The Conard girls basketball team hosted Simsbury in West Hartford on Wednesday night in an intense contest between two of the league’s top teams.
By Paul Palmer
Sometimes games just don’t live up to the hype. That was not the case Wednesday night when 12-1 Simsbury travelled to 14-1 Conard for a girls basketball showdown.
The Trojans had won the last three against the Red Wolves – including last season’s CCC Tournament final – and it is now four straight for Simsbury as they rode the hot hand of senior Amanda Gallagher’s 18 points for a 50-46 win.
“It was a great game,” said Simsbury head coach Sam Zullo. “They are really well coached and are getting better every year.”
Each team came in with a pair of players that are among the best in the CCC. For Simsbury it’s Gallagher who averages 21 points per game and fellow senior Olivia Jarvis who is averaging a 17 point-11 rebound per game double-double. For Conard it’s juniors Emily Knowles, who has six 30-point games this season and recently broke the 1,000-point career mark, and teammate Callie Cosgrove who broke the 1,000-point mark in their last game at Berlin and had nailed 26 3s this season entering Wednesday’s game. With that kind of matchup, it would come down to support players and intangibles on both sides.
It looked good early for Conard as Nicole Gorman scored four of Conard’s first seven points and Courtney McPhee was not only running the offense, but grabbed a crucial rebound off a missed shot then found Cosgrove who hit the running shot to make it 11-7 Red Wolves in the first.
For Simsbury it was Gallagher hitting early and often as she hit a 3 to make it an 11-10 game and then banged home the mid-range jumper to give Simsbury the 12-10 lead. When the horn sounded to end the first Conard appeared to have the 13-12 lead but the officials ruled that Addison Girard was fouled putting up a 3 at the buzzer. She calmly walked to the free throw line and drained all three shots and it was a 15-13 lead after 1.
“It came down to little mistakes we made,” said Conard coach Laurie Cersosimo.
McPhee opened the second with a tying basket, but Conard missed on its next two shots. Fortunately for the hosts, Simsbury also failed to score, and Knowles scored the next four to make it 19-15 Red Wolves. This time it was Amanda Gallagher’s sister, Alexa, who hit a 3 and it was a one-point game again. Simsbury went back in front when Jarvis hit the lay up off a nice backdoor cut, but the game ended tied at 22 at the intermission.
Knowles had nine points and McPhee seven for Conard, while Amanda Gallagher had eight and her sister Alexa has six.
The outcome of the game turned in the third period as Simsbury outscored Conard 15-9, leading by as many as 10 points. While Conard’s offense struggled, both teams found themselves hamstrung by some very tight officiating. By the end of the night, just the starting fives combined for 31 fouls and three starters fouled out of the game.
While neither coach laid the blame for the outcome on the officials, it was clear they both were looking for a better performance. “I felt bad – for both teams,” said Zullo. “You have two of the best teams in the state playing, let them play.”
Cersosimo was quick to say that you cannot put the outcome of the game on officials, but she too felt it was called a little too tight. “It is a hard game to ref, but with two of the best out there, you gotta let them play.”
Conard had a chance to end the third on an up note, but they lost track of the clock and never got a shot off before the buzzer sounded and found themselves trailing by 8 with just 8:00 to play. “Our bad habits came into play and it hurts us against good teams,” Cersosimo said.
The Red Wolves were not going to give up their 12-game win streak without a fight in the final quarter. Gorman stole the ball for Conard and found Knowles with the outlet pass, and Knowles would later hit a stepback 3 to make it a 39-34 game for Simsbury. As the large crowd was getting loud, Girard drilled a 3 and then hit another from the side when she was left unguarded to make it 45-36 with 3:20 to go.
“We talked all week about being there for each other,” Zullo said. “We discussed running our game but taking what’s there. I thought the girls did a really good job of that.”
Conard kept up the fight and behind two more baskets from Knowles, they were down just 5 with 1:56 to go. Cosgrove hit a pair of free throws with 28 seconds to play to make it 47-43, but then picked up her fifth and final foul with 18 seconds to go. She exited with just four points on the night.
After a Simsbury free throw made it a 5-point game, Knowles hit a 3 to make it 48-46. Cersosimo was calling for a timeout as soon as the ball cleared the net, but neither official seemed to notice and the clock ran out. When she challenged the refs, they spoke with each other and the scoring table and decided there were still 2 seconds to play.
Conard kept up the full court pressure as Simsbury inbounded the ball and sent the Trojans to the foul line, with Amanda Gallagher hitting the final 2 points of the night to close things out.
“It’s a good opportunity to see that every day you have to get better,” said Cersosimo after the game. “We were off tonight but I told them it is over; we will bounce back. It is how you respond that matters.”
The Red Wolves get that opportunity Friday night when they host New Britain on senior night.
- Knowles passed coach Laurie Cersosimo (who had 38 3s in the 2000-01 season) for seventh place on the Conard all-time list for 3s in a season.
- Cosgrove needs two more 3s to pass Cersosimo on the same list.
- During the win streak, Conard had been averaging 57.5 points per game and holding opponents to 36.8 ppg.
- Conard came in riding the longest team win streak in 44 years and fourth-longest in team history.
- Conard’s all-time leading scorer is Azaiyah Felder, with 1,438 points. Knowles, who has 1,068 points after Wednesday’s game, needs 371 additional points to break that record.
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