WEST HARTFORD, February 23, 2023 – The Simsbury High girls basketball team hasn’t been shy about their championship aspirations this season. And they didn’t temper their expectations when All-State guard Lauren Sabia hurt her knee and was lost for the season in mid-January.
They found new ways to win.
On Thursday night, senior Faye Kaplinski scored a season-high 18 points and junior Olivia Jarvis added 12 points to lead Simsbury to a 40-37 victory over Conard in the Central Connecticut Conference championship game at the University of Hartford.
It was the third CCC championship for the Trojans but their first since 2000.
Simsbury led by as many as 12 points but the pesky Red Wolves (19-5) refused to go away quietly in their first CCC title game appearance. Conard cut the lead to one point twice in the fourth quarter but couldn’t come up with the key play to take the lead.
Simsbury missed three of four shots in the last two minutes as the Red Wolves cut the lead to one. But then Amanda Gallagher calmy and confidently sank four consecutive free throws in the last 35 seconds to keep the Trojans ahead.
“When you lose 20 points a game and an All-State player (Sabia), you have to find new ways to do things,” Simsbury coach Sam Zullo said. “We struggled in some games trying to figure that out but we stayed confident. Some of our juniors (Olivia Jarvis) and Amanda (Gallagher) really stepped up as the season went on and when you have a leader like Faye out there who is willing to step and do different things when you need her to, that is how you win big games.”
Simsbury struggled in their final regular season game against Glastonbury. The score was 8-7 at the half and the Trojans dropped a 27-26 decision.
But now, the Trojans are champions and owners of a four-game winning streak.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Zullo said of the post-season and their quest to win state championships. “We’re going to be in every game. We’re going to play defense. We’re going to battle. We are here to play. We’ll find a way to be in every game. I think this will give us a lot of confidence knowing that we are championship team.”
Simsbury went inside to Kaplinski and Jarvis to build a 21-10 lead with 4:17 remaining in the first half with Kaplinski scoring 10 points and Jarvis adding six points and pulling down some key rebounds. The Trojans led by 12 at halftime, 25-13.
“She (Kaplinski) has been everything we needed her to be the entire season no matter what that was,” Zullo said.
The Simsbury offense slowed down the third quarter, a victim of several turnovers and a more aggressive Conard defense.
A wide-open Jarvis scored off a nice feed from Kaplinski early in the fourth quarter to boost the lead to nine points, 31-22 but the Red Wolves scored a pair of three-point shots in the span of 10 seconds and added another shot in the low post and it was suddenly a one-point game, 31-30.
Kaplinski scored in the low post to give Simsbury a little more breathing room, 33-30 with 6:14 remaining and it was a grind to the finish. Simsbury played without Jarvis in the final 5:28 when she fouled out.
Simsbury led by four when Conard’s Courtney McPhee hit a three-point shot with 38.3 seconds left to cut the lead to 36-35. The Red Wolves hit six three-point shots.
Gallagher, who finished with nine points, sank two free throws with 35.4 seconds remaining to boost the lead to three, 38-35. With 13 seconds left, Conard’s Callie Cosgrove drove to the basket to cut the lead to one, 38-37 but Gallagher hit a pair of free throws with 10.9 seconds to push the lead back to three, 40-37.
One last shot for Conard bounced off the rim and the championship banner was heading to Simsbury.
“It’s tough. Conard brings a big crowd and one of the biggest things about their team is they bring a lot of energy that is hard to go against,” Kaplinski said. “You can’t really hear each other but we know each other so well. We’ve grown up together and it is just kind of second nature how we play. We all know what we need to do. It’s just a matter of executing.”
Simsbury beat Conard for the third time this season but this was the closest game of them all.
Simsbury won the CCC championship in 1999 with a 53-48 win over Wethersfield and in 2000 with a 47-36 decision over Wethersfield. The Trojans are the fifth CCC program to win the tournament three times. Manchester, E.O. Smith and Glastonbury was won it three times while New Britain has won the tournament four times.
While the CCC does crown divisional champions (South, North, West, East), the winner of the CCC Tournament is the league champion.
The Trojans return to action next week in the CIAC Class L tournament. No. 5 Simsbury will host No. 28 Rockville (7-14) on Monday at 6:30 p.m.
Simsbury 40, Conard 37
At West Hartford
Conard (37) Callie Cosgrove 4-1-11, Emily Knowles 4-3-12, Nicole Gorman 1-0-3, Kathryn Torla 0-0-0, Courtney McPhee 2-4-9, Tahara Harrison 1-0-2, Clara Gagliotti 0-0-0. Totals 12-8-37
Simsbury (40) Sammy Lombardi 0-0-0, Moira Hughes 0-1-1, Olivia Jarvis 5-2-12, Reece Willison 0-0-0, Faye Kaplinski 5-8-18, Amanda Gallagher 1-6-9. Totals 11-17-40
Conard (19-5) 5 8 9 15 — 37
Simsbury (20-4) 13 12 4 11 – 40
Three-point goals: Gallagher (S), Cosgrove (C) 2, Knowles (C), Gorman (C), McPhee (C) 2
2023 CCC Tournament
Thursday, Feb. 16 — First round
(1) Newington 40, (16) Bristol Eastern 32
(2) E.O. Smith 66, (15) East Hartford 29
(3) Glastonbury 42, (14) Berlin 34
(4) Simsbury 57, (13) Rocky Hill 26
(5) Bristol Central 43, (12) Avon 28
(6) Conard 72, (11) South Windsor 45
(7) Windsor 56, (10) RHAM 27
(9) Enfield 55, (8) New Britain 33
Saturday, Feb. 18: Quarterfinals
At Plainville High
Newington 68, Enfield 50
Simsbury 56, Bristol Central 33
E.O. Smith 35, Windsor 25
Conard 45, Glastonbury 36
Tuesday, Feb. 21
Semifinals at University of Hartford
Simsbury 49, Newington 46, OT
Conard 35, E.O. Smith 31
Thursday, Feb. 23
Championship at University of Hartford
Simsbury 40, Conard 37