The tying shot slides off the rim at the buzzer.
By Paul Palmer
The Conard girls basketball team staged a thrilling comeback but fell just short, losing to Simsbury 40-37 in the CCC Tournament championship game Thursday night at the University of Hartford in West Hartford.
It was the first time the Red Wolves’ girls had ever played in the CCC final in school history. Conard had the chance to send the game to overtime, but Clara Gaglioti’s 3-point try from the right corner caught the rim as the horn sounded. “Proud does not cover how this coaching staff feels about what these kids can do,” said head coach Laurie Cersosimo.
Conard came into the Tournament as a No. 6 seed and had already knocked out the No. 2 and 3 seeds. The squad features a trio of sophomores that should be the core of a solid team for the next two seasons. On Thursday, No. 4 seed Simsbury showed why they belonged in the title tilt.
After beating the top seed Newington 49-46 in overtime in the semis on Tuesday, the Trojans kept the momentum going early in the final. Senior Faye Kaplinski pounded the low post and when Amanda Gallagher buried a 3 right in front of Conard’s bench, it was 9-5 Simsbury. Conard would score just a 3-pointer from Callie Cosgrove (11 points) and a basket from Emily Knowles (12 points) – two of the talented sophomores – and trail 13-5 after one.
The Trojans continued to dominate the boards at both ends of the court with Kaplinski and Gallagher grabbing rebounds and getting second chances on offense. They led by as many as 11 in the second frame and carried a 25-13 lead into the intermission. Kaplinski had 12 of those 25 to lead all scorers. Conard’s offense was finding its lanes to the basket frequently cut off by Simsbury defenders who used their quickness and defensive scheme to force outside shots.
Whatever Cersosimo told her club at the half seemed to work, as the young squad came out with a fire and a purpose in the third quarter. Courtney McPhee (the third starting sophomore), hit for four points, Knowles dropped a 3, then a pair of free throws and after three it was 29-22 Simsbury. One concern for Conard in the third was senior center Tatiana Harrison picking up her fourth foul.
To open the final period, Conard went on a 6-2 run and when Knowles hit the driving shot it was a 31-30 game and the Red Wolves and their fans were feeling they might just win this game. Kaplinski scored on the runner and later blocked Cosgrove’s shot to keep it a three-point game.
Then came the first of two moments that had some in the UHart gym wondering.
Kaplinski missed the first of two foul shots. The horn sounded and the officials conferred with the scorers table. The clock had been left running, so it was reset, and Kaplinski was awarded two free throws. She made them both and it was a 35-31 lead with 4:22 to play. Cosgrove would hit one of two free throws with 2:43 to play to make it a three-point game.
Play got a little sloppy as both teams suddenly started missing shots and turning the ball over. Conard lost Harrison when she picked up her fifth foul. Neither team scored until Moira Hughes dropped one of two from the charity stripe to make it a four-point game with 53 seconds remaining.
On the next possession McPhee buried a huge 3 and with 36.7 to play it was a 36-35 Simsbury lead. McPhee would finish with nine points, but picked up her fifth foul on the next possession for the Trojans. That was also the second issue with the clock that went against the Red Wolves. Simsbury’s first try at inbounding the ball failed, but the officials once again huddled up and determined there was another issue with the clock, and Simsbury was awarded another chance to inbound the ball. They got it in, and McPhee took the foul to stop the clock.
Simsbury connected on the two free throws and then forced a Conard turnover with 20 seconds to play. But Kaplinski was called for travelling as she brought the ball up court and the Red Wolves were still alive.
Cosgrove would hit a driving shot out of the timeout and with 11.7 to play the score was 38-37. Simsbury added two foul shots and with 10.9 to go led by three as Conard took a timeout to draw up what they hoped would be a game-tying play.
The Red Wolves inbounded and were looking for the 3 and found it, but Gaglioti’s shot would not fall and Simsbury became the CCC champion.
Speaking with her team after the game, Cersosimo’ s message was simple: “I told them they should be extremely proud of playing in a championship game and never giving up. I reminded them there were 30 other teams that wanted to be there and were not,” said the coach.
Conard hopes that the run to the final and the strong play that got them there carries over into the CIAC Tournament. That competition opens on Tuesday when as a No.. 7 seed Conard will host 26th seed Brien McMahon of Norwalk at 6:30 p.m. A win and they would host the winner of the Wilton/New Britain game. That game would be at 6:30 p.m. on March 3.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford! Click the blue button below to become a supporter of We-Ha.com and our efforts to continue producing quality journalism.
Leave a Comment