March 13, 2014 01:20AM
By Ken Lipshez
WALLINGFORD —Mutual respect lies at the heart of tonight’s Class L quarterfinal confrontation between seventh-seeded Lyman Hall and No. 2 Farmington.
Farmington needs no introduction on the statewide stage. The Indians (20-3) won the ‘L’ crown last March at the Mohegan Sun Arena with a 49-44 victory over Bacon Academy.
Head coach Russ Crist, a Meriden resident and grandson of Ben Zajac, also had the Indians in the 2005-06 title game in his first year. Farmington lost to Bulkeley, 43-42, on a buzzer-beating 3-point shot in overtime.
Farmington is coming off back-to-back first-place finishes in the competitive CCC West.
“I expect a great game,” Crist said. “You can throw the seeds out completely.”
Lyman Hall (19-4) is at the top of its cycle under coach Tom Lipka.
The Trojans’ starting five made the most of an 0-20 season in 2011-12, building a foundation for a run they knew they could make. Lyman Hall last won a Class L championship in 1986-87 and hasn’t been this deep into the postseason since losing to Sacred Heart in a 1992-93 quarterfinal.
“We’re excited to get this far,” Lipka said. “It’s an exciting time for us considering where we were two years ago. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Lipka starts Naomi Rascati at point guard. Three-point sniper Taylor Mierzejewski is the two guard. Krista Peterson and Kim Petit flank center Nicole Mierzejewski on the back line. Lipka’s rotation generally goes eight deep with Sam Becker, Emma Sears and 3-point specialist Hailey Hergott spelling the starters.
The Trojans’ strength is in their versatility and length. Crosstown rival Sheehan and coach Mike Busillo fell well short of neutralizing those qualities in three tries.
“It’s hard for us against that group – they’re length, their ability to rebound the ball, they have a number of kids who handle it okay,” Busillo said after the Titans were eliminated by the Trojans in the second round Friday night.
Their length comes in handy for making deflections in passing lanes and grabbing rebounds. Any one of them is capable of finishing a fast break. Each can knock down a 3-pointer.
Lyman Hall’s flexibility is also reflected in scoring distribution.
Nicole Mierzejewski and Petersen each led the team in scoring eight times. Taylor Mierzejewski set the pace five times and Rascati twice. Petit never led the team in scoring, but reached double digits four times.
“They complement each other so well,” Lipka said. “Other teams are strong outside or inside, but we’re well-balanced. It’s not the same person every game.”
Hergott, whose father is Crist’s dentist, shared the team lead once despite playing limited minutes.
“She’s a 3-point specialist,” Lipka said.”She sits around the perimeter and, when she makes a three, we say on the bench, ‘Watch out for Hailey storm!’ She’s got a quick release.”
Of Hergott’s 29 field goals this season, 28 came from beyond the arc, but the top long-distance shooter is Taylor Mierzejewski (48 threes).
Lipka said Lyman Hall’s losses all came when the 3-point shots were not dropping. When the longballs fall, it frees Petersen to employ her multifaceted game and Nicole Mierzejewski to work the post.
“I really like their length and athleticism at all positions,” Crist said. “Defensively, they cover a great area of the court. They’re aggressive in the passing lanes and with traps. I really respect their ability to go to the hole and especially to shoot the three. And they have one of the better post players, and she’s more than just a threat down low.”
The Indians are led by 6-foot junior center Sophie Borg, sophomore guard Cheray Saunders and senior guard Bridget Kelly. Senior Brittany Galske and freshman Mary Schoenherr round out the starting lineup.
Lipka watched the replay of the Indians’ 59-56 loss to E.O. Smith in the semifinals of the CCC Tournament.
“We’ve got to focus on Borg. She rebounds, penetrates and shoots the medium-range jumper. We’re not going to shut her down, but we’ve got to contain her. If she gets 20, we’ve got problems,” he said. “Saunders is a good penetrator and decent outside shooter. The rest are solid kids who do the little things well.
“If either [Borg or Saunders] has a big night, we’re trouble. If they both do, it will be a long night.”