WEST HARTFORD - The Southington girls basketball team’s record and seeding (23) in the Class LL tournament is not indicative of how good it is.
After finishing the regular season just 12-8 and losing their opening game in the CCC tournament, the Blue Knights have already beaten the No. 10 seed in Ridgefield on Tuesday and seventh-seeded Hall Friday night in their first two playoff games of the Class LL tournament now that they are fully healthy and starting to come together.
Star forward Janette Wadolowski missed nine games in the middle of the season with a broken hand, but she has scored 55 points in the two tournament games and that is a big reason why the team is in the quarterfinals.
“I think we are peaking at the perfect time,” Wadolowski said. “It’s tournament time so we are all playing really well, the shots are falling and we are all healthy.”
This Southington team is a young bunch so even if Wadolowski didn’t miss a big chunk of the season, growing pains were always likely. Head coach Mike Forgione usually goes with a 7-man rotation and it consists of three freshmen, a sophomore, two juniors and just one senior.
That can be a lot to put on those young players and although they have been through their struggles, the freshmen are in a good place now.
“I think the underclassmen are more excited than scared at this point,” said junior Hartlee Meier who hit the game-winning 3-pointer against Hall. “They have been playing really well lately and have really stepped up big for us.”
“I’m pretty hard on those underclassmen,” Forgione said. “I told them ‘these are the expectations of playing at a LL school if you want to compete with the best in the state.’ This isn’t a program that wants to just go play and have a banquet at the end of the year. We want to try to compete with the best in the state and that takes a certain level of effort and focus.
“They were thrown into the fire and they knew they needed to give it everything they have and to their credit they have. They may not be the most talented, but they work really hard.”
The underclassmen stepping up for Southington is huge for depth purposes, but the team still runs through the three upperclassmen - Wadolowski, Meier and Maggie Meehan. The big three of the Blue Knights combined to scored 57 of the teams 63 points against Hall Friday night and they will need to continue to carry the load if the team wants to keep its season going.
“We may not have many upperclassmen on this team,” Forgione said. “But we have the best three upperclassmen in the state.”
The two wins to open up the tournament for Southington have not only put everybody else in Class LL on notice, but have given the team elevated hope.
“These last two wins have given us a lot more confidence than we have had all season,” said Meehan, the team’s lone senior.
Not only is the team as confident as it has been all season, but it is also a more cohesive unit. Coming into this season, a lot of the players hadn’t played together but now, 23 games in, they know each other well and don’t have much miscommunication.
“I just feel like we are coming together so nicely,” Wadolowski said. “At the beginning of the season it was rough because we have so many freshmen and nobody knows who they are. But I feel like as the season is going on we have come together a lot, the chemistry is better and we are just feeling ourselves right now.”
Next up for the Blue Knights is a trip to No. 2 Enfield (21-1) on Thursday. Southington has pulled off two upsets in the tournament so far, but if it were to beat the Eagles that would qualify as the biggest one. Enfield has only lost one game all season - against E.O. Smith who is now out of the Class LL tournament - will create matchup problems for the Blue Knights but that’s nothing new for them.
“Enfield is a really good team but they are definitely beatable,” said Forgione. “They have a couple of 6-foot-4 girls which we obviously don’t have. It’s going to be tough, but we have faced teams with a big center before.
“I wish we were playing a smaller team so that we could just go out there and play. But I could promise you one thing: these girls are going to fight and as you saw [against Hall], they will not give up.
“It’s not easy to make the final eight in Class LL so we belong there and I think we have a good chance to get a win.”
Michael Woolfson can be reached at 860-801-5203 or email@example.com
On Twitter: @Bigwoolf5