By John Goralski
Coach Mike Forgione’s game plan focused on Suffield guard Merideth Ouellette even though few fans in this part of the state have ever heard her name. From the opening whistle, the Lady Knights swarmed the 5-foot-6 junior. They stepped in passing lanes and waved hands in her face whenever possible.
That’s why her 13-point surge in the opening quarter came as such a surprise. Ouellette was shadowed, contested, and double-teamed, but she still managed to go 5-for-5 in the opening quarter. Even with hands in her face, Ouellette managed a trio of three pointers and 13 points before the first horn.
“We focused on her right away. We were playing her man-deny. We were trying to deny her even getting the ball, but she took five shots in the first quarter and made every one,” said Forgione. “It wasn’t like we weren’t prepared or they caught us off-guard. Give Suffield credit.”
Forgione knew that his inexperienced team wouldn’t finish the season undefeated, but he still couldn’t hide his disappointment about the 59-49 road loss on Friday, Dec. 27. After upsetting Newington at the start of the season and rolling out to a 4-0 loss, he was hoping that momentum would carry through the new year.
“Give Suffield credit. They were really aggressive, and I think we learned that we have to match that intensity,” said Forgione. “I don’t think we lost to a bad team. We gave the effort, but the kids understand the intensity we need going forward if we’re going to compete in our conference.”
On the other hand, Forgione said that he was pleased with the effort. Despite Ouellette’s first quarter hot streak, the Knights were able to limit her to just 12 points the rest of the way.
Two more Wildcats managed to score in double digits with an inside-out game, but Southington was able to battle back to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
Sure, the Knights fell to 4-1 with the loss, but the game was close until the final minutes. At times, the Knights were competing with two freshmen and a sophomore on the floor, while Suffield countered with an experienced roster of upperclassman.
Forgione said that balanced efforts and determination are going to be the keys to this year’s success.
“We know that, if we are going to win games, it has to be a total team effort,” said Forgione. “I’m happy with the way that we fought back. We’re not going to go one-on-one against many teams with one girl scoring 40 points to carry us. Everyone had to do their job and work for each other.”
Once again, Natalie Wadolowski rose to the challenge. The sophomore was charged with stopping Ouellette down the stretch but still managed to score 20 points with seven rebounds. Sarah Mongillo anchored the middle with 13 rebounds and three steals. Maggie Meehan finished with 11 points and five assists. Kaitlin Paterson (8 points) and Nicole Fischer (6 points) both contributed to the balanced attack.
“I was happy with our effort,” said Forgione. “It came down to shots late in the game and free throw shooting.”
The loss came on the heels of a 46-33 conference victory over Conard that pushed the Knights to 2-2 in the CCC West. Southington rolled out to an 18-9 lead at the end of the first quarter and cruised to a 13-point victory.
“We talked about starting strong, and Kaitlin really came out right off the bat. She had two threes and 10 points in that first quarter,” he said. “We got that lead up to double digits at the half, and we really never looked back in the second half.”
Paterson paced the locals with 16 points, including 2-for-4 shooting from long range. Wadolowski scored a double-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds, four steals, and two blocks. Meehan scored seven points and led the fast break with seven assists.
Southington has one more chance to score their fifth win before January with a New Year’s Eve matinee against Maloney. Then, the pressure will be turned up with a tough non-conference match up against Plainville before jumping into fray of Southington’s conference schedule.
Forgione continues to look for balance and effort to carry his young team into the postseason.
“We need to take it one game at a time. I know it’s a cliché, but with this group it really is true,” he said. “Even if you’re not doing one thing well, we’re going to need everyone to make that up with other things. Everyone’s going to have a poor shooting night. Everyone’s going to have nights when they’re not on, but you can always play aggressive defense. You can always make good passes or see the floor.”
The Knights aren’t even close to their potential, and that’s good new for Southington fans.
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By John Goralski