entered Wednesday’s game riding an eight-game winning streak, finished its season at 9-3.
Morgan deployed an old and reliable strategy in the fourth quarter — get the ball into the hands of All-State, All-Shoreline, All-Everything playmaker Caitie Donadio as early and as often as possible. That plan worked to perfection as Donadio provided a key assist and buried five of six crucial free throws during the run.
But the Huskies also were able to mix things up during their fourth-quarter charge, getting major contributions from freshman guard Ava Johnson, sophomore guard Caeley Ayer and senior center Alex Kelly.
Johnson stole the ball early in the opening minute of the final quarter and fed Kelly for the layup that pulled the Huskies even at 33. One minute and 14 seconds later, after Ayer’s steal and layup had given
Morgan its first lead since early in the second quarter at 35-33, Johnson buried a long 3-pointer that made it 38-33 with 5:21 to play.
Kelly then banked home a layup off a pretty feed from Donadio, whose drive through the lane had drawn the attention of three Panther defenders, to make it 37-33.
From there, five Donadio free throws and a 3-pointer from Ayer made it 48-35 with 54 seconds to play, punching Morgan’s ticket to the tournament final.
“I’d like to say it was great coaching, but it was really all on the kids tonight, especially in that fourth quarter,” Morgan coach Caitlin Woods said. “They really dug deep. They started playing tougher, smarter defense, they moved the ball well on offense … they really put everything together.
“This team has set some really high expectations for itself, and tonight they really dug down deep to keep those expectations alive.”
Donadio, who is arguably the best player in the Shoreline, led all scorers with 21 points, adding 12 rebounds and five assists. Ayer — Donadio’s first cousin — added 12 points while Katie Martin chipped in with eight. Kelly had a monster game on the boards with 14 rebounds to go along with her six points.
Sophomores Nevaeh Clark and Adela Cecunjanin led the Panthers with 12 and nine points, respectively. Each had nine rebounds. A third sophomore, Jessica Grodzicki, had five points and nine assists.
“We missed some shots at the beginning of the (fourth) quarter, while they made a few and that changed the flow of the game,” Cromwell coach Kelly Maher said. “Then we started to rush our shots and maybe panicked a bit. We just didn’t respond well when things started slipping away.”
Cromwell began the game as if a trip to East Hampton was everyone’s most cherished dream. A five-point outburst by Likhita Chanda fueled an early run that gave the Panthers a 9-2 lead midway through the opening quarter. But two buckets by Martin, a drive by Ayer and a pair of Donadio free throws enabled the Huskies to outscore their guests 11-4 over the final portion of the quarter to shave the Panthers’ lead to 13-12 after the first eight minutes of play.
Morgan scored six of the first eight points of the second quarter to grab an 18-15 lead with six minutes left in the half, but Cecunjanin’s five-point outburst and four from Clark sparked an 11-2 Cromwell spurt over the balance of the half to give the Panthers a 26-20 halftime advantage.
A layup by Cecunjanin and Jessica Grodzicki’s 3-pointer stretched Cromwell’s lead to 10, 31-21, three minutes into the third quarter before Donadio’s seven-point outburst fueled a 10-2 Morgan run that shaved the deficit to two, at 33-31, after three quarters.
“This team is like a big family – we work very hard to win these games for each other,” Donadio said. “We know Cromwell is a very good, very aggressive team, but we never felt like we couldn’t come back and win. We knew we just had to work harder in that final quarter and play better basketball.”
Donadio, who will be playing basketball at Connecticut College next winter, said she is both excited and sad about the prospect of playing East Hampton on Friday – excited to be in a position to win the tournament title but saddened by the knowledge that Friday will be the last time she ever puts on a Huskies uniform.
“I’m sure I’ll have some mixed feeling between now and the start of the game,” she said.
No. 2 Morgan 50, No. 3 Cromwell 37
Marykate Sullivan 1 0-0 2, Jessica Grodzicki 2 0-2 5, Nevaeh Clark 6 0-2 12, Monica Dewey 2 0-2 4, Likhita Chanda 2 0-0 5, Adela Cecunjanin 4 0-0 9. Totals: 17 0-6 37.
Catie Donadio 4 12-14 21, Caeley Ayer 5 0-0 12, Katie Martin 4 0-0 8, Sofie Passante 0 0-0 0, Alex Kelly 3 0-0 6, Ava Johnson 1 0-1 3. Totals: 17 12-15 50.
Score By Quarters
C 13 13 7 4–37
M 12 8 11 19–50
3-Pointers: C–Grodzicki 1, Chanda 1, Cecunjanin 1; M–Ayer 2, Johnson 1, Donadio 1.