By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – When the Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern girls basketball teams have clashed over recent years, the games have been lopsided affairs in the Lancers’ favor.
But on Saturday, Feb. 15, the Rams looked to be on the verge of finally changing that recent string of bad luck.
Central played a gritty, hard-fought game and with eight minutes left to play, the Rams were only trailing by a single point and garnered some critical momentum while making its third period run.
However, that go-ahead basket never came as Eastern pushed ahead in the contest and held on to a 37-27 win in a city series showdown played from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol.
With the victory, the Lancers raised its record to 13-6 while Central fell to 10-9 on the campaign.
It was senior night for Eastern and Karissa Smith came through in a big way for the Lancers.
She scored a game high 11 points, snatched 15 rebounds, while making four steals in a very big effort.
Jamilla Shoultz added nine points, eight rebounds and two steals while Daija Brooks came away with eight points, 10 rebounds, and three steals.
Amanda Zdun added five points and three assists while Gianna D’Amato sank a critical hoop in the first period of play.
Both teams had to battle foul trouble and several players had to retreat to the bench over game play that disrupted play.
But the Lancers shuffled its players around and when key players were out, others were able to pick up the slack.
“We kept our composure,” said Eastern coach Tony Floyd. “We were in foul trouble and it hurts when (your top players) get into foul trouble. But they did a good job keeping their composure in the end.”
The Lancers outscored Central 14-5 over the final period of play to keep the Rams at bay.
Central trailed 23-22 going into the fourth and final period of play and had two or three chances of taking its first lead of the game.
The offense just wasn’t there in the final period. But even with 1:39 left in the fray, Central was only down by two possessions before eventually falling in a hard-fought effort.
“We had some missed free throws, some empty possessions, turnovers, but we were right there,” said Central coach Steve Gaudet. “I’m proud of the girls. It was a battle. It was a war. There were a lot of fouls, a lot of hard plays, a lot of good efforts. I’m proud of the way they responded.”
Gaudet gave credit to Lauren Bossi who came away with a team high 10 points while Chandler Walker added nine points, countless rebounds, and that duo once again spurred on the offense.
Erika Monsalve punched in six points while backcourt mate Ashley Elder added a hoop and also showed up on defense.
Gretchen Edelman, Christina Bouvier, Jenn Fannon, and Allie Martel all played well for the Rams as Central made a real game of it and hung around until the end.
“Chandler Walker played a hell of a game,” said Gaudet. “Ashley Elder did an outstanding job on defense. Erika made some good passes, hit some big free throws.”
“It was a complete team effort.”
Central’s defense played well and forced Eastern into shooting only 21 percent from the field in the contest and limited the Smith-Brooks duo to 30 percent shooting overall.
“We wanted to shut down Brooks and Smith,” said Gaudet. “They are the two cogs that make (Eastern’s) wheels spin.”
But Eastern did a solid job limiting the production of Central’s guards as the duo netted those only eight points in the game.
Cassie Aiken and Zdun did a good job on its end of the defensive scope as well.
“I thought Amanda and Cassie did a good job on (Monsalve and Elder) the whole game,” said Floyd. “I was pleased about how the kids played.”
Eastern opened the game off a 7-2 push but Central quickly responded and cut the deficit to one off a lay up by Bossi to make it an 8-7 contest 2:23 left in the frame.
The Lancers ended the quarter with a 5-0 jaunt as the hoop from D’Amato propelled Eastern to a 13-7 edge one period of play.
Eastern’s offense stalled a bit in the second and Walker went for six straight points as Central got within three at 16-13 with 3:44 left in the half.
The Lancers edge was pushed out to seven points late but Monsalve was fouled at the halftime buzzer and made two critical foul shots as Eastern’s lead was trimmed to 20-15.
Central’s defense then went into overdrive as the only points Eastern netted over the third period was a floater by Shoultz and a free throw from Smith for three total points.
Bossi came through with six huge points and off a broken play with 2:21 left to play in the third, Walker chased down the ball to give the visitors a chance at another critical hoop.
Walker flipped it over to a charging Bossi and her basket made it a 23-22 contest.
“(Central) made some big shots,” said Floyd. “We were (trying) to make a run and they made a couple good shots.”
Eastern did not score again in the quarter but Elder just missed hitting a lay-up late as the Lancers held on to its one-point push.
“I wanted a few more lay-ups too,” said Gaudet. “We just didn’t finish.”
The Rams once again had it down to a one-possession game again and off a free throw by Monsalve, Central trailed 26-23 with 5:03 left to play.
But Eastern put the game out of reach as an offensive rebound and put-back by Smith, a steal and hoop by Zdun and two critical free throws by Shoultz – off Walker’s fifth and final foul of the night – gave the home team a 32-23 lead with 3:44 remaining.
“We came up with some big plays,” said Floyd of the defense. “They strapped down and started doing a better job defensively in the later part of that fourth quarter, in the last five minutes of so.”
Bossi and Elder scored four straight points to cut the deficit to 32-27 with 3:01 to play but Central did not score again in the game.
The Lancers made five of its last eight free throws to ice the contest as Eastern won the event by ten.
“Overall, they were the better team,” said Gaudet of Eastern. “They beat us.”
Eastern once again earned the win and took the sweep in the city series.
“We kept our composure in the end,” said Floyd. “The kids buckled down and the kids made some key shots, started running the offense and started taking some good shots. We took what they gave us in the end and we were more patient (and) that was the key.”
NOTES…Smith and Eva Draka, Eastern’s two seniors, were honored before the game in a ceremony. Draka started the game for the Lancers.