BRISTOL â€• The St. Paul girls basketball team took on its most challenging matchup of the season while facing its largest stakes so far when it hosted Seymour on Wednesday night.
Second place in the NVL was on the line as Seymour senior Mackenzie Sirowich brought her 25 points per game average into the Brian Monnerat Gymnasium trying to hand the Falcons their second loss of the season. Unfortunately for Sirowich, who posted 28 points in the game, St. Paul welcomed her team with its most well-rounded effort of the season to protect its home court with a 57-49 win.
The Falcons reached their highest level when it mattered the most and proved they can handle pressure late in tightly contested games with half of their regular season in front of them. Building upon the experience from their win over Seymour will be imperative with more important games ahead, starting with a road game against undefeated Holy Cross (12-0, first place in NVL) on Feb. 1.
â€śI really think this is the best game weâ€™ve played,â€ť St. Paul head coach Joe Mone said. â€śThis was a really good, complete game of running some decent offense, playing some good defense, [getting] big rebounds when we had to, [hitting] clutch free throws at the end to keep the lead at nine. I think itâ€™s the best team weâ€™ve played so far and I think it's the best game weâ€™ve played.â€ť
St. Paul excelled on both ends of the floor, but was anchored by its defense against an opponent that was guaranteed to score. Despite allowing 28 to Sirowich, the Falconsâ€™ allowed just three other Seymour players to score and used their defense to initiate their offense.
St. Paul ran a 3-2 zone defense that looked to trap ball handlers as they crossed the midcourt line, which repeatedly created turnovers. Facing a small deficit after one quarter of play, the Falcons defense was the catalyst for them entering halftime as they forced steals that led to easy scores on three of Seymourâ€™s final five possessions.
â€śWe always prided ourselves on being a defensive team first,â€ť Mone said. â€śThis game was coming down to whoever defends better. This is going to be a knock-â€™em-out, drag-â€™em-out kind of game, not a 30-point game. This was going to be a [close] game and it was going to be in the 45-50-point range so weâ€™re going to have to get down and play defense. Some of these guards we have are really good anticipators on passes. They arenâ€™t taking passes from kids, theyâ€™re from looking and watching that pass and getting in the passing lane so we can get out the [fast] break.â€ť
Even though St. Paul led for the entire second half, Seymour never went away and forced the Falcons to protect their lead instead of letting them add to it. The Wildcats needed several scores late in the fourth quarter to make their comeback, but never cut the deficit closer than five points as St. Paulâ€™s guard displayed the composure to consistently control the ball on offense and not fall into the traps of Seymourâ€™s full-court press.
â€śI like that I can put three or four kids out there that can handle the ball and attack the basket at the same time,â€ť Mone said. â€śSometimes you handle the ball, but you donâ€™t get [any] offense on the other end, or sometimes you break the press and it looks really bad at the end of it. Weâ€™re getting better as a team and thatâ€™s all we want to do, so when in another two or three weeks weâ€™re ready to be in our league and state tournaments.â€ť
While Seymour looked primarily to one player to put points on the board, the Falcons received a more even scoring output with three players posting at least 12 points. Junior Nadia Riemer, who leads the team in scoring, took over in the third quarter to score 10 of her 15 points, but sophomore Audrey Tice and freshman Izzy Leggett led the way in the first half.
Tice paced St. Paul with 19 points and showed the diversity of scoring options around Riemer as the team can look to various players for supplementary offense.
â€śLast year, if Nadia didnâ€™t score weâ€™d be in games that are 33-29, we won a game 29-27 and we relied a lot on her,â€ť Mone said. â€śThe thing I like about this year is that everybody is stepping up. Nadia had a tough first half, but Audrey and Izzy Leggett had a great run. I think our guard play, we can play with a lot of teams with our guards. Our forwards, theyâ€™re getting there, theyâ€™re doing a great job of rebounding, we just want to get a little more scoring from them.â€ť
Before facing Holy Cross next week, the Falcons have another challenging test against Woodland (9-4). All but one of Woodlandâ€™s losses came against the other top teams in the NVL, including Torrington which handed St. Paul its lone loss of the year.
â€śIf we just keep progressing from this game, I think we can just keep getting hot and hopefully come together even more than we did [Wednesday],â€ť Riemer said.
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com.