By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – With nothing else to lose, the 24th ranked Lyman Memorial girls basketball team gave top rated St. Paul – the No. 1 seed in the Class S fray – all it could handle during its quarterfinal engagement from the Maltby Street Gymnasium on Thursday, March 13.
But the Falcons, on a mission of its own, took Lyman’s best shot and it still wasn’t enough to topple powerful St. Paul.
In the end, St. Paul rolled up a 61-41 victory to advance to the semifinal round of state tournament action.
The Falcons earned a shot at No. 4 Bolton in a tilt that took place from East Hartford High School on Tuesday, March 18 with the winner advancing to a weekend date at Mohegan Sun.
Lyman (10-13) emptied the tank against St. Paul (21-4) though it didn’t lead after its extremely early 2-1 push.
But the Bulldogs never gave in, hit the offensive boards with zest, and actually cut the deficit to 34-28 late in third period play.
“We kind of figured we were in for a scrappy game,” said St. Paul coach Joe Mone. “They’re about the same size, same build. They’re very physical…kind of figured it was going to be us being in and out on our fast-break versus their tenacity and they’re build.”
Briana Padewski scored 14 points. Heather Hobbs added 12. Meanwhile Madison LaFlam had 11 for the Bulldogs.
Lyman took several runs at the Falcons and while the squad couldn’t get its shots from the field to fall, it did a credible job at the foul line, nearly launching 30 attempts from the charity stripe.
“They’re physical, they’re strong,” Mone said of Lyman. “We had to rebound, which we did for parts of the game and parts of the game we didn’t. They hung in there.”
But hang as they did, St. Paul was too tough to handle and too bold to hold.
Before fouling out, Theresa Swanke hit 5 of 6 baskets from the field, canned six free throws, and rambled up 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and four steals. The slick Kelly McMahon added 14 points – netting eight of those in the definitive fourth quarter of play – to go along with six assists. The all-time three-point queen of St. Paul, McMahon, buried two treys in the game and also nabbed two rebounds. Mekaela Giantonio scored 11 points and grabbed two rebounds. Maddy Sturm added two points and seven rebounds while Brigid Johndrow scored all five of her points in the fourth to go along with three rebounds and three steals. Lizzy Ferraro flipped in three points and four rebounds. Jillian Kilmer snared five rebounds. Briana Sanchez zipped in two points and two rebounds.
But the player of the game that night was clearly Lizzy Cretella.
Cretella was everywhere on the court as she collected seven points, a team best eight rebounds, two assists, and made three big steals in a tremendous effort.
St. Paul used an 11-2 spurt to break open the game in the first period as Giantonio sank a three-point bomb and the Falcons led 11-5 after eight minutes of play.
The home team worked the lead up to 13 points on several occasions, its last sizeable cushion coming off two free throws by Swanke as St. Paul nabbed a 22-9 push with 2:31 left before the half.
Lyman went on a 6-0 zip as four straight points from Hobbs cut it to a seven point game before Sanchez hit a late jumper, giving the Falcons a 24-15 tilt at the half.
The Bulldogs remained pesky going into the third period of play but Swanke hit two shots and Cretella kicked in a three-pointer as St. Paul held firm at 31-18 with 5:26 left in the frame.
But Lyman used a 10-3 surge to cut it to a six point deficit.
Hobbs drained a big three-pointer and Liz Peay put in a missed hoop to make it a 34-28 game with 1:07 remaining in the third.
“The lapses that we have, which is normal for 25 games or whatever we’ve played, are the lapses we have,” said Mone. “We tend to build a lead and kind of relax. We tend to come out aggressive on defense and play with some tenacity ourselves and tend to let up a little bit.”
“We reached too much and it cost us a lot of stupid fouls that shouldn’t have been made (but) more importantly, the ones at the end when we’re tying to keep the clock running.”
Quickly, the Falcons went into attack mode, turned up the defense and off a 7-0 burst – highlighted by a Cretella steal and hoop – St. Paul retook the momentum and led 41-28 with 6:58 remaining in the game.
Soon after, Giantonio hit a blazing three-pointer and McMahon flipped in an uncontested lay-up to push the home team’s lead out to 46-31 with 5:44 left.
“We had a little spurt, I think in the beginning of the fourth (period),” said Mone “with the Cretella steal and the lay-up…she missed (the three-point play) but we were attacking. We got Mekaela on a breakaway. Kelly hit (a hoop) and that’s how we play.”
“It looks like every time ‘Oh no, they’re in trouble,’ somebody, and I don’t know who it’s going to be, comes up with a steal, with a rebound, with a shot.”
With four fouls apiece, Swanke and McMahon were forced to the bench midway through the fourth but the rest of the team picked up the slack. When the duo returned with 2:41 left to play, St. Paul’s lead was still at 15, 51-36.
“When Kelly and Theresa went to the bench, we (had) two minutes of good basketball,” said Mone. “We had a couple lay-ups, a two-point play, defended and rebounded decently.”
Quickly, the Falcons made it a 20 point game off two McMahon charity shots with 1:55 remaining and trailing 57-37, Lyman ran out of options.
And once Monica Roccapriore, Emma Bartley, Lauren Palmer, and Lauren Benoit all made appearances in the contest, the game was in hand for the Falcons.
In the end, St. Paul was a big 61-41 winner, advanced to the semifinal round, and was looking for its first state title game since the 2010 campaign.
“We’re just going to plug away and do what we do,” said Mone. “We win ugly sometimes. (But) we defend and we make teams really work hard.”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE