By JOHN GORALSKI
For the first eight minutes, the Lady Knights tormented Bristol Central ball handlers. They stepped in the lanes. They batted passes. They seemed to climb around the Rams like a swarm of puppies, and the pressure forced 11 turnovers during the first eight-minute stretch.
Still, it took the Knights a full quarter to build a simple five-point lead.
“Give Bristol Central credit. They’re a well-coached team, and they’re very athletic,” said Lady Knight basketball coach Mike Forgione. “I told the girls that we were going to be in a fight tonight. To our credit, we were able to force some turnovers and got some transition baskets. We were able to keep that lead and open it up in the second half.”
On the other hand, the Rams paid a price for their first quarter heroics. Bristol players couldn’t keep up the pace, and the Knights slowly pulled away. Southington led by 15 points at the half. The Knights surged to a 24-point lead before emptying their bench mid-way through the final quarter, and the girls held on for a 64-39 win.
With a hard-fought road win against Conard at the start of the week and a smothering effort over Bristol Central to end the week, Southington has surged to an early 5-0 record. With one more win before New Year’s Day, Southington could enter January needing just two wins for a postseason berth.
In early December, the girls were scrambling to fill vacancies in their starting roster. As the month comes to a close, the girls look to be ready for the upcoming challenges.
“Getting to this point, we’re pleased, but we’re definitely not satisfied. We know that it’s going to get a lot harder,” said Forgione. “I told the kids that we were going to take it one game at a time. We’re not going to back down against anybody. We’re going to keep working hard, and we’re going to keep getting better.”
The Knights have already shown a versatility to meet different challenges. On Tuesday, Dec. 23, the girls opened the week at Conard. The Chieftains neutralized Southington’s center with a large post player. Natalie Wadolowski finished with 10 rebounds and two steals but was held to five points as Conard big man Nicole Kradas battled for 22 points.
Southington shifted to their perimeter players, and Kaitlin Paterson matched Kradas with 22 points and 12 steals. Maggie Meehan added 14 points, and Hartlee Meier scored eight points with three steals. Southington led by two points at the half but out-scored Conard in both of the final quarters to score a 51-44 victory.
“They have a girl inside that is a really good post player. She was finishing, but every time that she would make a run, Kaitlin would answer,” said Forgione. “Kaitlin was the difference. The two of them matched 22 points apiece, and the rest of our girls were able to pick up the slack.”
A few days later, Southington switched back to an inside game to overwhelm Bristol Central in the paint. Wadolowski led the way with 24 points and 13 rebounds, including a 14-point surge in the final quarter.
“I always tell my posts that, if you run, the guard will reward you,” said Forgione. “We like to run that transition, so we always have that one post breaking down the floor along with our other guards along the wings. Natalie did a great job running the floor. Our guards found her, and she had some layups. She also knocked down some shots in the paint for us.”
As the Rams collapsed in the paint, Southington’s guards answered from the perimeter. Meehan finished with 10 points, and Paterson (6 steals) scored 13 points with a trio of three pointers.
Now, the Knights will need to use every weapon in their arsenal as they try to beat a senior laden Suffield lineup. Last season, Suffield won by 10 points at their place. This year, Southington will try to return the favor.
“They have a 1,000 point scorer—Merideth Ouellette. They start five seniors, and they’re one of the better teams in Class M,” said Forgione. “It doesn’t get any easier for us. I told them that we have to come out with more intensity in that first quarter because Suffield has some great shooters. It’s going to be a tough match-up.”
In other words, it’s just another day at the office.