Photo: Olivia Cunningham of Valley Regional (22, dark uniform) penetrates the lane as Jessica Grodzicki of Cromwell steps in to contest her shot in the second half. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri

CROMWELL – Olivia Cunningham, a major factor in Valley Regional’s frontcourt, is comfortable driving the lane or playing with her back to the basket. She had the opportunity to do both Thursday night against Cromwell and turned in perhaps her best game of the season.

The junior forward scored a game-high 22 points as the Warriors pulled away from the Panthers in the final two minutes for a 49-45 Shoreline Conference victory at Jake Salafia Gymnasium.

“Because of my size, being around the hoop is much easier a place for me to contribute,” said the 5-foot-11 Cunningham, who shot 9 of 16 from the floor. “Since we have so many shooting threats on this team – Regan Grow, Abby Bradbury, Siena Schaller – the drives are always going to be open.”

On a night Valley didn’t shoot the lights out, Cunningham’s contributions were critical. Bradbury finished with 9 points, Schaller had 7 and Grow 6.

“Being a junior, the expectation this season was for Olivia to step up,” Valley interim head coach Bryan Field said. “She’s been growing into her role. She grew a few inches over the summer and she knows she can shoot over girls. She took over tonight and it was much needed.”

The Warriors improved to 7-2 overall with their fifth straight win, remaining among the Shoreline’s upper echelon of Coginchaug (9-1), East Hampton (8-1) and the Panthers (6-3).

Valley also won on Cromwell’s home floor during last year’s Shoreline tournament.

“We knew they would come strong at us (tonight), so this was a big one for us,” Cunningham said. “It’s a great win.”

Cromwell senior forward Adela Cecunjanin scored a team-high 15 points. Senior forward Nevaeh Clark, who was saddled by foul trouble in the second half, finished with 14. The Panthers struggled to knock down shots over the length of the game, finishing at 31 percent (16 of 52).

“We didn’t shoot it well and that’s a credit to their defense,” Cromwell coach Sal Morello said. “They forced us into not a lot of high-percentage shots. When you shoot the way we did, you’re not going to beat any good teams.”

Valley led 12-5 after eight minutes and 24-20 at halftime. The Warriors pushed the lead to 29-20 before Cromwell’s first basket of the third quarter, a put-back by Cecunjanin at the 3:28 mark.

With Clark on the bench with her third foul, the Warriors took advantage. Cunningham scored twice from the lane, with Regan Grow converting from inside in between her teammate’s buckets to give Valley its largest lead of the night at 35-24.

A 3-pointer by Grace Mikan and two Cecunjanin free throws over the final 1:21 of the quarter put Cromwell back in it at 35-29.

The Panthers weren’t able to dig out of their deficit in the fourth quarter and lost Clark to her fifth foul with 2:47 remaining. The Panthers got as close as 43-40 on Jessica Grodzicki’s 18-foot jumper with 2:04 left. Senior Liz Allen hit both ends of a one-and-one for Valley with 19.8 seconds left and Bradbury did the same with 5.4 to go for a 49-42 advantage.

“We’ve been much better of late, but we’re not quite there yet,” said Morello, whose midway through his first season as head coach after 13 years Kelly Maher’s top assistant. “The girls are playing hard. We can fix everything else. Of course we’d like to be 9-0, but it’s where you finish that matters and we have a lot of basketball left.”

Abby Bradbury 2 4-4 9, Siena Schaller 3 0-0 7, Lily Grow 1 1-2 3, Regan Grow 3 0-2 6, Olivia Cunningham 9 4-4 22, Liz Allen 0 2-2 2. Totals: 18 11-14 49.

Grace Mikan 2 0-0 6, Cameryn Hickey 0 0-2 0, Jessica Grodzicki 4 0-2 8, Nevaeh Clark 4 4-6 14, Adela Cecunjanin 5 4-4 15, Brynn Kovacs 1 0-0 2. Totals: 16 8-14 45.

Score by quarters
Valley Regional..12 12 11 14–49
Cromwell…………..5 15  9 16–45

3-pointers: Valley–Bradbury 1, Schaller 1; Cromwell–Mikan 2, Clark 2, Cecunjanin 1.

Elsewhere in the Shoreline on Thursday:

Coginchaug 47, Morgan 31

MORGAN (3-7)
Maeve Madura 2 2-2 6, Caley Ayer 2 4-6 8, Ava Johnson 1 0-2 2, Sofie Passante 2 0-1 4, Katie Martin 2 3-4 7, Victoria O’Neill 1 0-1 2, Eva Sullivan 1 0-0 2. Totals: 11 9-16 31.

Allison Sambor 3 2-2 10, Hannah Nielsen 3 0-0 6, Sophie Farr 2 0-0 4, Katie Farr 3 0-1 6, Mia Poturnicki 4 1-2 9, Chloe Shafir 5 2-2 12. Totals: 20 5-7 47.

Score by quarters
Morgan……….4  9  7 11-31
Coginchaug…9 12 12 14–47

3-pointers: Coginchaug–Sambor 2.

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