It’s not where you start but where you finish, and that axiom couldn’t have been any truer for the Blue Devils girls basketball team. After clawing their way into their fourth consecutive postseason, the Devils showed up in full force for the first round Class M showdown with No. 5 seed Seymour (17-6).
Plainville—the No. 28 seed at 7-13—seemed to counter every punch Seymour tried to land. Ultimately, the No. 5 seed barely escaped with a 68-65 win. It marked the second year in row that the Devils went down to the wire after losing to No. 8 Berlin last winter, 62-60.
“Coming into this game I knew if we could match their aggressiveness then we could play with them,” said Devils coach Jessica Neuweiler. “After the opening tip I just knew that we were going to go back and forth all night. I’m so proud of my girls effort they really left it all on the court.”
It’s never easy playing on the road in a state tournament game never mind facing a team that took the NVL champion Holy Cross to double-overtime. Seymour was a legitimate contender in the NVL, and Plainville came in looking to be competitive.
Jaida Vasquez (16 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals) and Kori Jones (23 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) both completed three point plays hitting a basket and the ensuing free throw to keep Plainville out in front early on 16-13 with 1:15 left in the opening quarter.
Elena Gorneault and Kaitlyn Gagnon battled in the low post for any rebound they could get their hands on. Lilly Wazorko (23 points on 6-three pointers) started firing away from long range and rippling the net. When the two team headed to the locker room at the half Seymour was clinging to a 35-33 lead.
“You could see right from the opening tip that both teams were going all out,” said Seymour head coach Brian Cleveland. “We knew that Plainville comes out of a tough conference, they are well coached and a lot better than their record would indicate.”
Much to the delight of the Plainville fans the Devils were very much in this game. Six turnovers in the first three minutes of the third quarter had the Devils staggering to a timeout.
Seymour was threatening to run Plainville right out of the gym holding a 14 point lead at 50-36 with 3:48 left in the quarter. Much to the Devils credit by the time the quarter came to a close Plainville was still standing trailing 52-48 after Tessa Susco (5 assists, 5 steals, 3 points) hit a knee buckling three-pointer just before the buzzer.
They talk about leaving it all on the court and that’s exactly what Plainville did. Olivia Wazorko dove to the floor for several jump balls and Vanessa Xiques (6 rebounds) was mixing it up under the boards look to gain any advantage.
It wasn’t supposed to be this hard, or so Seymour thought. But the Devils were not taking no for an answer and battled the Wildcats till the final horn. With 1:44 to play Seymour stretched it out to a seven point advantage, 66-59.
Jones and Lilly Wazorko took turns in burying three-pointers and with 12 seconds left on the clock Plainville called a timeout to set up a final shot trailing 68-65. Vasquez got the opportunity out on the wing but the shot at the buzzer clanged off the iron. The season was over for the Devils but they certainly made sure that Seymour knew they were in a game leaving it all on the court.
“This is the full 32 minutes I have been waiting for all season long,” added Neuweiler. “It was without a doubt our best effort all season long. This was really a learning year for a lot of them and there is so much success ahead of them.”
Final grades for the girls
There wasn’t a whole lot to build upon at the start of the season for Plainville head coach Neuweiler. As she entered her fourth year at the helm of the girls basketball team, the Devils had lost quite a bit of experience to graduation over the past two seasons. Only three players with any significant time in the varsity lineup had returned to fill the void.
It wasn’t necessarily that the deck was stacked against them, but reaching the postseason for the third straight season seemed to be a goal out of reach. Of course, nobody told the girls.
It certainly helped to have junior captain Vasquez returning as an All-CCC player at 12 points per game last year. Juniors Jones (69 points) and Susco (51 points) returned with some quality varsity minutes. Senior co-captains Olivia Wazorko and Xiques had the experience to lead.
Plainville did experience some growing pains as they tried to develop some of the younger players into expanded roles. The Devils dropped five games by four points or less finishing the regular season at 7-13.
“We were in most of our games,” said Neuweiler. “A couple of things fall our way, and we are 13-7 instead of 7-13. What they do in the off season will determine our results next season.”
Juniors Gagnon (26 points) and Gorneault (16 points) split duties to give Plainville a presence under the basket. Junior Sydney Ouellette (50 points) and sophomore Samantha Thompson (36 points) played their roles in the forward position.
Sophomore Lilly Wazorko played her part in helping the offense come together scoring 108 points this season. Vasquez was All-CCC again putting up 324 points on her way to a 15.3 average per game.
Jones became a central force in the offense, leading the way with 245 points, and Susco gave them a 1-2 punch with her 98 points. Olivia Wazorko (31 points) was a key part of an effective defense and Xiques (11 points) was an added force in the paint pulling down crucial rebounds for the Devils.
Junior Jenna Adamic and sophomore Elyse Brown also saw varsity minutes. Next year, Neuweiler will have no problem raising the bar. Next winter, the Plainville girls will return a solid team that gained a lot of experience…and only losing two to graduation.
“We have an opportunity,” Neuweiler said after a hard-fought loss in the Class M tournament. “What we do with it is up to them and how much they want to put into it. If they put into it what they put into this game tonight, we are going to be very successful.”
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