By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – When the Bristol Eastern girls basketball can get contributions from all hands all deck, success usually follows.
And in state tournament play, that can go a long way.
Against Watertown on Friday, March 7, the Lancers zipped up complete game efforts from many directions and once Eastern added a little defense and rebounding to the mix, it led to another win.
Daijia Brooks made several acrobatic plays on her way to an impressive 18 points and 19 rebounds as the Lancers turned away Watertown, 53-46, in a Class L second round affair from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol.
Eastern (18-6) has now won 15 out of its last 16 games and gets a shot at the top seed in all of Class L this coming week in a quarterfinal showdown on the road.
Brooks helped set the tone on both sides of the ball and her addition of three steals and four blocked shots proved that defense was on tap at Eastern that night.
While the Lancers forced turnovers in its full-court trapping mix early, Eastern found additional success in its half-court defensive game and when Watertown (17-6) brought in its reserves, miscues and gaffes followed.
In all, the Lancers forced 23 turnovers in the game and 47 total over its first two contests of state tournament play.
“We were trying to get to their bench and it worked in the first half, the first quarter,” said Eastern coach Tony Floyd of the defense. “There was a lot of intensity out there and everybody was playing hard and I thought it was to our advantage then. I thought in the second half, we established ourselves in that half-court defense.”
“They were tired, we were tired but we were able to see that we could play them in the half-court defensively.”
After getting out-rebounded by 23 against Windsor earlier in the week, the Lancers took it to Watertown on the boards and won the battle 42-36.
Along with Brooks’ amazing 19 rebound effort, Jamilla Shoultz also came through with four offensive rebounds while also wrangling up 11 points and three steals.
“Jamilla Shoultz did an excellent job,” said Floyd. “She got in foul trouble but she hit the boards. A couple weeks ago, we weren’t hitting the boards. We’re small. The thing is we got a contribution from everybody probably around the middle of that second quarter.”
“In the second half, we did a better job on the boards.”
And then there was another tough rebounding effort off the bench from reserve Mia Farias.
Farias also hit the offensive glass with zest and came away with six offensive rebounds, eight overall rebounds in the game.
“(Shoultz) and Mia Farias came off the bench and did a super job,” said Floyd of his rebounding forwards.
Watertown pounded the ball inside on several occasions and while the squad never recaptured the lead after losing it midway in the first period, their set plays, and offensive patterns put some points on the board to keep things close throughout.
Abby Collier scored 15 points and blocked several shots for the Indians and her offensive exploits kept Watertown hanging around.
The squad started three players 5-foot-11 or taller and attacked Eastern in the painted area with zest.
“Watertown is a very big team,” said Floyd. “They hurt us inside on the boards and they got second and third and fourth (shots). They were getting four shots at the basket and we’re not going to win the game if we do that.”
Gianna D’Amato flipped in 10 points and two rebounds while Amanda Zdun ramped up eight points, two assists, and three steals in the fray.
Off the bench, Morgan Dauphinee zipped in an important five points and two assists while Miya Laprise and Jillian LeBeau made solid efforts on both sides of the ball.
Eastern trailed 5-2 midway through the first period but a 9-0 jaunt – highlighted by a huge three-pointer from D’Amato – the Lancers made it an 11-5 contest with 2:23 left to play in the frame.
Eastern never trailed again in the game.
But off two free throws by Collier and a hoop from Megan Perrin, Eastern’s lead was chopped to 11-9 with 1:02 left in the first.
From there, the home team slammed the Indians with a slick 9-0 burst as Brooks netted three straight hoops – hitting one from the floor as she was falling down in a big effort – while Zdun blasted in a three-pointer to propel Eastern to a 20-9 lead with 7:12 left before the half.
Later in the quarter, Aiken found D’Amato for a hoop. But with Eastern leading by 11, Watertown made a run of its own.
Perrin hit a shot. Becca Lopes nailed a three-pointer. Collier drilled two free throws and off an offensive rebound and put-back by Sara Selimovski, the Indians cut the deficit to 22-20 with 3:12 remaining before intermission.
Late in the half, Brooks zipped in a turnaround jumper – getting fouled in the process – while Dauphinee hit a huge lay-up as the Lancers soaked up a 27-21 lead with just 54 seconds left.
At the half, Eastern’s edge was 27-21 but the game was still afoot.
Zdun opened the third frame with a blistering three-pointer and Brooks put in another turnaround hoop as she was falling down, propelling the home squad to a 32-25 edge.
Midway through the third, Shoultz came off the bench and immediately drilled a three-pointer. Brooks found Dauphinee for a lay-up and D’Amato followed up with an amazing up-and-under move, plus a foul, as the Lancers led 40-30 with 2:24 remaining in the third stanza.
“These kids have learned and have the confidence to shoot the ball,” said Floyd of his team. “Now they’re shooting the ball and taking the shots they’re able to take.”
Eastern’s edge reached 11 off a free throw by Farias but off one last hoop by Lopes, Watertown was hanging around at 45-36 with eight minutes left to play.
Watertown hung around in the fourth but Shoultz hit a floater and an offensive rebound put-back as Eastern grew its lead back out to nine at 51-42 with 4:05 remaining in the game.
The Indians finally cracked from the free throw line, missing three of its next four attempts, and with under three minutes to play, time was running out for the visiting squad.
Both teams could not hit a shot over the next 90 seconds or so of play and Eastern quickly went into its stall mode.
Watertown was eventually forced to foul Brooks and she canned one-of-two charity shots as Eastern led 52-43 with 1:21 left.
Both squads exchanged turnovers. But Watertown’s Rebecca Breive drained a huge three-pointer and with 46 seconds showing on the clock, it was a two possession game at 52-46.
The Indians went back to the foul game and could have forced the Lancers into three 1-and-1 situations.
With 30.6 seconds left to play in the contest, Dauphinee canned a free throw but missed the second to make it a 53-46 game with plenty of time left for a Watertown comeback.
But Indians’ coach Ed Lopes pulled the plug on the game – sitting down his senior crew for the final time – as Watertown flew up the white flag in what was a highly unusual season for his squad.
In the end, Eastern hung on to win it by a seven-point final to advance to the quarterfinal round and a date with top seeded Capital Prep in a showdown from Hartford on Thursday, March 13.
“We played two teams that are big,” said Floyd of Eastern’s two home tournament games. “Windsor was very athletic inside (but) this team was more physical and strong inside and we really did a great job handling that. I give a lot of credit to our kids and the way they played today.”
“They played hard defensively – it was a physical game, it was back and forth, the refs let us play – and the one thing I was pleased about was the kids didn’t get caught up in the foul calls or how the game was called…they just played the game and got through it.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.