GIRLS BASKETBALL: CIAC tournament launches with a fifth class in the mix and five area teams in the fold

GIRLS BASKETBALL: CIAC tournament launches with a fifth class in the mix and five area teams in the fold

CHESHIRE — The official seal of approval has been applied to the upcoming CIAC girls basketball tournament.

Pairings were confirmed on Wednesday and the five area qualifiers have the first-round matchups they expected:

*Class LL, No. 24 Middletown (10-10) at No. 9 Southington (15-6), Monday, 6:30 p.m.

*Class LL, No. 31 Cheshire (6-14) at No. 2 Newtown (17-3), Monday, 6:30 p.m.

*Class L, No. 32 Platt (3-17) at No. 1 Notre Dame-Fairfield (19-1), Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

*Class L, No. 18 Lyman Hall (12-10) at No. 15 North Haven (13-9), Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

*Class MM, No. 30 Wamogo (5-15) at No. 3 Sheehan (18-4), Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

New this year is that Class MM bracket in which Sheehan is playing. During the offseason, the CIAC girls basketball committee expanded the traditional four-class system to five.

Despite the addition of a new class, the 32-team fields have been maintained, which explains why Platt and Cheshire are aboard despite having records below the .400 cut-off that still applies in other sports.

The thinking is, with the girls basketball tournament stretching over three weeks in order to sync up with the boys for Championship Weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena (it’s March 21-22 this year), full 32-team brackets mean no first-round byes and no long layoffs for the higher seeds.

The full 32-team brackets, with the addition of a fifth class, also mean there are only 23 girls basketball teams in Connecticut not playing in this year’s state tournament.

Either way, let’s have at it. Action gets under way Monday night with first-round games in Class LL and Class S and on Tuesday night in Class L and Class M.

The new Class MM tier is divided. The top half of the bracket kicks off Monday night, the bottom half on Tuesday.

Sheehan is in the latter group. The Lady Titans, hoping to mount another Run to the Sun as they did a year ago in reaching the Class M final, open on Tuesday night at home against Wamogo of the Berkshire League.

A victory on Tuesday keeps coach Mike Busillo’s club at home to face the winner of No. 14 St. Joseph and No. 19 Weston in the second round on Friday night.

Should Sheehan continue to take care of business, the prospective quarterfinal clash would be March 12 in Wallingford with possibly No. 6 East Catholic (18-5) or No. 11 East Haven (16-7). Both of those teams have reached their respective conference championship games — East Catholic in the CCC (vs. E.O. Smith) and East Haven in the SCC (vs. Hamden).

Sheehan missed out on a potential SCC title trip thanks to a 52-44 quarterfinal loss to Hamden on its home floor on Saturday. So, for all their success this year — a 17-3 regular season, an 8-0 SCC Housatonic Division crown — the Titans go into the state tournament hungry, angry and looking for redemption.

Sheehan is one of just two area teams with a home game for the first round, though Lyman Hall hardly faces a road trip. The Trojans only have to hop the town line for their all-SCC matchup with North Haven.

Southington also faces a conference foe in hosting Middletown in an All-CCC first rounder.

Neither Lyman Hall and North Haven nor Southington and Middletown faced each other during the regular season.

Lyman Hall will be looking to feed off its 34-31 upset of Wilbur Cross in the first round of the SCC Tournament. Should coach Tom Lipka’s Trojans get past North Haven, they’ll likely tangle with No. 3 St. Paul in the second round on Friday.

The Bristol parochial school was shuttled up to Class L this year after extended success in Class S, including a run to last year’s semifinals.

As for the Lady Knights, they’ll be looking to shake off a four-game losing streak when Middletown comes calling on Monday. It won’t be easy. Southington has lost two pivotal players to injury: Allison Carr and Kelley Marshall.

Should coach Howie Hewitt’s squad turn back Middletown, either No. 8 Glastonbury or No. 25 Mercy will be waiting in Thursday’s Class LL second round.

Southington and Glastonbury played twice in the last three weeks and split the meetings. The Blue Knights won at home 43-41 on Feb. 7 on Livvy Pizzitola’s steal and layup in the waning seconds. The Tomahawks evened the score last Thursday in the first round of the CCC Tournament, 48-38.