By JOHN GORALSKI
Farmington’s first timeout came in the first minute of the second quarter, when a Southington layup gave the Lady Knights a 13-12 lead.
On Friday, Jan. 9, four television cameras were whirring along the walls of the Southington High School gym. Fans were packed into the stands to watch the display. Few expected a tight contest. Fewer still could have predicted Southington’s three-point lead in the waning minutes of the opening half.
After all, Farmington came into the game at 7-0 with every contest decided by double-digit margins. But as the game ground through three quarters and into the fourth, it was clear that the Lady Knights weren’t going quietly.
With just over four minutes to go in the game, Farmington was clinging to a five-point lead.
“I’ve said it from Day One. If you come to watch the Southington girls play, they’re going to play hard,” said Lady Knight basketball coach Mike Forgione. “We’re never going to quit. We’re never going to back down, and we’re going to leave it on the court. I was really, really proud of our effort tonight.”
On paper, it didn’t look like much of a match-up. Farmington fields four seniors and a junior at the opening whistle, while the Lady Knights rely on underclassmen as they continue to rebound from a pair of preseason injuries. To make matters worse, the Knights began the game without Tyra O’Regan—a recent starter—who was home nursing the flu.
But Farmington struggled against Southington’s zone. The Indian’s torrid shooters went 1-for-14 from the perimeter. Their oversized front line was nearly matched by Southington’s smaller lineup. Farmington won the rebound battle, 43-36, but the Knights won on the defensive boards, 23-20.
“I have to give our kids credit. I wanted them to keep fighting and keep believing, and I think they did that for four quarters,” said Forgione. “That is the best team that I’ve ever coached against, and I’ve coached against some very talented teams. They have three division one players on the floor, and probably—down the road—will have four 1,000 point scorers on the team. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
Natalie Wadolowski powered the Knights with a game-high 21 points, 15 rebounds, and three steals. Kaitlin Paterson (15 points) drained five three-pointers in the middle quarters. Kayla Kavanagh and Maggie Meehan managed six rebounds apiece, and Meehan committed just four turnovers against Farmington’s veteran defense.
Hannah Friend score 20 points for the Indians, but everyone else was held below their season average. Farmington went on two second half runs, but Southington answered both of them. The Indians escaped with a 55-48 win, but Forgione thought it was even closer.
“I am so proud of my girls,” said the coach. “Great teams are going to make runs at you. It comes down to how you can handle it. We knew we were up against a state powerhouse, but we kept playing our game and doing those things we work on every day. I thought they showed a great effort.”
The effort was even more impressive considering Southington’s loss to NW Catholic just three days earlier. The Knights suffered their first loss of the season in a hard-fought game that seemed to wear down the young Southington squad.
Wadolowski scored 18 points. Meehan added 12 points, but NW Catholic kept Paterson off the scoreboard for the first time this year. The Knights trailed by as many as 13 points early in the second half, but cut the deficit to five at the start of the final quarter.
NW Catholic held on to win, 49-37.
“I felt that, in the second half, NW wore us down a little bit. We were working so hard on the defensive end that we were a little tired. I think that effected our shooting tonight. We just didn’t knock down enough shots,” said Forgione. “They are an explosive team, so you have to give them credit. We’re a little bit undersized and undermanned. When you play a team like this that’s really aggressive, if you don’t take care of the opportunities you have, they are going to make you pay for it. Give them credit. We didn’t lose to a bad basketball team.”
Now, the Knights will try to get back on track with conference games against Hall (4-5) and Simsbury (8-1). One win will clinch a tournament bid with half the season ahead of them. Two wins would keep them on pace for a home game and a return to the conference tournament.
“It doesn’t get any easier for us,” said Forgione. “We talk all the time about mental toughness. That’s our motto. I told the kids from day one that we weren’t going to quit. We weren’t going to back down to anybody, and I hope that they really learn a lot about life playing Southington basketball. We talk about getting knocked down, but getting back up and coming back.”