Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team has come a long way since the season tipped off in early December. The Nighthawks had their biggest win of the campaign in a 54-34 thumping of visiting New Fairfield, one of the South-West Conference’s best, on January 28.
The Hawks improved to 6-7 overall and 6-2 in conference play, and the Rebels dropped to 9-4 overall (also 6-2 in the SWC).
There was a lot to like about his team’s play — on both ends of the court — for Newtown Coach Jeremy O’Connell.
“I loved the defensive intensity. I loved that we made the extra pass to get wide-open shots,” said O’Connell, whose team withstood a 7-0 third-quarter New Fairfield run that pulled the Rebels to within 32-25. The Nighthawks responded with nine unanswered points to build a commanding 16-point lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
“Earlier in the year, we would have let them get closer, and closer, and closer, and had to scratch and fight to get a win,” the Newtown coach said.
Not on this night.
Kelly Merrick finished a 3-point play the old-fashioned way (with a bucket and foul shot) to spark Newtown’s pull-away stretch with 2:51 to play in the third. After a Newtown defensive stand, Mali Klorczyk buried one of her four 3-pointers from the corner and it was 38-25 NHS heading into the fourth.
Start of a new quarter — same result. Klorczyk sank another shot from downtown to open the fourth-quarter scoring and Newtown led 41-25 with 7:22 to play.
Klorczyk led Newtown with 19 points, Cassie Ekstrom had 16. The duo combined for seven of Newtown’s nine 3-pointers in the game, four of which came in the second quarter as the Hawks turned a 12-12 deadlock at the end of one period into a 28-18 halftime lead.
Sharing of the ball proved to be a key factor in this win. Newtown had 14 assists as a team, led by Sarah Lynch’s six helpers, four assists from Ekstrom, and another three from Klorczyk.
Klorczyk and Ekstrom both had 11 rebounds, Lynch pulled down four, Ekstrom came away with two steals, and Lynch had a takeaway. Mary Joe Rossi added five rebounds and a steal in the win.
“We worked as a team and we kept our energy up,” Klorczyk said after the win.
The win was a big one for the Nighthawks, who were coming off a 60-34 loss to nonconference foe Cromwell (a 13-1 team) the night before.
“This is definitely really significant. This is our first step,” said Lynch, adding that the Hawks will look to keep up their winning ways against conference opponents the rest of the way.
Newtown is through playing out-of-conference games, and has seven left on the slate before the start of the conference tourney, beginning with a visit to 7-7 Joel Barlow of Redding at 7 pm on Friday, January 31. Newtown returns home to face New Milford (8-6) and Weston (0-13), February 4 and 6, both at 7 pm.
The teams that have beaten the Hawks have a collective 68-10 record. They include SWC foes Lauralton Hall of Milford (which beat Newtown twice), Kolbe Cathedral of Bridgeport, and Pomperaug of Southbury. The other teams to knock off the Hawks, in addition to Cromwell, are nonconference opponents Farmington and Saddle River Day of New Jersey, which were put on the slate mostly to provide great challenges.
“The kids aren’t really happy about it, but we schedule the best opponents we possibly can because it’s only going to help us in the long run,” O’Connell said.