By John Goralski
Over the last two decades, Coach Mike Forgione has coached more than his fair share of top athletes. He’s captured conference titles and made deep tournament runs, but the Lady Knight coach had to stop and gather himself moments after the Lady Knight basketball team suffered a season-ending loss at South Windsor on Friday, March 1.
Reporters asked about the final efforts of his three senior players, and the coach slumped his head in his hands while he fought for the right words. The reporters waited…and waited…and waited…
“They’re like my three daughters,” he said under his breath. “I’ve had some great kids. I’ve had some division one kids along the way in basketball at Farmington and girls track at Bristol Central. I’ve had some great student athletes at both schools, but these three seniors have a special place in my heart. They stepped in from day one and did everything I asked of them. They are going to be missed.”
For three years, the trio has formed an instrumental part of Southington’s postseason rallies. This year, it culminated in a Cinderella run to the conference tournament’s championship game. Southington survived their first Class LL test against a CCC rival, but No. 5 South Windsor finally ended the Lady Knight winter season with another hard-fought CCC battle.
The Knights didn’t go quietly.
“The last thing I said to you guys on Tuesday night was that we would leave everything on the court,” Forgione said in the post-game interview. “I think that the girls did that tonight.”
Southington trailed by just two baskets after the first eight minutes of play. A last-second score by Windsor pushed the deficit to six points at the half. The Lady Knights trailed by as many as 11 points in the second half, but they continued to battle back with a full court pressure that seemed to bewilder the Bobcats at times.
“The kids left everything on the court and fought to the end,” said Forgione. “We don’t quit. We don’t stop fighting, and we don’t stop working. We knew that we were going to play until the end, and I think they set the example for high school student athletes.”
Midway through the third quarter, senior guard Maeghan Chapman (6 points) capitalized on a Southington rebound and her fast break basket cut the score to 31-29. Senior forward Danielle Charamut (7 rebounds) scored 14 of her team-high 18 points in the second half with eight points in the final minutes. Co-captain Stephanie O’Keefe rallied for five of her nine points in the final quarter as the Knights fought their way within two baskets with a minute and a half left in regulation.
“Give them credit,” said Forgione. “Wenever we made a run, South Windsor would answer it. They have some very good athletes, and they’re a good team. We gave our best effort tonight, and as a coach that’s all you can ask for.”
All six varsity players scored for the Knights with underclassmen Kaitlin Paterson, Natalie Wadolowski, and Sarah Mongillo combining for 11 points in the first half before turning the scoring over to the seniors down the stretch. Chapman, O’Keefe, and Charamut scored all but two of Southington’s second half points. Still, it wasn’t enough and Southington’s season came to an end with a 52-44 loss.
“We play a pure team game, and everyone has to contribute,” said Forgione. “We don’t have that one person that can take over and have 28 points per night. [The underclassmen] bought into the team concept, and they meshed well with my three seniors. I think you saw team basketball every night.”
The loss came on the heels of a 41-25 victory over Newington in the first round. Southington’s defense allowed just three baskets in the opening half as the Knights rallied to a six point lead at the break. Charamut powered the attack with 22 points and 10 rebounds. O’Keefe scored 10 points with five rebounds and three steals. Chapman (4 points) collected eight rebounds.
Southington won both regular season with nine point and 10 point victories, but they rallied to a 41-25 win to advance to the second round. Defense was the difference. Newington guard Kayla Guest scored 16 points, but the rest of the Indian lineup managed just three baskets in the game. Despite their lack of offense, Forgione said that it was a difficult first round match-up.
“They have five guys that can play, so to go 15-5 and draw this team in the first round was…oh, boy,” said Forgione. “The kids really stuck with it, and that was the difference.”
Despite the loss to South Windsor in the second round, Forgione championed his team for raising the bar for future squads. Southington finished the season with an 18-7 record. The game marked the final effort by Chapman, Charamut, and O’Keefe.
“They’re great kids. They work hard. They do the right things in the classroom and the community and on the court,” Forgione said. “Whenever we made a run, South Windsor would answer it. They have some very good athletes, and they’re a good team. We gave our best effort tonight, and as a coach that’s all you can ask for.”
He added, “Those three seniors are three that we’ll never forget.”
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