NEWINGTON — Yes, the Newington girls basketball team is that good. At least it was Wednesday night.
Newington remained unbeaten, but was tested by Southington in the CCC Championship Tournament semifinals.
Newington won going away, 49-32, but the final score doesn’t tell the full story.
Newington (14-0) used an 8-0 run over the final 40 seconds of the third quarter to break open what was a competitive affair.
Southington (11-3) trailed 22-17 by halftime and got within 24-22 three minutes into the second half when Allison Carr converted a three-point play after being fouled driving the lane for a basket.
Carr finished with a team-high 11 points.
Another Carr hoop later in the quarter kept the Blue Knights within 26-24, and it was a 29-26 game with a minute to play after Livvy Pizzitola’s layup.
But that’s when Newington, led by junior sensation Jillian Ferguson, changed the game’s complexion.
Newington harassed Southington into two turnovers that led to Ferguson scoring all eight of her team’s points to close the third quarter. As a result, Newington took a 37-26 lead into the final frame.
Newington never looked back, leading by double digits the rest of the way. Ferguson scored a game-high 22 points.
“They had that one little stretch and that was the ending result,” Carr said.
Carr’s varsity career at Southington ended with the loss. A three-year starter on the basketball team, Carr missed much of her junior basketball season with a torn ACL.
Carr was also instrumental in the Blue Knights soccer team’s success. Carr was a forward on the Blue Knights’ unbeaten team this season on the pitch and helped lead Southington to the Class LL state title game during her junior campaign.
“We came out hard and really wanted this game,” fellow senior Pizzitola said. “(Ferguson) hit a couple of 3’s and they just pulled away there. Then our shots just didn’t fall at the end.”
Up until the end of the third quarter, Southington gave Newington all it wanted. The Blue Knights never led after the first quarter, but stayed within a possession or two with a pressure defense that forced 15 Newington turnovers before halftime.
And if not for those final 40 seconds of the third quarter, the Blue Knights may have been in position to hand Newington its first loss of the season. But once Newington’s lead hit double digits, there was no coming back for the Blue Knights.
Southington scored just six points in the fourth quarter as Newington built on its final margin of victory.
Pizzitola finished with 10 points. Kelly Marshall may have been the biggest girl on the court, but the senior center struggled to get open looks inside against at least two, if not three, Newington defenders. She had finished the final game of her career with six points.
So, with its outside shots not falling and Marshall tied up inside, it would be defense that carried the Blue Knights into the third quarter.
“Southington’s pressure was just phenomenal,” Newington head coach Marc Tancredi said. “You try to prepare for it, but it’s hard to simulate the real thing. Credit to them, but we figured it out in the second half.”
Leading Southington’s pressure was Carr, who seemed everywhere in the first half. She had five steals, several offensive rebounds and her gritty play kept the cold-shooting Blue Knights close.
“I don’t think they faced the pressure we gave them at all this year,” Carr said. “They knew we were going to come for them, but I don’t think they expected this.”
Southington, however, didn’t make a basket over the final four minutes of the first quarter. Only Carr’s six second-quarter points — each off turnovers — kept the Blue Knights within striking distance.
During one stretch in the second quarter, Carr stole the ball three straight times.
“We just didn’t have enough offensive firepower down the stretch,” Southington head coach Howie Hewitt said. “Defensively, I thought our kids fought all night. We missed a couple of layups that would have put us right there. But, again, that was the closest game they were in at halftime.”
Newington turned the ball over just twice in the third quarter after Tancredi talked to his squad at halftime about its miscues leading to “empty possessions.” Then two Southington turnovers translated into two Ferguson 3’s and a fast-break layup.
“Big time players make big-time plays,” Tancredi said of Ferguson. “She kind of carried us when we made that run. I can’t say enough good things about her and rest of the team.”
Ferguson and her teammates just may be the best Newington girls basketball team in school history. But with the CCC broken into regions this season, Newington didn’t face the best competition playing in Region D.
That changed this week in the CCC Championship Bracket Tournament. Newington, however, has been up to the challenge so far.
Newington disposed of Bristol Eastern 55-35 in Monday’s quarterfinals. Eastern beat Southington by 20 earlier this season.
Newington then withstood its toughest test to date in getting past the Blue Knights. Newington’s five-point lead at halftime was its smallest this season.
Newington will play Windsor (13-1) in Friday night’s CCC title game.
“Our region was not particularly strong, but in the back of our minds, even though we had the softer schedule, we knew we’d rise to the competition (in the tournament),” Tancredi said. “These are the kind of games you want to play in.”
Southington led 6-3 in the game’s opening minutes. The Blue Knights took a their advantage on a pair of Pizzitola layups and a Carr offensive rebound and basket.
Southington’s last lead came on a free throw by Bethany Borges. With the Blue Knights turning the ball over six times and missing its only two shots the rest of the quarter, Newington scored the final six points to lead 12-7 after one quarter.