WEST HARTFORD, Feb. 21, 2023 – A little adversity and nervousness isn’t a problem with the Simsbury High girls basketball team. It’s been there all season.
Simsbury went to three overtimes before dropping a game to Southington. They played and beat the No. 10 ranked team in New York State, Schenedehowa just hours after All-State guard Lauren Sabia injured her knee the night before against Conard. Simsbury erased a five-point deficit in OT to beat Schenedehowa with a basket with one second remaining.
A week ago, Simsbury slugged it out with Glastonbury before dropping a one-point decision for the CCC West championship.
“We’ve had such a tough schedule,” Simsbury senior Faye Kaplinski said. “We played Southington and went into triple overtime. We’ve seen tight games down to the end. We’re battle tested for that. When it came to that big moment, people were ready to step up.”
Kaplinski sank three foul shots in overtime and got a huge block with 26 seconds remaining with Oliva Jarvis sinking four foul shots in the extra session as No. 4 Simsbury beat top-seeded Newington, 49-46 in OT on Tuesday night in the CCC Tournament semifinals at the University of Hartford.
The win lifts Simsbury (19-4) into the CCC Tournament championship game for the first time since 2000. On Thursday night at the University of Hartford, the Trojans will face No. 6 Conard, which outlasted No. 2 seed E.O. Smith, 35-31 behind 19 points from sophomore Emily Knowles.
Newington (18-4) took their second lead of the game with 3:49 remaining in the fourth quarter when Ella Stair hit a three-point shot from the corner for a 38-36 advantage.
With 2:27 remaining, it was Kaplinski’s tip of a pass that forced a Newington turnover. With 2:04, Kaplinski took a beautiful pass from Moira Hughes to the basket to tie the game at 38-38.
Newington took a two-point lead on Selah Prignano’s one-handed basket in the lane with 1:50 left but Simsbury responded quickly when Amanda Gallagher drove to the basket to tie the game at 40-40 with 1:29 remaining.
With 47.1 seconds left, it was Gallagher who scored over a pair of Newington defenders for a 42-40 lead. Newington’s Bela Cucuta hit a pair of free throws with 2.4 seconds to tie the game. A shot from Hughes from just beyond half court hit the front of the rim at the buzzer and bounced away.
In overtime, Simsbury had a one-point lead thanks to a Kaplinski free throw when Cucuta hit a smooth jumper with 1:36 left for a 44-43 advantage for Newington.
With 1:08 remaining, Jarvis missed her own shot in the lane but got the rebound, went back to the basket and was fouled. She hit the first free throw to tie the game at 44-44. She missed the second but fought off two defenders for the rebound and was fouled a second time. Jarvis hit one of two free throws to give Simsbury a 45-44 lead with 1:04 left.
After Kaplinski blocked a shot with 26 seconds remaining, she was fouled trying to grab the ball. She sank two foul shots with 24.6 seconds left to extend the lead to 47-44. Prignano hit a shot in the lane with 15 seconds left to cut the lead to one but Jarvis hit a pair of free throws with 8.9 seconds remaining for a 49-46 lead.
Gallagher led all scores with 20 points with Jarvis adding 15 for Simsbury. Trojan head coach Sam Zullo missed the game because he was at the hospital with his wife for the birth of their third child.
“It’s tough because he does so much for us and is a calming presence out there,” Kaplinski said. “But he prepared us more than well enough to go and take care of business tonight.”
Assistant coach Vinnie Cianfarani ran the squad on Tuesday night.
“One of the staples of this program is that we defend well and we’ll defend your best players very well,” he said. “We may not outscore you but we will defend you well.”
Cucuta had a team-high 13 points for the Nor’easters while Prignano had 10 points.
Simsbury had a 15-5 lead after the first quarter with Gallagher sinking a pair of three point shots and Jarvis scoring six points, including a pair of baskets off of offensive rebounds.
Newington climbed back into the game on the strength of three-point shooting from Cucuta, Ella Stair and Brianna Gadarowski, who each hit two three-point shots.
The Simsbury lead shrunk to 24-19 at the half and it was two points after three quarters, 34-32.
Newington was looking to earn a spot in the championship for the third straight year. The Nor’easters beat Windsor, 54-40 to win the tournament in 2021 but lost a year ago to East Hartford in the title game, 31-30.
This will be Simsbury’s third appearance in the CCC Tournament title game. The Trojans beat Manchester, 47-36 in 2000 and topped Wethersfield, 53-48 in 1999.
Simsbury 49, Newington 36, OT
At West Hartford
Simsbury (49) Sammy Lombardi 0-0-0, Moira Hughes 1-0-2, Olivia Jarvis 4-7-15, Reece Willison 1-0-3, Faye Kaplinski 2-5-9, Amanda Gallagher 7-4-20. Totals 15 16-49
Newington (46) Ella Stair 2-0-6, Selan Prignano 5-0-10, Bela Cucuta 4-3-13, Brianna Gadaronski 3-1-9, Kendall Miller 3-0-6, Hope Romanello 0-0-0, Lia Pouliet 0-2-2. Totals 17 6-46
Simsbury (19-4) 15 9 10 8 7 — 49
Newington (18-4) 5 14 13 10 4 — 46
Three-point goals: Stair (N) 2, Cucuta (N) 2, Gadaronski (N) 2; Willison (S), Gallagher (S) 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 vs. Conard, 7 p.m.