By KEVIN ROBERTS
The Southington girls basketball team has discovered that winning feeling, and it did so with a change in attitude and aggression. The Lady Knights (5-9) bounced back from a rough home loss to a good Berlin team with back-to-back road wins over South Windsor and New Britain on consecutive days.
On Jan. 22, Southington lost to Berlin, 59-41, at home. The Knights won, 48-35, at South Windsor on Jan. 25, then took a 50-40 victory at New Britain on Jan. 26.
“I decided let’s turn it up a notch and let’s really try to get that mental focus and that toughness that we’ve been talking about all year,” coach Mike Forgione said. “We had two really good practices Wednesday and Thursday.”
In the two wins, Southington players were throwing their bodies on the floor after loose balls, banging against opponents for rebounding position, and knocking down foul shots when they counted most. The Knights led going into the fourth quarter of the South Windsor and New Britain games, and they were able to maintain and even build on those advantages.
“We’ve still got a pulse, we’re still in it. We’re not going to stop fighting,” Forgione said. “I think the most rewarding thing for me as a coach is the girls want to be coached hard, and they want to take on the top teams. They just weren’t going to throw in the towel because we got beat up a little bit by Berlin, a good team that kind of took it to us.”
Berlin led, 15-4, after one quarter and didn’t look back. The Redcoat combination of attacking on offense and man-to-man pressure on defense was too much for the Knights. Kelley Marshall had 13 points and eight rebounds in the losing effort.
Forgione said he went against the advice of some coaching friends and didn’t “lighten the atmosphere” at practice in the two days between the Berlin and South Windsor games. When the South Windsor game arrived on Jan. 25, it was the Bobcats who felt the aggression of the Knights.
Southington jumped out to a seven-point lead after one quarter, extended it to eight by halftime, then 12 by the end of the third quarter. Bri Harris led the Knights with 12 points, including three 3-pointers. Sam Sullivan had a terrific double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds while Marshall added nine points and seven rebounds.
Livvy Pizzitola tallied nine points and four assists while Ali Barretta pulled down seven rebounds off of the bench. Southington outrebounded South Windsor 33-25 and outscored the home team 22-4 on foul shots.
There may have been a little hangover in the first half of the New Britain game the next afternoon, but Southington still led 23-22 at the halftime break.
“Even though we didn’t play our best half, we were fighting and we were battling,” Forgione said. “We had the one-point lead, and we extended it to nine after three, then ended up winning the game by 10.”
The Knights once again outscored their opponent at the foul line (17-8). It also helped that Southington canned five of its 10 three-point shots, led by three makes from Pizzitola, who had 15 points. Marshall tied Pizzitola for the team lead with 15 points, added eight rebounds and blocked two shots. Kristen Longley scored seven points while Sam Sullivan added 12 rebounds and three steals.
“I was really proud of the way that they fought in the second half,” Forgione said. “In both games, if you get the lead going into that fourth, they’ve got to foul you. We made 12 foul shots in the fourth quarter against South Windsor, and we made 11 in the fourth quarter against New Britain.”
Sullivan connected on nine of 12 attempts in the fourth quarter of the South Windsor win. In the New Britain game, Longley was perfect in four attempts from the charity stripe while Harris was 4-for-6. For a team that struggled mightily from the foul line earlier in the season, it was a great sight to see.
Up next: Southington has a trio of tough games. The Knights were scheduled to play at Simsbury on Wednesday in a game originally slated for Tuesday. Southington hosts Avon on Friday at 6:45 p.m. in its annual “Pink Zone” game that benefits the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Yow was the legendary North Carolina State women’s basketball coach. On Saturday, Southington is on the road at defending Class S state champion Coginchaug at 7 p.m.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.