BETHEL — Credit the Nighthawks for showing plenty of fight. Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team dug into a large deficit to make things a bit interesting down the stretch, but ultimately fell 43-33 to top-seeded Lauralton Hall of Milford in the South-West Conference tournament semifinals at Bethel High on February 25.
The fifth-seeded Nighthawks, down 39-23 with three and a half minutes to play, chipped away to give themselves a chance, something Coach Jeremy O’Connell views as a sign of growth on the part of his team.
“Our kids have bonded together and they play great together — and I’m proud of them,” said O’Connell, noting that his squad, early on in the campaign, might have let the game get way out of control once it was in a double-digit hole.
On this night, there was no quit. Cassie Ekstrom sank a 3-pointer to pull Newtown to within 39-26 with 3:20 left. Less than a half-minute later, Sarah Lynch finished off a fast break set up by Ekstrom, and her layup made it 39-28. After Lauralton responded with a hoop, Newtown’s Haley Ryan dove to the floor to force a jump ball on the offensive end of the court and, eventually, led to another Ekstrom 3-pointer. It was 41-31 with two minutes to go. The Nighthawks made a stop and had possession with a chance to get the deficit down to single digits but a turnover all but ended the underdog squad’s hopes of pulling off an upset.
O’Connell noted that Lauralton is 15-0 in the conference and 20-1 overall this winter for a reason. Lauralton made things difficult on the Nighthawks, limiting quality shooting chances and converting its opportunities, as it does on pretty much every other team.
Lauralton advances to face No. 2 Kolbe Cathedral of Bridgeport in the February 27 championship game.
In the tourney-ending loss for Newtown, Ekstrom had six points, ten rebounds, three assists, three steals, and three blocks. Lynch had nine points; Mary Joe Rossi had six points and six rebounds; Mali Klorczyk added four points and six boards; and Kelly Merrick also dropped in four points.
The Nighthawks will try to bounce back in the state tournament which gets going in early March.