Behind strong defense and a game-high 22 points from Azaiyah Felder, No. 10 Conard takes down No. 7 Windsor to advance to the CCC Tournament quarterfinals.
By Marlon Pitter
Coming off a loss to West Hartford rival Hall in the regular-season finale, Conard head coach Laurie Cersosimo made defense a point of emphasis in preparation for the Central Connecticut Conference Tournament.
The Chieftains responded by shutting down seventh-seeded Windsor, allowing only 12 second-half points to secure a 42-37 win in the first round of the CCC Tournament Thursday night. Conard will face No. 2 Berlin in the quarterfinals Saturday at 3 p.m. at Glastonbury High School.
“After the Hall game … we spent a lot of time the next day doing defense,” Cersosimo said. “The girls worked really hard yesterday in practice. We worked on our 3-2 (zone). We worked on man, a lot of help defense. Just making sure we’re in the right positions, and aside from a couple fouls, I think we did a pretty good job of doing that.
“Windsor’s a really good team. They’re athletic, and that second half, I think we did a pretty good job of shutting that down.”
Offensively, Azaiyah Felder paced the Chieftains with 22 points, while Shea McCann and Ella DiPippo added nine each. Azure Riley led the Warriors with 11 points.
Conard took a 6-2 lead on a pair of McCann 3-pointers, but Windsor stormed back with an 11-0 run to take a 13-6 lead. Felder scored on consecutive layups to end the run before Savanah Yelling made a long ball to give the Warriors a 16-10 lead after one quarter.
Windsor took a 21-10 lead halfway through the second quarter, but Felder scored 11 points in the frame to cut the margin to one possession by halftime.
Felder tallied Conard’s next eight points, while Tatiana Harrison made a pair of free throws to tie the game at 23 with 1:45 left. The Warriors countered with two foul shots 20 seconds later to take a 25-23 halftime advantage.
Windsor opened the third quarter with a quick basket, but the Chieftains took a 29-27 lead after 3-pointers by DiPippo and Felder.
Felder reached the 20-point mark in the third quarter but sat most of the period in foul trouble. The team persevered, however, as DiPippo made a 3-pointer with 47 seconds left to put Conard ahead 38-33 after three quarters.
Windsor scored the first four points of the final quarter to make it 38-37, but the Warriors couldn’t find the basket over the last 5:26. DiPippo scored to extend Conard’s lead to three with 3:29 left, and Felder salted the game away with a pair of free throws at the 32-second mark.
Cersosimo said the team’s effort during key minutes without its best player was paramount to the outcome down the stretch.
“When two of your kids get in foul trouble and the rest of the team picks up the slack and does the right things, it’s why I coach,” she said. “It’s so fun to watch these girls do what they do.”
The team’s attention turns to the Redcoats, who beat Simsbury in the first round of the tournament to force a rematch with the Chieftains. Advancing to the quarterfinals before Berlin’s game Thursday night, Cersosimo said the Chieftains look to avenge a prior loss to the Redcoats if given the opportunity.
“I’d love to see Berlin again just because we had a tough loss at the beginning of the season, but Simsbury’s also a really good team,” said Cersosimo. “Either one’s gonna be a good matchup, but regardless, we’re gonna be ready to take one of them on.”
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