By JOHN GORALSKI
For 16 minutes, the Lady Knight basketball team showed the Indians why they’ve been so dominant at home over the last three seasons. The full-court defense stretched the Newington offense, and forced a series of turnovers and mistakes. The pace slowed. The Knights settled into the lead.
Then, in the final seconds of the half, Newington took their first lead of the game with a three pointer at the buzzer.
On Friday, Dec. 12, the Lady Knights were in danger of losing their home court advantage, and that was Mike Forgione’s halftime reminder.
“I told the girls that we didn’t play our best in the first half. We turned the ball over too much. We missed open shots, and we kind of let them hang around,” said the Lady Knight coach. “I wanted to see how we would respond in the third quarter, and we did great.”
Once again, it started with defense with six players combining for 22 steals. Kaitlin Paterson scored seven steals. Maggie Meehan added five, and freshman Hartlee Meier scored another four. Tyra O’Regan blocked two Newington shots. Natalie Wadolowski and O’Regan combined for six rebounds apiece, and Southington out-scored Newington, 18-5, in the first eight minutes of the second half.
“Good athletes and good players respond, and that’s what we did,” said Forgione. “We won that third quarter by 13 points. We were up 12, and we never looked back.”
Every time that Newington tried to trim the lead with a three pointer, Paterson (13 points) answered at the other end. Meehan added 12 points. Kayla Kavanagh contributed five, and Southington held on for a 41-35 win.
In the days leading up to the season opener, the Lady Knights lost two starting players with season-ending injuries. The girls responded with a pair of varsity wins.
“We played two Class LL schools, and we faced one of them on the road,” said Forgione. “This wasn’t an easy schedule. I’m really, really proud of the way that the girls battled. They have been working really hard in practice, so to get two wins in the first week is a great start.”
It began in Middletown on Wednesday, Dec. 10. Southington raced out to a 26-12 lead after the opening quarter, and cruised to a 66-42 victory. Wadolowski powered the offense with 23 points and 10 rebounds against Middletown’s 6 foot, 3 inch center.
“Natalie did a great job with the fundamentals. She did a lot of pump fakes to get her on her toes or off her feet, and she would go around her,” said Forgione. “She did a nice job knocking in those foul-line jump shots. She took advantage of her athleticism against that big center, and she was able to get around her and finish her jumpers.”
The guards provided the rest of Southington’s attack. Meehan scored 12 points with nine assists and seven steals. Paterson contributed 10 points and seven steals. In her varsity debut, freshman Hartlee Meier scored 13 points and four steals, and Southington forced 39 Middletown turnovers.
“We wanted to put a lot of pressure on Middletown early, and we did,” Forgione said. “We knew that some of their guards were athletic, but we felt that if we could get some deflections and tips, we could force turnovers and get transition baskets. We were able to get stuff off turnovers, and the kids did a great job. We were able to open up a big lead and never look back.”
With the victories, Southington kicks off the winter campaign with a 2-0 record. Things won’t get any easier in week two as the young Knights try to build momentum against Rocky Hill (2-0) before taking to road to face Conard (1-1) in another conference battle.
“Rocky Hill was a double overtime game last year. We came away with the win, but they have everybody back. It’s going to be a tough game. We just have to clean up our mistakes and get back to work,” said Forgione. “You have to remember we’re starting a freshman and a sophomore. Our two subs off the bench are a freshman and a sophomore, and that sophomore didn’t play last year because of a torn ACL, so you can think of her as a freshman, too. We have a lot of inexperience in the lineup, at times, but we’ve been able to rely on Natalie, Kaitlin, and Maggie. They’ve all done a great job.”