By Andy Hutchison
By Andy Hutchison
If the season results to this point are any indication, expect the Newtown Nighthawks girlsâ basketball to â at the very least â go down fighting when it comes playoff time later this month.
After starting the season winless in four games, the Hawks have bounced back nicely to post a 7-8 (5-4 in the South-West Conference) record with five games to play. The Hawks won four straight before falling to Pomperaug at home 46-40 last Friday.
Newtown beat Brookfield 55-35 on Tuesday and needs just one win to qualify for the state tourney and two or three should get the Hawks into SWCâs postseason. Senior captain Morgan Knees led the Hawksâ offense with 13 points and sophomore teammate Sara Kelley added 12. The key factor in the game was Newtownâs ability to shut down Brookfieldâs biggest scoring threat, Brittany Martelle. She averages close to 20 points per game but was held to 12 thanks to the defensive play of senior captain Katie Condon and sophmore Kate Bowen who were assigned to cover Martelle.
Even in the loss to Pomperaug there were examples of the teamâs resiliency. After all, the Hawks fell 70-47 at Pomperaug back on December 14. And in the latest clash between the South-West Conference foes, Newtown clawed back from an 11-point third quarter deficit to close to within one before Pomperaug finally escaped with the âW.â
Given the first game blowout, itâs impressive that 47 points would have been enough to win the second time around, a testament to the Nighthawksâ execution of the game plan in an effort to keep the score down in the 40s.
Newtown used a deliberate, slow enough to lull its opponent to sleep, offense early on to combat Pomperaugâs normally fast-paced game. It was 13-7 Newtown after one quarter and 18-15 in favor of the home team after two quarters.
Pomperaug woke up in the second half, however, reeled off 10 straight points to open the third quarter and never looked back.
âThey adapted at halftime,â said Newtown Coach Shawn OâBrien, adding that Pomperaugâs trapping defense forced the turnovers that led to the explosive second half-opening offensive outburst.
Newtown got to within 37-36 thanks to pure hustle and sticktoitiveness. Sophomore Ally Modzelewski came up with a big steal to set up Bowenâs lay in as part of 10-2 run early in the fourth quarter, getting the home team within a basket at 35-33 midway through the final stanza. Condon hit one of two freethrows to get the Nighthawks within 35-34. Modzelewski got a hand on the rebound to deflect the ball to Condon, giving the Nighthawks a chance for the lead but the home team could not prevail.
Still, the comeback attempt against Pomperaug shows how far this team, which lost three key players and two starters to graduation last year, has come.
âThey were inexperienced in the beginning of the year,â OâBrien said.
The game against Pomperaug capped off a tough three-game stretch for the girls who won at New Milford 47-38 on January 18 before pulling out a thriller, 47-45, over Masuk on January 22. Sophomore Sara Kelley hit the game-winning shot in the final seconds to upend rival Masuk.
âTo come out 2-1 out of these three is just another statement that his team has turned the corner,â OâBrien said.
âIt says weâre definitely improving and weâre not the team we used to be â and weâre more mature now,â senior Knees added.
OâBrien points to the solid perimeter shooting of senior Katie Power, junior Nora Lynn Shimko and Bowen, which he says keeps opposing defenses honest. The play of Knees, along with the ability of junior Jen Brewer, Condon, and Kelley, the latter of whom is a weapon at the freethrow line, has led to the turnaround, the coach said.
In the game against Pomperaug, Kelley had 11 points, Good had 10, Condon added 9 and Knees dropped in 8 to lead a balanced scoring attack.
The Nighthawks visit Weston on Friday, travel to Stratford on Tuesday, and host Immaculate next Friday, February 8.
âTheyâre all games we should be right in. Weâve got to make sure we donât trip up in any of them,â OâBrien said.
The regular season concludes with a pair of apparantly tough ones against 14-win teams: Lauralton Hall, which beat Newtown by 30 points earlier in the year, on Febraury 11, and versus Notre Dame-Fairfield on February 13. Given the second game effort against Pomperaug it wouldnât make sense to count the Hawks out of any game.
âI think weâre going to keep getting better and we definitely have a good shot to go far in [the SWC Tournament] and win some games in states,â Knees said.