By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Eastern girls basketball team made its return to the CIAC Class L postseason count as the ninth-rated squad defeated No. 24 Waterford 64-34 in first round action from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol on Monday, Feb. 25.
The triumph propelled the Lancers (14-8) to second round play against No. 8 Naugatuck on the road the following Thursday.
Last year, Eastern was one of the smallest schools in Class LL but moved down to Class L for the 2018-2019 campaign.
The Lancers hardly looked rusty against Waterford (8-14) as the squad came out hitting 9-of-18 field goals over the first eight minutes of play – getting an assist on all nine hoops – as the ball moved well and Eastern generated lay-ups and mid-range buckets over its usual inside-outside passing attack.
But the pesky Waterford trimmed a 14-point deficit all the way down to six late in the second tilt as foul trouble didn’t allow the Lancers to employ its usual full-court defense and gritty rebounding efforts.
“In the second quarter, we got into foul trouble and stopped playing [defense],” said Eastern coach Tony Floyd. “And Waterford hit the boards and we didn’t rebound well. That hurt us.”
However, Eastern pumped the brakes – putting together a neat 13-1 run that started right before the half and went all the way to the 5:03 mark of the third quarter – and quickly, the Lancers were enjoying a 41-23 cushion and were back in control of the showdown.
“We talked in the locker room about controlling the boards, we have to own the boards, we got to get some put-backs, and we need to get up and down the floor in transition, which we didn’t do in the second quarter,” said Floyd. “And they did a great job executing against everything [Waterford] threw at us [whether it was] zone, man-to-man. They moved the ball very well.”
“I was very pleased about how they responded.”
Eastern’s Jordan Ouellette came through with yet another monster game offensively as she re-tied her career-high of 24 points – the third time over the past five games she scored 24 points for the Lancers.
She also kicked in six rebounds, three assists, and four steals while freshmen Ciara Collins made her postseason debut with 17 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.
Sage Scarritt contributed two points, eight rebounds, and five assists, Meredith Forman nabbed eight rebounds, and Paige McLaughlin added four points and two rebounds to complete a solid attack by the Eastern starters.
Avery Arbuckle continued to flourish as the Eastern sixth man with seven points, six rebounds, and three blocked shots, Cali Doyon netted four points and dished out two assists, and Julia Gettings made a couple of great attacks of the hoop on her way to generating four points.
“Jordan really stepped it up for us,” said Floyd of Ouellette. “Gettings came off the bench and had a nice second quarter for us.”
Not lost in the effort was an outstanding first quarter stint by Alyssa Kehler as she posted two assists in the period, keeping the ball moving and finding all the right targets for high-percentage buckets.
Amaya Massari grabbed an offensive rebound, Rachel Gregory added an assist while Jessica Levesque canned her first varsity hoop of her career to pace the winning effort.
The Lancers of Waterford were pesky throughout and got a great effort from Milly Walker (team-high 15 points) who used a nice Kevin McHale step-in shot to score points in the paint.
Her play kept the opponents hanging around over the second period.
“She kept them in the game inside,” said Floyd of Walker. “She really gave us trouble inside because we were worried about [Julie Bonilla] so much that we didn’t really try to deny that kid.”
Bonilla ended up with just four points, all coming from the free throw line during that run by Waterford.
It was a 6-4 game midway through the first frame but an 8-0 Eastern push – highlighted by two hoops from Ouellette – made it a 14-4 contest with 2:02 remaining in the stanza.
A jumper by Arbuckle gave the Lancers an 18-8 lead through one quarter of play and when Gettings slipped in a lay-up and Collins connected on two free throws, the Lancers held its biggest edge of the first half at 22-8 with 6:14 remaining before the break.
Foul trouble didn’t allow the Lancers to be as aggressive as usual to end the half and that’s when Walker was able to chop the deficit to single-digits with her attacks at the hoop.
Collins hit a jumper with 2:44 left in the second period – making it a 28-16 game – but a 6-0 run, ended by a jumper from Waterford’s Amy Pinch, got the visitors within six at 28-22 with about a minute to play.
“We were in foul trouble and that sort of messed up our flow,” said Floyd.
But Collins drained a three before the completion of the half – putting Eastern on top 31-22 to end the second period – and a major run was about to unfold for Eastern.
Ouellette hit for 10 third period points, canning a variety of lay-ups and mid-range jumpers and off that 13-1 run, Eastern put together another jaunt to make it a near blowout.
Leading by 16, an 8-0 push – ended with a Doyon lay-up and two charity tosses via an offensive rebounding effort from McLaughlin – and it was a 49-25 game with 46 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
“Everybody picked it up and contributed,” said Floyd.
Collins and Ouellette continued to push the envelope offensively going into the fourth tilt and when Arbuckle, Doyon and Collins connected on late hoops for the Lancers, the Waterford deficit reached 62-30 with 3:11 to play and the reserves ready to mop up.
Vanda Horvath, Audra Porowski and Grace D’Amato made late appearances before Eastern won the event by 30 points, 64-34 – ready to challenge the Naugatuck Valley League foe in second round action.
“We have to make the adjustments and it’s something to learn,” said Floyd. “Our scouting report was on-point with [assistant coach] Vinny Guarda and we knew what was coming and adjusted very well which was nice. In every game, everybody’s going to have these adjustments and things like that and hopefully, as the games go, [my players will] get more confidence.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.