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Passing In The Paint And Accuracy From Downtown Spark Girls’ Basketball Team



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There were plenty of opportunities to put up shots that were passed up — literally — for last-second passes in the paint to set up easy baskets. It was a pretty thing to watch as Newtown High School’s girls’ basketball team shared the ball well on the go in a 58-31 triumph over visiting Bethel on January 12.

When the Nighthawks weren’t looking for that extra pass they were going for extra points as nine of the team’s 12 field goals came from 3-point range.

And when the Wildcats had the ball, Newtown’s suffocating defense was up to its usual thing, which is holding opponents at bay. Bethel did manage to narrowly break the 30-point lid, just like Brookfield did in the previous NHS win, after the Nighthawks had held three straight teams in the 20s. So the Bobcats and Wildcats scratched and clawed their way out of the 20s.

Nonetheless, it was yet another stingy defensive effort made possible by long lulls without points allowed. The Wildcats, in fact, were shut out for nearly six minutes to begin the game, during which time the Nighthawks built a 10-0 lead. It was 13-5 after one quarter of play.

The Hawks held the Wildcats without a second-quarter field goal for more than half of the eight-minute stanza, allowing only a pair of free throws in the opening 4:03 of the quarter as the Hawks built a commanding 20-7 lead. A right corner 3-pointer by Sam Diaspro gave Newtown a 23-10 lead. Bethel finished the half with six of the final eight combined points to get to within 25-16 at the break.

Bridget McCleary and Bella Gerace opened the third-quarter scoring with 3-pointers in the opening minute, with McCleary rattling home her bid from straightaway and Gerace connecting from the right elbow. McCleary followed with another one from downtown. Just like that, Newtown doubled its lead from nine to 18 and it was 34-16 only 1:30 into the second half.

The offense stayed hot from beyond the arc and down low in the third quarter as Macey Cuomo dished to Ava Rochester for a layup, Allie Bradley hit a cutting Kristen Reisert who was fouled, and McCleary finished off a nice lob from Gerace. Newtown poured it on with 21 points in the period. Perhaps the early-quarter long range accuracy opened up the opportunities to score down around the basket. McCleary scored 11 of her 16 points in the third as Newtown established a 46-26 lead heading to the fourth.

McCleary had four 3-pointers in the game, Gerace netted a trio from downtown, and Sofia Verdi and Diaspro each connected once from long range. Gerace and Bradley both finished with 13 points, and Gerace handed out four assists.

Bradley had five rebounds and a pair of blocks. Izzy Caron and Rochester each had four rebounds. Caron and Bradley both came away with three steals and Gerace had two takeaways.

“The effort tonight was really good,” said Newtown Coach Jeremy O’Connell, adding that his team did what it always sets out to do, which is play an up-tempo brand of basketball dictated by the defense, and finish in close.

Despite a mostly dominant effort against Bethel, O’Connell noted that he is still looking for a complete four-quarter performance from his squad. Early foul trouble kept Bethel in the game. After Bethel managed to get things to single digits by halftime, Newtown dominated. The Hawks outscored the Wildcats 33-15 in the second half, won their fifth straight, and improved to 6-2 overall.

Newtown went on a team-bonding trip to New Jersey to take on Ridgewood and Park Ridge on Sunday and Martin Luther King Day. The Hawks beat Ridgewood 39-22. Caron logged 14 points and five steals, Gerace had nine points and five assists, and Bradley registered a double-double with ten points and 13 rebounds. NHS beat Park Ridge 48-28. Bradley scored 13 pts and had ten rebounds to go along with three blocks and Gerace dropped in 15 points. Reisert, Cuomo, and Rochester had complete all-around games, especially on the defensive end, O'Connell noted.

The Hawks resume South-West Conference action when they visit Weston on Friday, January 20 at 6 pm. NHS visits FCIAC foe Greenwich Saturday, January 21 at 12:45, and goes to Masuk of Monroe on Tuesday, January 24 at 7 pm. The next home game is not until Friday, January 27, when Stratford comes to town, also for a 7 o’clock opening tip.

Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at andyh@thebee.com.

Bella Gerace moves up the court during Newtown’s 58-31 win over visiting Bethel on January 12.
Ava Rochester, right, defends with full-court pressure. —Bee Photos, Hutchison
Kristen Reisert looks to make a pass as Allie Bradley gets into position.
Mo Murphy dribbles as the Wildcats defend and Reese Lischuk (No. 2) looks on.
Sam Diaspro makes a move toward the basket.
Sofia Verdi takes on a Bethel defender.
Bridget McCleary heads toward the rim as Izzy Caron gets into position.
Allie Bradley battles for two points down low.
Izzy Caron, center, gets possession as Macey Cuomo, right, joins the play.
Kristen Reisert drives to the basket during Newtown’s visit to New Jersey which included a pair of victories. —photo courtesy Kim Eickhorst
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