CHESHIRE — Natalie Panagrosso surprised everyone in the Cheshire gym Tuesday night. Even herself.
The junior forward scored a career-high 22 points to lead Lyman Hall to a 63-44 SCC Quinnipiac Division victory over the Rams. The Trojans, who never trailed, picked up their first divisional win (1-2) and improved to 7-4 overall.
Cheshire fell to 3-8 overall and to 1-3 in the SCC Quinnipiac. The Rams were led by Emma Walkinson’s 14 points.
“I didn’t know how many (points) I was scoring, but I knew it was a lot,” Panagrosso said. “I was surprised.”
“She’s gotten so much better under the basket,” Lyman Hall coach Tom Lipka said. “Those little jump hooks and finishing layups down under the basket. We haven’t had that inside scoring threat in a long time. When she shoots well, it takes pressure off our guards.
“But give Grace Gagliardi credit. She found her.”
Gagliardi, another junior, finished with six assists, as did fellow junior Brianna Mik. Senior captain Julia Capello finished with 16 points.
After a first half that saw both teams make runs to keep the game in doubt at halftime, Lyman Hall opened the third quarter with an 8-2 run to opening up an 11-point lead.
Panagrosso, who had a team-high five rebounds as well, scored the first five Trojan points of the second half on a pair of inside layups. Her second basket came off an offensive rebound of a Mik miss. Panagrosso was fouled on the play and converted the three-point play to give Lyman Hall a 37-27 cushion.
A 3-pointer by Capello capped off the Trojans’ run and put Lyman Hall up 40-29 with 5:25 to play in the quarter.
Shots from behind the arc were a common theme all night, but only Lyman Hall made 3-pointers that mattered after halftime. The teams combined for 11 treys in the first half, but the Rams didn’t make a 3-pointer until Taija Loyd’s buzzer-beating heave ended the game.
“At halftime we talked about containing Emma,” Lipka said. “I don’t think she got a look in the second half. Hailey (Bruneau) did a great job containing her. We said just watch her. Don’t worry about the rest of the floor. She did a great job. But our defense in the second half was outstanding.”
After making four 3-pointers in and leading all scorers in the first half, Bruneau all but took Walkinson out of the Rams’ offense in the second half.
Walkinson missed the only 3 she took midway through the third period. She didn’t take another shot the rest of the game and only scored two points on free throws.
Kaylee Clark (10 points) cleaned up Walkinson’s miss and her putback got the Rams within 40-33.
Lyman Hall, however, scored the game’s next seven points to lead 47-33 with 1:52 to play in the third and took a 47-35 lead into the final frame.
Panagrosso then scored six more points inside in the fourth quarter’s first minute and a half to put the Trojans up 55-37. From there, the Rams didn’t get closer than 16 points.
“Defensively, we weren’t able to stop their runs,” Cheshire coach Michelle Vieira said. “(Panagrosso) tore us up tonight.”
“As I told the girls, we allowed her to have a career night. Good for her,” Vieira added. “She found the openings we were allowing and took advantage of it.”
The Trojans opened up a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter as Lauren Cretella put back her own miss and started a nice give-and-go play with Panagrosso to put LH up 51-35 with 6:52 to play.
Lyman Hall then went up 53-35 on another basket by Panagrosso, who finished off a fast break with a nice layup.
Lyman Hall led by 20 with 3:10 to play on a Capello 3-pointer. The Trojans finished with eight 3’s in the game.
Lyman Hall made six of those treys in first half. Cheshire did tie the game 22-22 in the second quarter after trailing 14-10 after one. The Trojans took a 32-27 lead into the half.
Walkinson led all scorers with 12 first-half points, making four 3-pointers in the half. She made three from behind the arc in the second quarter, including back-to-back treys to tie the game 22-22 with 4:20 to play in the half.
“Emma was hot today,” Vieira said. “I could tell from the second she knocked down that first one. (But) they defended her differently in the second half. They made some adjustments, naturally.”
The first half also saw both teams go on runs.
Lyman Hall opened the game by scoring the first 14 of 16 points to lead 14-2. The Trojans, however, went cold to allow Cheshire to get back into the game after eight minutes.
The Rams closed out the first quarter on an 8-0 run to close within 14-10 after one quarter.
“I was pleased with how we responded after a slow start,” Vieira said. “(But) you can’t be playing from behind all the time. It’s exhausting mentally and physically.”