Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team won two of its last three games to get into a little groove after a tough start to the season.
The Nighthawks beat Bethel 50-34 on the road on January 9 in a game that had been postponed twice because of inclement weather. Then, after falling to a tough Lauralton Hall of Milford team 56-42 the next night, the Hawks earned a 45-28 win at Brookfield on January 14.
“I think it’s good for the team morale,” Newtown’s Cassie Ekstrom said of the recent winning ways that followed a 1-4 start. “We’re playing really well together. We’re really intense and aggressive.”
Ekstrom is one of the players leading that charge. She’s been Newtown’s jack of all trades contributor on the court — scoring from all over, rebounding, and coming up with steals.
Ekstrom scored a game-best 17 points, pulled down 14 rebounds — ten on defense — and had five steals in the win over Brookfield.
She’s not doing it alone, however, Coach Jeremy O’Connell notes. He pointed out that the Hawks have been getting contributions from throughout the lineup in recent games.
“The last three games we’re starting to play up to our ability,” O’Connell said.
In the most recent win, Mali Klorczyk had two rebounds, registered six assists, and came away with four steals. Kelly Merrick had four rebounds, and Eliza Eggleston and Mary Joe Rossi each had five boards. Klorczyk and Ekstrom both drained a trio of 3-pointers. Newtown’s defense was stellar, holding Brookfield to just two third-quarter points to turn a 25-18 halftime lead into a 33-20 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Newtown, in the win over Bethel, got 14 points from Klorczyk, nine each from Rossi and Merrick, and eight from Lynch. Klorczyk and Lynch had 12 and 11, respectively, in the Lauralton game. NHS led 16-14 after on quarter but Lauralton seized control in the second and never looked back.
O’Connell warned, back in the preseason, that it would be a difficult beginning to the campaign given some inexperience and the early-season matchups that included the first of two with South-West Conference rival Lauralton, and battles with Kolbe Cathedral of Bridgeport, along with nonconference foes Farmington and Saddle River Day of New Jersey. Lauralton and Kolbe came into this week as the only remaining unbeaten squads in the SWC. Newtown’s other early game in that group was against Immaculate of Danbury, which would also have remained unbeaten if not for the Hawks winning; Immaculate won six of its first seven games.
“We had such a brutal schedule,” said O’Connell, adding that it’s not an excuse.
It’s a fact.
Newtown took advantage of an easier portion of the slate with the two recent wins (Bethel fell to 4-4 and Brookfield fell to 2-7). Although the remainder of the schedule isn’t a cakewalk, it doesn’t stand to be as challenging as what the team was up against early on.
Newtown will host a 4-5 Notre Dame-Fairfield squad on Friday, January 17, at 7 pm, then tangle with the Pomperaug of Southbury Panthers, which began the year an impressive 6-2 overall, in back-to-back games, January 18 (at Western Connecticut State University), and January 21 (in Southbury) — both at 7 pm. Newtown still has contests with teams at or above .500 thus far, but also awaits clashes with some of the SWC’s struggling squads, including Stratford, Oxford, and Weston, which were all winless in conference play heading into the week.
“If we play hard we have an opportunity to have a lot of success down the stretch,” O’Connell said.