By JOHN GORALSKI
Mike Forgione gathered his team on the sidelines, looked at the scoreboard, and sighed. His Lady Knight basketball team built an early lead on the road but saw it shrink to just one point at the half. When Manchester exploded out of the gates at the start of the third quarter, Southington’s coach was forced to call for a timeout.
On the road, trailing by 12 points in their first game of the new year, Forgione challenged his Lady Knights to protect their undefeated record. They’ve been in this situation before, he said. Southington trailed Conard in the second half but came back to win. Keep battling, he told them, and he sent them back onto the court…
“A lot of teams might have thought that 6-1 isn’t too bad of a record at the end of Christmas vacation, but the kids bore down and found a way to gut out a win on the road against a scrappy Manchester team,” said Forgione. “We had a lot of negatives. We didn’t shoot well. Foul shots hurt us, but we found a way to win.”
The Indians didn’t go quietly. Their 37.6 percent shooting marked the first time that the Lady Knights (29.4 percent) were out-gunned in a varsity contest, but Southington began to battle back. The girls cut the deficit to single digits by the end of the third quarter. A pair of three pointers by Maggie Meehan and another by Kaitlin Paterson tightened up the contest, and the defense did the rest.
Southington improved to 7-0 with a 38-36 win. The Knights need just one more victory to clinch a postseason berth.
“They showed me that they can get down in the second half and still come back to win, but I hope they don’t make a habit out of it,” Forgione said with a laugh. “We didn’t have a great shooting night. Manchester played a really active 2-3 zone, but we just couldn’t get them out of that zone. We needed to knock down some shots, but we couldn’t get over that hump.”
Meehan finished with 16 points, three assists, and three steals. For the first time this season, Natalie Wadolowski was held under double digits in both points (9) and rebounds (8), but the Lady Knight big man finished as the only Southington player over 50 percent from the floor (57.1). Paterson finished with nine points, three assists, and three steals, but nobody else managed more than one basket.
Defense was the difference as the Knights scrambled for 10 steals, forced 16 turnovers, and eked out an advantage on the boards (30-29).
That was enough to keep the winning streak alive.
“We didn’t play our A-game, but we got down double-digits and fought back,” Forgione said. “It’s a good win. It counts toward the conference tournament. It was on the road against a well-coached team. Those are the positives.”
The win came on the heels of a nearly perfect win over Suffield on Tuesday, Dec. 30. Southington suffered their first loss of the season to Suffield last year, but the Knights won the rematch, 56-47. Once again, defense was the key.
The Wildcat offense is fueled by 1,000 point scorer Meredith Ouellette and is anchored by a veteran lineup, but the Lady Knight defense held Ouellette to just nine points with two of her three pointers coming after Southington emptied its bench.
“We knew that we were going to have our hands full defensively, and I just can’t say enough about the job that Kaitlin Paterson did on Ouellette all night,” said Forgione. “To hold a player like Ouellette to just one basket and three points? We did mix it up with zones and man, but Kaitlin did a great job when we went man-to-man.”
Wadolowski powered the Knights with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Meehan (15 points) converted a trio of three pointers with six assists and three steals. Paterson countered Ouellette’s poor shooting with 10 points and four assists. Hartlee Meier finished with eight points and five rebounds and Southington led from start to finish.
Suffield, on the other hand, went cold in the second half with a nine minute scoring drought that spanned the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth.
“I think they got a little tired,” Forgione said. “We play these games every night. We don’t have one game off from game one to game 20. We have to bring our best or we aren’t going to win. I honestly think our schedule—and the hardest part is coming up with the meat of our schedule after the New Year—really helps us. I think in the second half we wore them down a little bit.”
Now, the Knights look to continue their momentum as they enter the heart of the conference schedule. Southington will host NW Catholic () on Tuesday and Farmington () on Friday. A win in either contest would secure a postseason bid, but it won’t be easy.
“We have a lot of mini goals. We talked about getting to the New Year undefeated because we know that it’s going to get tougher from here. Now, we’re just going to take it one game at a time,” said the coach. “To get our seventh victory this weekend was huge for us, because we know that we have to go against two of the heavyweights from the CCC West next week. We know that it’s going to be difficult, but the kids are excited that we pulled this one out against Manchester. They know that we still have a lot to work on, but I think this will really help us going into Tuesday’s game against NW Catholic.”