By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Upsets are part of any scholastic tournament format and sometimes, no matter how much you prepare your squad, a low seed could easily knock off a higher one.
And that was the agenda of the 27th ranked team in the girls Class L tournament as Sacred Heart Academy was looking to stun No. 6 Bristol Eastern from the confines of the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol on Monday, March 2.
Would that upset bid materialize?
Would the Lancers face elimination, ending their season in disappointing fashion in round one of the Class L tilt?
Not a chance as Eastern used a fourth period surge to sink the pesky Pacers and the Lancers defended the home turf, racking up a 63-47 win.
The victory propelled Eastern (22-3) to second round action and squared off against No. 11 Northwest Catholic on Wednesday, March 5 in what turned into an opening night rematch between the two squads – a game the Lancers won by a 55-49 push back on Wednesday, Dec. 10.
The only upset of the first round came as No. 19 Kennedy – a squad St. Paul fell victim to in the quarterfinal of the Naugatuck Valley League tournament championship – defeated No. 14 Law by a 62-57 final.
However, the Lancers refused to be the second team to join that upset mix and took care of business against Sacred Heart (8-13).
Eastern did what it had to do but the Pacers showed plenty of steadfast determination and didn’t give-in until the Lancers defense proved to be too much over the final eight minutes of play.
But the Eastern missed a ton of early field goal attempts – some from point-blank range – that could have put some distance between the squads right off the bat.
Instead, those misses, coupled with a stingy Pacers’ offense, kept the visitors hanging around and in contention.
“They were nervous today,” said Eastern coach Tony Floyd of his squad. “We missed some bunnies [inside]. We got second and third shots and they still weren’t going in.”
The Lancers corralled 24 offensive rebounds in all but not every second attempt at the hoop found the bottom of the net.
True, Eastern zipped in 22 field goals but shot only 36.7-percent from the field and while Sacred Heart didn’t fare much better (19-of-53, 35.8-percent), and was out-rebounded by a 45-32 clip, the squad still managed to make a game of it.
Only Alisyn Narracci scored in double-figures for Sacred Heart, notching twelve points, while Allie Brennan and Lauren Davis each tallied nine apiece for the Pacers.
On the other side of the court, several Lancers stepped up to the challenge on both the scoring and rebounding fronts.
Daijia Brooks led all players with 21 points while scooping in 19 rebounds and rejected six shots.
Diana Wunk zipped in 11 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals while teammate Jamilla Shoultz rounded up 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, and six steals.
Miya Laprise nabbed five points off the bench while Jillian LeBeau netted four points, two rebounds and four assists in a big effort off the pine.
“In the second quarter, we got a couple nice shots from Laprise and LeBeau,” said Floyd of his bench duo.
Kianna Brooks also played well in a starting role, collecting three points, eight rebounds, and had two steals for Eastern.
Everyone contributed for the Lancers, playing their role to near perfection over the final quarter of the game and when the Pacers seemed poised to take any kind of real advantage, the Eastern defense was up to the task and denied the visitors on the scoreboard.
“There was a great intensity level on defense,” said Floyd. “The pressure and the defense was there.”
But even as Eastern tried to pull away from Sacred Heart, the Pacers never truly threw in the towel until the fourth period of play.
The Lancers led 27-18 at the half but late in the third period, the Pacers made it a one-possession game with just seconds remaining at 38-35.
“In the second half, we got a nice little cushion,” said Floyd. “[But Sacred Heart] kept fighting and fighting…we had a nine point lead and they cut it down to three.”
But the Lancers went on an 8-0 gallop from that point in the fray to make it a 46-35 game with 5:44 left to go.
And then, off a neat LeBeau feed to D’Amato for a hoop, Eastern was in front 55-40.
This time, there would be no comeback bid from Sacred Heart.
It was a back-and-forth first period of play but off two free throws from Daijia Brooks, Eastern charged in front 9-5 with 3:04 remaining in the stanza.
But off a 5-0 push to end the period, a hoop and steal by Jenna D’Agostino propelled the Pacers to a 10-9 lead after one.
Both teams had a stranglehold on the lead over the second frame of play but off a blistering three from Claudia Capasso with 3:25 left before the half, Sacred Heart nabbed an 18-17 edge.
But over the final 2:49 of the second, Eastern went on a 10-0 burst to secure a nine point lead by the halftime break.
Laprise drilled a three, Wnuk hit a hoop from the baseline, Shoultz dropped in a leaner, and Daijia Brooks ended the half with a steal, a basket, and a free throw to push the home squad to a 27-18 tilt at intermission.
It took the Lancers nearly 4:30 to hit their first field goal of the third frame but once Daijia Brooks drilled a short jumper, Eastern led by a 33-24 advantage.
From there, the Pacers used an 11-5 burst – ended with a lay-in from Narracci – and Sacred Academy was trailing just 38-35 with 15 seconds left to go in the stanza.
But Laprise banked in a late hoop – ending the third period and propelling the home team to a 40-35 lead after three – which triggered that 8-0 run.
And with 5:44 to go, the Lancers regained control at 46-38 as Eastern made the Pacers pay off missed hoops.
“We got to run a little bit and got into transition,” said Floyd. “We settled down in the middle of the [fourth] period, which helped us in transition.”
And once D’Amato canned her first field goal of the game, completing a 17-5 jaunt by the Lancers, Eastern’s 55-40 lead was more than enough with 3:30 left to play.
To end the game, Kianna Brooks canned a shot in the paint, D’Amato hit for three straight points, and Wunk ended the Lancers’ scoring with a charity toss – sealing the game as Eastern won 63-47 and advanced the to the second round of the tourney against Northwest Catholic two days later.
“They’re similar to us,” said Floyd of Northwest Catholic. “They like to press, they like to run in transition.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE