By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington girls basketball’s season opener against Conard in the Walt Lozoski Gymnasium turned into a rollercoaster ride. The Lady Knights had an uphill battle after falling in an early hole, but they rallied for a nail-biting 60-58 win over the Chieftains last Thursday.
Southington trailed 12-1 just minutes into the game. The Lady Knights were able to trim the deficit to 17-12 by the end of the first quarter. Southington led by six points at halftime and as much as eight in the fourth quarter, but had to battle until the final buzzer to claim victory.
Brianna Harris led the Lady Knights with 15 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore point guard Livvy Pizzitola, making her first varsity start, played all 32 minutes and scored 11 points to go along with five assists and two steals. Megan Mikosz (11 points) and Kelley Marshall (10 points) joined Harris and Pizzitola in double figures. Kristen Longley scored nine points.
“Thirteen, 11, 9, 10 and 11 from our five starters, and that’s what we’re going to need this year for us to be successful,” coach Mike Forgione said while looking at his scorebook. “We’re not going to have a girl go for 40, but we have five players out there, and then Alli’s the sixth when she comes back, that can really compete and really get after it at the varsity level.”
Alli Carr, an honorable mention All-CCC West choice as a freshman, was out after banging up her knee in a scrimmage, Forgione said. Pizzitola handled the ball almost all game, and she guarded Conard sophomore sensation Azaiayh Felder. Felder finished with a game-high 22 points. A zone couldn’t stop her, and even two players had trouble containing her.
“This is my 16th year as a head coach,” Forgione said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone have a more explosive step to the rim than she does.”
Late in the fourth quarter, Forgione threw Pizzitola and Longley at Felder, essentially leaving a Conard player uncovered. Felder still got into the lane, and she later had the final shot of the night with 1.1 seconds left. Her half-court attempt hit harmlessly off of the top left corner of the backboard, and the Lady Knights were able to exhale.
Southington found itself in big trouble early on. The Chieftains forced several turnovers, made some outside shots, and raced out to a 12-1 lead. A Harris free throw accounted for the lone Lady Knight point.
“Give the girls credit. Down 12-1, it wasn’t like we scripted it, but they fought back and we cut it to five by the end of the first quarter, then we went on that run in the second quarter,” Forgione said.
Freshman Sam Sullivan’s layup at the 4:18 mark of the first quarter was Southington’s first basket of the season. Sullivan was fouled on the play, and her free throw made the score 12-4 in favor of Conard. The Chieftains went back up by 10 points at 14-4, but it was their last double-digit lead of the game. Foul shots from Longley, Mikosz and Harris cut the deficit to 14-9 with 1:56 left in the opening quarter. Southington finished 22 of 31 at the foul line (71 percent), a big key in the comeback.
Conard’s final lead of the game was 21-19 in the second quarter. From there, Southington outscored the visitors 11-3 to take a 30-24 lead into the half. Harris had five straight points during the run while Pizzitola added four and Mikosz chipped in two.
In the second half, Marshall asserted herself. Marshall had two big baskets in the third quarter as Southington fought to maintain a slim lead over Conard.
“The two freshmen Sam Sullivan and Julia Korp bailed you out and played hard for you in the first half,” Forgione said he told Marshall at the half. “Now it’s your turn to pay them back in the second half, and I thought Kelley did a really nice job of making plays.”
Conard kept answering Southington’s challenges, and by the 1:42 mark, the Chieftains trailed by just a point at 56-55. A pair of foul shots each from Longley and Marshall built the lead back up to 60-55, but Felder converted a three-point play to make the score 60-58 with 39.5 seconds left.
Southington had four missed foul shots sandwiched around a pair of Conard misses, then the Chieftains called a pair of timeouts to advance the ball to halfcourt with 1.1 seconds left. Felder’s final shot missed, and Southington escaped with the win.
Up next: The Lady Knights faced a big challenge against Glastonbury on the road on Tuesday. Southington hosts Farmington on Friday at 6:45 p.m.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com