The Chieftains will travel to play Trumbull in the second round of the Class LL Tournament on Thursday night.
By Marlon Pitter
Behind rock-solid team defense and a game-high 21 points from junior Azaiyah Felder, No. 12 Conard defeated No. 21 New Britain 51-35 in the first round of the Class LL Tournament Monday night in West Hartford.
The Golden Hurricanes made a push to cut a 10-point gap down to two possessions late in the third quarter, but the Chieftains dominated the fourth to advance to the second round of the state tournament.
“We talk a lot about playing four quarters – 32 minutes – and we did that tonight,” said Conard head coach Laurie Cersosimo. “I just said to these kids, ‘This is your home court. It’s up to you to protect it. You’re in control of what happens next, and we do it together.’ That’s been our motto all season, and we did it. They knew it, and they believed in it, and they really wanted to get this win for the seniors, so I’m really happy that they did.”
New Britain led Conard 6-5 just past the four-minute mark in the first quarter, but the Chieftains went on a 9-2 run to go ahead 14-8 after one period.
The Golden Hurricanes kept it close in the second quarter, cutting the margin to 18-16 past the halfway point. Albeit marginally, Conard added to its lead in the final 3:20 of the half, taking a 22-17 lead to the locker room.
The Chieftains controlled nearly the first seven minutes of the third quarter scoring-wise. Conard went up 33-23 at the 3:22 mark, but New Britain went on an 8-2 run in the last minute of the quarter to make it 35-31 heading into the fourth.
Conard ran away with the game in the final quarter, outscoring New Britain 16-4 down the stretch. The Chieftains opened the quarter on a 9-0 run, allowing the Golden Hurricanes just two free throws and one field goal over the last eight minutes.
Maya Slisz led New Britain with 16 points.
“We talked a lot about how this game was gonna come down to who was mentally tough, and it was definitely us,” said Cersosimo. “We talked a lot about making sure that we stay on our course and play our game … and we did that. We did that tonight very well.”
In a rematch of a regular-season matchup Conard won 61-58 on Jan. 31, senior Ella DiPippo said the Chieftains improved in nearly every aspect since then.
“Our offense, our composure, our defense was just overall better than the first time we played them,” DiPippo said.
One of three seniors on the roster, DiPippo said the win was special for her class to advance in the tournament for the first time in their careers.
“We’re really excited,” she said. “This is my first time ever making it to the second round of states, so that’s really exciting for the seniors and the whole program.”
Conard will travel to face No. 5 Trumbull Thursday night after the Eagles’ win over 28-seed West Haven. Playing an unfamiliar opponent, the team looks to focus on continuing to play “Chieftain basketball” as it moves along in the tournament, Cersosimo said.
“We’ve heard they’re an excellent team, but … if we play our game and we stick together, we’ve got a game on our hands. No matter who we’re playing, we just focus on the way we play basketball and making sure we stick together and play together again.”
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