Conard hosted Brien McMahon (Norwalk) in a Class LL first-round tournament in West Hartford on Wednesday night.
By Paul Palmer
Behind 20 points from Emily Knowles and 18 from Callie Cosgrove, the Red Wolves opened with a 60-35 home win over Brien McMahon High School in the first round of the Class LL CIAC Basketball Tournament.
Conard used a well-tested recipe for success and added a new wrinkle to coast to the win. Once again it was the trio of sophomores – Knowles, Cosgrove, and Courtney McPhee (14 points) – leading the way on offense.
The new wrinkle was a full court press they rolled out from the opening tip that at times had McMahon playing catch-up and committing numerous turnovers. “We thrive coming out fast,” said Conard head coach Laurie Cersosimo of her seventh-seeded team. “When we don’t, other teams get out in front of us.”
With the win, Conard will now do something its girls basketball team has not done since 2016 – host two state tournament games. The Red Wolves will meet No. 10 New Britain at home on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
For McMahon, the game marked the first time their program has made the tournament in 13 years.
Conard – which won its 20th game of the season – got 10 from McPhee in the opening eight minutes. With three minutes to go in the first, the game was close, but Conard ran off 16 unanswered points to end the opening quarter with the 20-4 lead.
Conard kept up the pressure in the second quarter, and frequently turned it into points. Knowles caught up to an errant McMahon inbound pass, found Kathryn Torla with the pass, and she was fouled as she went in for the shot. Partway into the period, Cersosimo took advantage of the score to rest some of her starters, and the Red Wolves didn’t miss a beat.
Torla, McPhee and Knowles teamed up on a pretty passing play that started in the corner when Torla found McPhee cutting into the lane, she hit her with a pass, and McPhee saw Knowles going baseline and put the ball in her hands for the easy hoop and a 31-13 lead.
In the third, the 26th-seeded visitors picked up their shooting accuracy, hitting inside and some long-range shots, but could not make a significant dent in the Conard lead. When Cosgrove hit a 3-pointer with 2:53 to play in the third, Conard had a 42-25 lead. A 9-0 run to round out the third had the Red Wolves holding the 51-25 lead with the final 8 minutes to play.
In addition to her scoring, Knowles also had a strong game on the boards as her rebounding gave Conard several second chances to score.
With just under 4 minutes to play in the game, Cersosimo gave some of her starters the rest of the game off. McPhee checked out with 14 points, Cosgrove – who had a big second half – left with 18. Knowles followed them 30 seconds later with her 20 points and Conard was able to empty the bench for the final 2 minutes of play.
Even with the lead, Cersosimo was still coaching her players as they came out. “The process is so important in growth,” the former Conard player turned head coach said. “There is always a time to teach them.”
Conard is hoping that the 20 wins is a bit of foreshadowing. The only other time the team won 20 games in a season was in 1978-79, the year they won the state title.
About the only thing missing in Wednesday night’s opener was a big crowd. The Red Wolves have been a strong team all season with an entertaining style of play, and having a fuller house on Friday may just be the thing that ensures a trip to the quarterfinals.
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