WEST HARTFORD - Just when the Southington girls basketball team needed them the most, Janette Wadolowski, Maggie Meehan and Hartlee Meier rose to the occasion.
Down by 16 points at the half in their second-round game of the Class LL tournament against Hall, the Blue Knights came roaring back in the second half to upset the seventh seed, 63-60, Friday night and move on to the quarterfinals.
Meier hit what ended up being the game-winning 3-pointer and finished with 15 points, 13 of which came in the second half.
Wadolowski was the only Southington player to have any sort of offensive success in the first half. The junior forward finished with a team-high 23 points, but got a lot of help in the second half from her fellow upper classmen.
Meehan, the lone senior, had similar struggles in the first half but turned it on the second half. She finished the game with 19 points, 15 in the second, and had a key stretch in the third quarter where she hit three triples to close the deficit for Southington.
“There were some down heads in the locker room at half,” Wadolowski said. “But [Hartlee, Maggie and I] did a good job of keeping everyone in the game and making them realize we still have a chance.”
“I told the team at halftime it’s 32 minutes of heck,” Southington head coach Mike Forgione said. “I told them that we are not going to stop playing. We are going to keep battling. We are going to play four quarters until the final whistle. I knew that if we cut it to six at the end of three we would be in it and we did.”
It took just over three minutes for Southington to take the lead in the fourth quarter. It did so on a Wadolowski layup. From there, the action was back and forth as the two teams traded the lead.
It wasn’t until the two-minute mark that the Blue Knights created some breathing room. Meier hit her first three of the game to give Southington a four-point lead and she extended it to six less than a minute later with a pair of free throws.
Hall, however, had an answer. Its top scorer, Amber Raisner, scored the next six points of the game. She was fouled shooting a three and made all three free throws and followed that immediately with a steal, and an and-one to knot the score at 58 with one minute left.
Wadolowski had a chance to give Southington the lead on the team’s ensuing possession after being fouled, but missed both free throws. Hall then controlled the ball with less than 30 seconds left and a chance to take the lead. The Warriors turned to Raisner, who drove to the hoop and was fouled. She made one of two free throws, but Southington answered with a Meier three to take a two-point lead.
Raisner got the ball and immediately raced up court and was fouled again. The junior made just one of two again forcing Hall to foul. Meehan stepped to the line and knocked down both free throws to ice the game with 2.2 seconds left.
Southington struggled mightily with its shot in the first half while Hall shot the lights out. Raisner had 15 points in the first half and was controlling the game, but Forgione changed up the defensive game plan to limit her impact.
“We decided to go box-and-one because we figured that’s a defense you don’t really practice against,” Forgione said. “She didn’t hit any threes in the second half and I thought it stalled them a little bit.”
Raisner still finished with a game-high 30 points, but the defensive change had a big impact for the Blue Knights. Combined with Wadolowski scoring eight straight Southington points in the beginning of the third quarter brought the deficit to just eight points.
Late in the third Southington had the ball with a chance to make it a one possession game, but a Wadolowski miss led to a fast-break opportunity for Hall and Raisner cashed in with a three-point play. Those were Raisner’s first points of the second half and she followed that play up with another fast-break layup to bring the lead back up to 11.
The Blue Knights fought back at the end of the third though as Meehan started to catch fire. Meehan’s shooting got the Blue Knights within striking distance before Meier hit a momentum-changing half-court buzzer-beater to make the deficit just four entering the final period.
“Madison [Hulten] got the rebound and I saw there were three seconds left so I yelled for the ball,” Meier said. “We make those types of shots in practice, but it took a minute to sink in that I hit that in a game.”
“That shot came at a huge time,” Wadolowski said. “They had just scored to make it a seven-point game again so we were kind of like ‘damn’ but then she hit that shot and we knew we were right there.”
Both teams started off slowly on offense in the first quarter but it was Hall that broke out first. Southington was up 6-3 early, after a Wadolowski layup, but the Warriors responded with an 11-0 run.
In combination with their poor shooting, the Blue Knights committed several turnovers in the first quarter, while Raisner scored eight points to give her team a 14-8 lead after one.
Also of note in the first quarter was the fact that Meehan picked up three fouls. Forgione decided to keep her in the game despite the foul trouble and it worked out well as Meehan didn’t pick up another foul until the end of the final quarter.
Southington continued to struggle from the field in the second quarter and Hall took advantage. The Warriors extended their lead to 11 points with just over three minutes left in the second on an Olivia Deslauriers 3-pointer.
By the end of the half Hall extended that lead to 16 points as it was up 36-20. Wadolowski had 10 points at halftime to try and keep Southington in the game. As it turned out, all the Blue Knights needed was the opportunity.
Southington will now travel to Enfield to take on the second-ranked Eagles Thursday night at 7 p.m.