Central battles but can’t halt Eastern

By MICHAEL LETENDRE

STAFF WRITER

BRISTOL – The Bristol Central girls basketball team gave it one heck of an effort in its cross-town showdown against Bristol Eastern on Monday, Feb. 13 from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol.

The Rams, with nothing to lose, made it a two-possession game midway through the third period but Eastern finally started turning Central turnovers into buckets as the Lancers reeled up a 69-50 CCC South Blue Division victory to finish the regular season at 15-5.

But the Rams (1-18) refused to yield and when Central point guard Meghan Hamel (four points, five assists) found Sarah Guerin (six points) for a lay-up midway through the third stanza, the visitors were right in the thick of things.

“I thought our intensity level was not there and the pressure on the ball, things like that,” said Bristol Eastern coach Tony Floyd. “I thought we didn’t play, we didn’t rotate really hard. I think as a unit, I think the kids didn’t play well defensively and that’s important for us because we’re small and we get stuff in transition, on turnovers and I think we didn’t get the break going until that fourth quarter and a spurt in the third quarter, where we got into transition and got out, got into the lanes and pushed the ball up the floor.”

“I think that’s something that they’ve got to do all the time.”

Midway through the third, Zoe Sinclair canned a hoop and when Hamel dumped off a pass to Guerin, Central chipped a 12 point deficit all the way down to 37-31 with 4:56 left in the tilt.

“It’s a rare feat for us,” said Bristol Central Steve Gaudet of hanging with Eastern. “I can’t ask more from my kids. My kids gave me, against a team that we’re pretty outmatched in pretty much every aspect, they gave me [everything]. That was a game for basically four quarters and they gave everything on the court. I couldn’t be prouder of the effort and the ability to put everything behind us that we had all year and bounce back on put on [a good performance].

“It’s a loss and I’m not happy we lost, but to put on a performance to compete with a team like that, it makes me proud to be their coach.”

But by the end of the third stanza, Eastern built it back up to 49-36 and led it by double-figures over the final eight minutes of action.

Diana Wnuk (12 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) sandwiched two hoops around a Mandi Janick (10 points, three rebounds, three assists) three-pointer as Eastern nabbed an early 7-2 push.

Later in the frame, Hannah Maghini – who added five threes to extend her program single season record to 40 on the year, also scoring 23 points in the contest – hit three big three-pointers as Eastern led 20-12 after one completed frame.

“She’s still shooting very well,” said Floyd of Maghini. “She’s a good shooter and she picks her spots. She does a good job. She keeps a good balance of making the shots and also when not to shoot and get everyone involved and I think she did a great job.”

Central continued to break the press but when Eastern managed to create turnovers, a few lay-ups refused the fall to keep the Rams in it.

And when Sarah Strilkauskas canned two straight free throws with 1:03 left in the half, Central was only down 28-20.

“When you play some teams, you don’t really focus until you have to focus and they beat [Bristol Central] pretty good the first time and I think they just thought they were going to show up [and do it again],” said Floyd. “And I’m trying to make them understand you have to practice the way you play. You’ve got to get up for everybody the same way, it doesn’t matter who they are, and I didn’t think they did that today.”

Trailing 32-20 at the half, Central notched five straight points as Guerin canned two free throws and Ashley Watson (team best 20 points) canned a three-point play to make it 32-25 with 6:15 left to go in the fourth.

And then Hamel helped chop it down to six off another pin-point pass to Guerin as Eastern was up by just six points (37-31) with less than five minutes in the third.

“Meghan Hamel was outstanding tonight for us. Outstanding tonight,” said Gaudet. “Without her, it’s not even close tonight. There are a lot of guys who contributed tonight but Meghan Hamel did a little bit of everything. She’s wiped. She had to do everything, bring the ball up the court and handle the press and she did an outstanding job.”

Watson then scored nine straight Central points – getting a couple nifty feeds from Hamel – and with 6:50 to go, Central was still in it but trailing 51-40.

“Meghan had plenty of assists to give Ashley a few nice buckets,” said Gaudet.

But Eastern righted the ship as Janick hit a bucket, Miya Laprise (10 points, four rebounds) made a steal and a hoop, Jillian LeBeau (eight points, eight rebounds, four assists) found Wnuk for a basket and when Laprise canned two free throws with 5:12 remaining, Eastern was back in charge at 59-42.

“They kept their composure,” said Floyd of his squad. “Even when teams cut [the lead] down to eight, seven, they don’t rattle. They just look for the good shot and that’s when they seem to turn it on.”

Central chopped the deficit to 13 late but after another bout of Eastern offense – including Maghini’s final 3 of the evening, the Rams trailed by 21 before settling on a 19-point loss on the road to the Lancers, 69-50.

But even in the losing effort, the Rams gave it one heck of an effort.

“I’m not making excuses when I say this [but] we haven’t had a practice in over a week,” said Gaudet. “With the snow, we hadn’t had games or anything else. Again, it was just a great effort by my kids tonight to come out and compete against a very, very good team.”

Also for Eastern, Meredith Foreman had four rebounds while Paige McLaughlin added four points, four rebounds, and three steals.

It was the final scholastic home game for Eastern seniors and captains Diana Wnuk, Jillian LeBeau, and Jillian LeBeau.

Central’s Brianna Hamel, who was injured, was allowed to score at the jump-ball – making a quick lay-up before leaving the game to quite an ovation.

Bristol Eastern’s Diana Wnuk zips past the Bristol Central defenders last Monday as the Lancers went on to beat the Rams. (Kelly May Del Debbio photo)