By MICHAEL LETENDRE
WOLCOTT – With the two top teams of the Naugatuck Valley League Brass division squaring off in Wolcott on Monday, Feb. 10, the St. Paul girls basketball team made a loud and clear statement.
And once that statement was handed out, Wolcott had no choice but comply.
With first place in the Brass on the line, the Falcons dominated the final three periods of play, turning the game into a blowout, as St. Paul blasted the Eagles 57-28.
It was a total team effort by St. Paul (15-3) as the Falcons have taken the edge in the Brass division at 9-1.
Kelly McMahon flipped in a team best 13 points to go along with two rebounds, four assists and five steals, certainly giving Wolcott defenders heartburn as she attacked the rim with zest.
Theresa Swanke added seven points, snatched a game-high 15 rebounds and blocked three shots while fellow starter Lizzy Cretella scored two points and snared six rebounds.
Mekaela Giantonio hit a three-pointer and dished out two assists while Briana Sanchez added three rebounds and a steal in the fray.
The Falcons bench was mint as Lizzy Ferraro and Maddie Sturm were a one-two punch the Eagles had no answer for.
And when the duo started to hit the glass, set screens, and crash the boards, Wolcott quickly lost its lead.
Ferraro had a double-double off the bench as she collected 11 points and 10 rebounds to go along with two steals while Sturm notched 10 points and gobbled up three rebounds to pace the attack off the pine.
Jillian Kilmer had three points and three rebounds. Meanwhile, Brigid Johndrow was a nice change of pace at guard, directed traffic on the floor and kicked in six points and four assists in the winning effort.
Monica Roccapriore (one assist), Corinne Johndrow, Lauren Benoit, and Emma Bartley all gave something in the winning effort.
St. Paul’s defense turned missed Wolcott shots into hoops and once the second quarter came about, the Eagles’ offense went into the tank.
After making six of its first 12 field goal attempts, the Eagles finished the game by missing 32 of its final 37 shots (13.5-percent) from quarter two to the finish.
And don’t underestimate the 20 turnovers St. Paul forced against the Eagles as Wolcott is a top NVL challenger but made plenty of gaffes against the Falcons.
Simply put, defense led to offense over the final 24 minutes of play.
“That’s been pretty much all year,” said St. Paul coach Joe Mone of the defense/offense combination. “Even on the road. We looked good today running and setting good screens, getting easy shots. Sometimes, we have a tendency to run our sets but not run them productively especially in the screening part.”
On the other side of the coin, off a 3-of-12 first period shooting clip, the Falcons ended the game by hitting 20-of-43 field goal attempts (46.5-percent).
St. Paul out-rebounded Wolcott by 14 (45-33) and zipped up 15 assists, which led to its 23 made baskets.
Wolcott made it a challenge over the first eight minutes of play as St. Paul’s defense wasn’t warmed up yet.
But the visiting squad did just enough to hang around even though the Falcons trailed by five after one period of play.
Giantonio drilled a three-pointer in the stanza and off a bank shot from Ferraro, St. Paul trailed by just one (8-7) with 1:53 left to go in the frame.
But Maddie Hanlon (12 points) hit two buckets to end the frame as Wolcott led 12-7 after eight minutes of work.
Then the St. Paul defense showed up.
Then on offense, the screens and picks showed up. It was simply too overwhelming for the home squad.
Swanke and Ferraro opened up the second period with lay-ups off those screens. It quickly was a one-point game (12-11) with 5:55 left before the half and Wolcott clinging to the lead.
“Something we talked about over the last couple days is setting better screens to give ourselves better opportunities to score,” said Mone. “In the first quarter, I didn’t see it. The second quarter, I kind of laid into them about what we talked about, what we practiced and in the third and the fourth period, you saw some solid screens that got easy lay-ups for us.”
While Hanlon made a three-point play, propelling Wolcott to a 15-11 push, the Eagles only scored 13 additional points over the final 21:37 as Hanlon and Kayla Briere (four points) were stopped nearly cold.
“Defensively, I thought we took their two best players out of the game,” said Mone of Hanlon and Briere. “I thought we did a good job of, not only defending them. But not letting them touch the ball many times on the floor. That was our game-plan and kudos to them. They did what they were supposed to do.”
St. Paul ended the half with 10 straight points – highlighted by a steal and coast-to-coast lay-up by Sturm – as the Falcons ramped up a 21-15 halftime lead.
In the third tilt, the only points Wolcott notched were four quick ones from Briere as a free throw, a phantom offensive rebound, and a three-pointer by the shooter. However, St. Paul outscored the Eagles 14-4 over the eight minute incursion.
McMahon started the quarter off with a lay-up and then the slick shooter ended it with a steal and lay-up for two points.
And off two charity tosses by Cretella, St. Paul was in charge 35-19 with one quarter remaining.
Ferraro opened the fourth with a lay up, Brigid Johndrow found McMahon for another hoop and Swanke hit a free throw, propelling the Falcons to a 43-19 edge with 6:46 to play.
Izzy Ingeise finally hot two foul shots for Wolcott but a 9-0 run later by the Falcons, highlighted by a blistering three-pointer from Brigid Johndrow, posted the visitors to a 49-21 lead with 5:05 left.
Quickly from there, the Falcons had all its reserves in the contest and once Roccapriore, Corinne Johndrow, Benoit and Bartley made appearances in the contest, the game was all but over.
In the end, St. Paul seized control of the Brass Division with a huge 29-point win as the Falcons doubled up – and overwhelmed – Wolcott.
“We’re deeper,” said Mone. “This (game) is a perfect example. If everybody’s contributing, it’s hard to stop (us).”