By BRIAN JENNINGS
Pink filled the atmosphere in the Walt Lozoski Gymnasium at Southington High School on Friday night. Pink balloons and streamers hung high from the walls and railings of the bleachers while pink ribbons and flowers complemented gift baskets.
Coaches, players, and fans were dressed in pink to honor the former North Carolina State University women’s head basketball coach, Kay Yow, who lost her battle to breast cancer in 2009.
“Each year we do a Pink Zone Game,” said Southington coach Mike Forgione. “We try to raise as much money as we can that night and give it to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. It’s part of the V Foundation. Deb O’Keefe, the mother of my volunteer assistant, Steph O’Keefe, and the girl’s basketball booster club just do a tremendous job having raffles, making gift baskets for the raffles, and collecting donations. The kids make signs for the game.”
For Forgione, it’s personal. The coach lost his mother to cancer in 2009.
“When I got the job in 2010, we decided to do something a little bit in her memory,” he said. “My family purchased the pink uniforms. We got the real Nike uniforms, sort of like what the college women wear. And rather than just have a t-shirt, we decided to take it one step further. In memory of her, the girls wear the pink uniforms once a year. It’s really neat, and my family really looks forward to this game. It’s a special night for us to help fight this horrible disease.”
The Southington Lady Knights came into Friday night’s game a win away from tying their total number of wins from last season (12), and the Plainville Blue Devils were the only team standing in their way.
Both teams displayed great hustle and effort, but the range of the Lady Knights (8-15) just got the best of the Blue Devils. Kaitlin Paterson (7-14) led the way for the Lady Knights with 20 points. She also shot the lights out from downtown, making six of the team’s eight three-pointers. Freshman Hartlee Meier also helped out with a career-high 16 points.
Deja Nolan led the Blue Devils with 12 points, but Forgione said he was prepared for what the Blue Devils threw at them.
“Plainville went into that 2-3 zone,” he said. “I tell them all the time the way to get a team out of the zone is No. 1: beat them down the floor, which we did tonight many times. No. 2: you have to have good ball movement, and No. 3: you have to knock down shots. Then, if you get the lead, you can get them into man-to-man and then we can run our man stuff. I thought we did a nice job of knocking down shots when we had to and found a way to win.”
The Lady Knights beat the Blue Devils 52-41, to improve to 12-3, and when asked about reaching 12 wins with five left to play in the regular season, Forgione said that it wasn’t even on his mind.
“Our only goal was to get to 4-0 after the Simsbury game,” said Forgione. “We haven’t talked about matching last year’s win total. We don’t worry or care about that. All we cared about was our mini goal of getting to 4-0 by Feb. 1. And they accomplished that mini goal.”
Like the Blue Devils, the Lady Knights were coming into Friday night’s game already having played the night before.
“It’s always tough to play those back-to-back games,” said Forgione. “We had an emotional win against Conard where we went into overtime and we were able to pull it out. Sometimes it’s tough, especially when we’re a little bit thin numbers-wise. So, when you have to go back-to-back games like that, you have to really try to find that energy on that second night. I thought tonight we didn’t play as crisp as we did Thursday night against Conard, but the kids made the plays when they had to, they battled like they have done all year, and we found a way to beat a well-coached team in Plainville.”
The Lady Knights had to work some overtime in the first game against the Conard Warriors (8-6) on Thursday night, which proved to be a nail biter. Having a halftime lead of only a point (21-20), the Lady Knights battled back and forth with the Warriors all game, finding themselves down by a point (29-30) to start the fourth quarter.
With the score all knotted up at 39-39 in the final seconds of regulation, Lady Knights were hoping for a last second miracle with possession of the ball, but a missed reverse layup from Paterson sent the game into overtime.
“We know that every conference game is going to come down to who can make plays at the end, and tonight’s game was no different,” said Forgione. “Give Conard credit, they made some plays in the fourth quarter to get it into overtime. Usually, the team that makes a basket to send it into overtime has that momentum, and Conard had the momentum. They made the play at the end to send it into overtime.”
Meier got the Lady Knights going in the extra period and delivered a big three-pointer with just under three minutes to go in overtime. On the next possession, freshman point guard Sarah Minkiewicz fed Paterson under the hoop on an inbounds pass for an easy two to put the Lady Knights up 45-44.
On the other end, the Warriors got a quick layup to go up 45-46 with 36.6 seconds to go, but Natalie Wadolowski drove the lane and got the and-one to fall, putting the Lady Knights up for good, 48-46 with 20.2 seconds left.
A near miss from three-point range that rattled the hoop on the Warrior’s next possession would seal the win for the Lady Knights, 52-46. Paterson (6-22) led the Lady Knights with 17 points. Nicole Kradas led the Warriors with 18 points.
“It just shows the toughness of our kids that they weren’t going to quit,” said Forgione. “It comes down to protecting the basketball and knocking down your foul shots in overtime and we were able to do that.” The Lady Knights were calm, cool, and collected, making six of seven shots form the charity stripe in OT.”
The Lady Knights currently sit in third place in the CCC West. With five games to go in the regular season, the Lady Knights will pack their bags and hit the road for the next two. With NW Catholic (10-5, fourth in CCC West), Farmington (13-0, first in CCC West and second in the state), and Simsbury (12-3, second in CCC West) left to play on the road, some may say that the Lady Knights are preparing for the three-headed monster. But to Forgione, they are simply known as the “big three.”