FAIRFIELD – Playing with house money, the ninth-rated Bristol Eastern girls basketball team rolled into the quarterfinal round of the Class L CIAC tournament against the number one seed on Monday, March 4.
Notre Dame-Fairfield steamrolled over its first two opponents but did not have an easy time of it against the Lancers.
It was a single-digit affair with just 90 seconds to play; but in the end, Eastern couldn’t make it two possession game, bowing out in the end by a 55-48 final from Fairfield.
The loss ended the Lancers outstanding season at 15-9, getting its squad plenty of postseason experience over three Class L games.
It was the fifth time over the past seven seasons that the Eastern program has tallied at least 15 wins or more.
And the Lancers will continue to improve into the next year as well with several starters coming back into the fold.
Notre Dame (23-2) moved on to battle No. 4 Hillhouse the following Friday in a Class L semifinal showdown.
The Eastern/Notre Dame contest was fairly even outside of a 22-9 second period of play when the home team was able to seize the lead in the contest, holding it for the remainder of the fray.
The squad from Fairfield is a talented bunch with its players acquired from all over the state.
But the Lancers’ defense gave the team fits and it was tough to shake the visitors until the final horn sounded.
Notre Dame shot less than 37-percent from the field, was out-rebounded 48-37 and forced into 22 turnovers that helped keep the ball out of the hoop for spells of the game.
However, Fairfield’s defense collected 17 steals that helped lead to 27 Eastern miscues.
Aizhanique Mayo paced a balanced scoring attack for Notre Dame with 13 points while Yamani McCollough added 11.
Taylor Gibbs and Ciara Brown each pushed in 10 points for the victors as well.
For the Lancers, Jordan Ouellette notched a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds to lead the squad.
Ciara Collins collected nine points, five rebounds, three assists, and three steals to end her freshmen campaign while Meredith Forman played out her final game by scoring seven points and nabbing eight rebounds.
Cali Doyon (five points, three rebounds, two steals), Sage Scarritt (five points, four rebounds, two assists), and Avery Arbuckle (five points, four rebounds, two steals) all made contributions for the Lancers.
Senior Paige McLaughlin also scored five points and scooped in seven rebounds to finish a great career for Bristol Eastern girls hoop and Julia Gettings also saw floor time in her final contest.
Three lead changes and three ties highlighted a very busy first period of action between the teams.
Notre Dame led 8-5 with about three minutes to go in the first frame but a mini 5-1 Eastern run – with Ouellette hitting a turnaround jumper, Forman cashing in on an offensive rebound for two and a hoop by Collins off an assist from Getting – put the Lancers ahead 11-9 after eight minutes of work.
But when Notre Dame’s Erin Harris opened up the second period with a three, Eastern quickly trailed 12-11 and never led again.
That trifecta led to an 11-0 burst, giving the home team a nine-point lead, but hoops from Arbuckle and Ouellette chopped the deficit to 20-15 with 4:34 left before the half.
Notre Dame ended the half with an 8-2 run and while Doyon just rimmed out a half-court heave to lead into halftime, the visitors were trailing 31-19.
Eastern was hanging around early in the third as buckets from Forman and Scarritt trimmed the deficit to eight but Notre Dame quickly got into the offensive flow.
Another 10-2 jaunt pushed the home team’s edge to 43-27 with 2:28 to go in the third.
Eastern refused to go away quietly as a long 13-6 Eastern run, ended by a Scarritt free throw and a lay-up from McLaughlin, made it a single-digit affair again at 49-40 with 2:48 to play.
The Lancers chopped the deficit to seven on three separate occasions but the teams simply kept trading baskets until time was finally up.
In the end, the Lancers finished its excellent campaign with a 55-48 loss to Notre Dame on the road.
It was the final scholastic game for Eastern seniors Julia Gettings, Amaya Massari, Maura McGuire,Paige McLaughlin, and Meredith Forman.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.