MERIDEN — Was another “Run to the Sun” in the offing for Sheehan girls basketball?
We don’t mean to sound like a broken record in this All-Record-Journal series, given how exponentially the coronavirus crisis has worsened since the CIAC cancelled the postseason, but state championship aspirations were very real for the 2019-20 Lady Titans.
They weren’t intimidated by the big stage. They had reached the state finals the year before.
They woke up the morning of Tuesday, March 10 carrying a record of 20-4. They had gained the Class MM quarterfinals. They were two wins away from returning to Mohegan Sun Arena.
And then, as in hockey, as in boys swimming, the story line ended when the tournament plug — so wisely, in retrospect — was pulled.
Truth be told, the All-Record-Journal Girls Basketball Team was already chosen by then. It had been photographed. It was in the books. We had a nine-girl team we were ready to celebrate.
And we still are! Let us cast off this gloom and turn a spotlight onto our cast of leading ladies.
OK, so Sheehan didn’t have a chance to go all the way. The Titans still went out winners, and they have three girls on the All-RJ Team.
How about the story from Southington? Long-time Maloney boys basketball coach Howie Hewitt repurposed himself as a girls coach and oversaw a squad that stood No. 1 in the Class LL playoff points for weeks before late-season injuries derailed the ride.
Even then, the 16-7 Lady Knights had some dramatic last-second wins, and they have two girls on the All-RJ Team.
Both of those Blue Knights, by the way, are juniors. That’s a prevailing theme to this All-RJ team. Of the nine, six will be back next year. Of the seniors, “next year” will be in college.
And that, ultimately, is what it’s about, right? That there will be a next season after all of this. That we will rebound.
Our All-Record-Journal girls basketball players did a lot of rebounding this winter. Scored a lot, too, and won more games along the way than they lost. Here are our nine for 2019-20.Titans 3
The No. 3-seeded Titans had just waxed Wamogo (53-21) and stifled St. Joseph (53-39) in the opening rounds of the Class MM tourney when the postseason was cancelled.
In those two games, Sheehan coach Mike Busillo got the sort of performances he had been getting all year from his top players:
■Caitlyn Hunt, the junior center, scored 20 points against Wamogo and 18 against St. Joseph.■Maddie Larkin, the senior forward, had put up a combined 17.■Caitlyn Velez, the junior point guard, had directed consecutive 53-point operations while also contributing eight points of her own each night.
All three were named All-SCC. All three are also All-RJ.
Caitlyn Hunt, a two-time All-RJ volleyball player who is making her second appearance on an All-RJ basketball team, was the area’s scoring leader at 17.5 points a game. The 5-foot-11 force of the frontcourt was named to the All-SCC First Team.
So was Caitlyn Velez, who continued to excel in her second year as Sheehan’s point guard. In making All-RJ, the 5-foot-6 Velez picked up the torch from her predecessor, Alexia Ocasio.
Maddie Larkin, a reliable all-around performer and captain for the Titans, averaged just shy of 10 points a game and made All-SCC Second Team.
This trio, in combination with fellow starters Hayleigh Lagase, a junior, and Caroline Dighello, a senior, produced a 17-3 regular season that included a spotless 8-0 run through the SCC Housatonic Division.Next port of call
We mentioned just three seniors made this year’s All-RJ team. The other two? Lyman Hall’s Hailey Bruneau and Cheshire’s Emma Watkinson.
Like Maddie Larkin, Bruneau and Watkinson are rangy, versatile players — albeit, at 5-foot-10, two inches taller than their Sheehan counterpart.
Watkinson led coach Michelle Vieira’s 6-15 Rams with 10 points a game. Bruneau, Lyman Hall’s second-leading scorer, averaged 8.9.
In all other departments, Bruneau pretty much led the way for the 12-11 Trojans. The All-SCC Second Team selection hit 35 times from 3-point range, grabbed 5.1 rebounds a game and averaged 3.3 in both blocks and steals.
That’s playing every square foot of the court. In one remarkable performance, on Dec. 27, Bruneau blocked 12 shots against Rocky Hill.
Bruneau and Watkinson are both going on to play Division III basketball. Bruneau will be at the University of Rochester in upstate New York. Watkinson is heading to Endicott College in Beverly, Mass.Same time next year
While the graduating seniors are settling into freshman life at the next level, our returning juniors will be settling into roles as senior leaders.
Then again, many of them have already filled those shoes as underclassmen. Consider our final four selections: Kelley Marshall and Livvy Pizzitola of Southington, Brianna Mik of Lyman Hall and Ja’lexia West of Platt.
There are two leading scorers in that group. Marshall, a 6-foot-1 forward, led the Lady Knights with 9.7 points a game shooting 44.1 percent from the floor. Mik, a 5-7 guard, paced the Trojans at 10.5 ppg.
Mik’s output included 15 points in Lyman Hall’s first-round SCC Tournament upset of Wilbur Cross, a team that had beaten the Trojans by 49 points during the regular season.
Mik, like her teammate Hailey Bruneau, was all over the court for coach Tom Lipka. She had 3-point range, hitting 24 times from beyond the arc. She crashed the glass, averaging 4.3 rebounds. She wreaked havoc on D with 2.2 steals per game.
Ultimately, Mik was voted to the All-SCC Second Team.
Marshall was named All-CCC West, though wound up collecting that award on crutches after injuring her knee.
Marshall’s value to her team is easily measured. With her, the Blue Knights were 15-2. Without her, they were 1-5. With her, they averaged 47.8 points a game. Without her, they averaged 31.2.
The one Marshall-less victory came in the first round of the Class LL state tournament against Middletown. Pizzitola won it with a base line jumper in the closing seconds.
At 5-foot-4, Pizzitola is the shortest girl on the All-RJ squad, yet is one of those clutch players who delivers in the biggest moments. A few weeks before her game-winner against Middletown, Pizzitola vanquished Glastonbury with a steal and layup at the buzzer.
Pizzitola is a gamer who seldom leaves the floor. She averaged a team-high 24½ minutes a game.
Those weren’t idle minutes. Pizzitola led the Blue Knights with 78 steals and 54 assists.
The point guard shot 40 percent from the floor and averaged 8.0 points. She also grabbed 86 rebounds. How’s that for 5-foot-4?
When it came to board work, this year’s Chairwoman was Ja’lexia West, Platt’s 5-10 junior forward. West hauled down 167 rebounds for coach Tina Gonyea.
West could also score, averaging just under 10 points a game.
Put it together and West was a double-double threat every night. She had six on the season.
The biggest haul came on Dec. 20 against a Conard team that would finish 14-6. That night, West racked up 17 points and 15 rebounds.
Big numbers, indeed. And in the end numbers, not banners, must be the measuring stick of the 2019-20 basketball season. We had the means, just not the ends.
For now. Give it time. This story will resume.