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Girls’ Cagers Nearly Overcome Hamden In Battle Of Conference Champs

Published: March 14, 2019 at 12:03 pm

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HAMDEN — In a game of big runs, Newtown’s last push wasn’t quite enough. In Class LL state tournament quarterfinal-round play, the fifth-seeded Newtown High School girls’ basketball team trailed by 21 points in the fourth quarter before pulling to within four and possessing the ball with 1:16 to play at Hamden on March 7. The fourth-seeded Green Dragons, however, didn’t allow the Nighthawks to get any closer and prevailed 52-42.

The Nighthawks scored 23 points in the fourth, highlighted by five 3-pointers — including two from Cyleigh Wilson, who finished the game with 11 points. Nicki DaPra scored 13, and Emma Magazu dropped in eight for the Nighthawks.

Newtown won the South-West Conference championship, and Hamden is the Southern Connecticut Conference champ, but only one would have the right to contend for another season title on this night.

Neither team had it easy.

The Green Dragons jumped out to a 10-0 lead after one quarter of play and led 20-9 at the half. After the Nighthawks scored the first five points of the second quarter to slice the deficit in half, the Green Dragons answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to spark 10-0 run to close out the half.

Second-half play started out in Newtown’s favor, with a 7-0 run in the first 1:46, highlighted by 3-pointers from DaPra and Carlie Smith, a steal by Wilson that led to DaPra’s third quarter-opening 3-pointer, and a steal and bucket by Cyleigh Wilson.

After a Hamden timeout, the Green Dragons found a way to break Newtown’s full-court press and went on a 12-0 run. The lead grew to 36-19 through three quarters and 40-19 early in the fourth.

The Nighthawks got to within 40-29 and had a few possessions to get the lead back to single digits before Amy Sapenter’s offensive rebound set up Wilson’s right side 3-pointer, capping a 13-0 NHS run with 3:21 to play.

Trailing by a dozen, the Hawks had a 10-2 run, during which Sapenter and Wilson hit 3-pointers, making the score 46-42 with just under a minute and a half remaining.

A technical foul on Hamden gave Newtown the ball following a pair of DaPra free throws that accounted for points 41 and 42 with 1:22 showing on the scoreboard clock. Newtown, however, couldn’t get things back to a one-possession margin, and the Green Dragons iced it at the line.

Sapenter had four blocks, four rebounds, and three assists. Wilson had four assists, two steals, and a block. DaPra had nine rebounds, and Matthews had five rebounds. Cailin Wilson had a trio of rebounds and a steal.

“We just got off to a cold-shooting start. We had every open look we wanted from layups to open 3-pointers to mid-range jumpers to free throws. There just seemed to be a huge lid on the hoop,” O’Connell said.

Newtown’s defense kept it in the game early on. The Hawks surrendered more points in the second half, O’Connell noted, because the team had to take risks to get back in the game and foul to send Hamden to the free throw line in the waning moments.

Hamden went 18-2 in the regular slate before its run to the SCC title. The Green Dragons advanced to the March 11 state semifinals, against top-seed Norwalk. NHS went 17-3 before capturing the SWC crown and defeated Manchester and Wethersfield in the first couple rounds of states.

“It’s so difficult, and such a grind to try to get an SWC championship and cut down the net,” said O’Connell, adding that he was very pleased with the efforts of his players and in them accomplishing their goal.

The Hawks will lose Cailin Wilson, Matthews, DaPra, and Carolina Stubbs to graduation.

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