BERLIN - Berlin girls basketball junior captain Lyzi Litwinko was tip-toeing along a delicate balance on Thursday night.
While her Redcoats were on the cusp of a Class M state tournament semifinals berth with a win over No. 16 Jonathan Law, Litwinko was also on the cusp of Berlin High School history, just three points shy of 1,000 for her already illustrious high school career.
Before the game began on Thursday, reaching the 1,000-point mark felt like a foregone conclusion. Litwinko, Berlin’s leading scorer, dropped a game-high 24 points during the Redcoats’ second-round victory. What was another three?
But as is usual protocol for scorers who reach 1,000 points, the game is put on hold so the player can be properly honored. Thursday night presented a unique case, as Berlin would be in the middle of its most important game of the season. How would Litwinko and the Redcoats balance a historic achievement while maintaining focus on keeping their season alive?
For Litwinko, the decision was an easy one.
“It’s obviously a historic accomplishment and she deserves all the recognition, but she was so unselfish,” head coach Sheila King said. “She said ‘don’t stop the game, the game is more important.’ That’s the kind of player she is.”
So, when Litwinko was fouled while putting home a driving layup in the opening seconds of the third quarter, King and the Berlin bench stood in unison along with the Redcoats’ crowd as Litwinko headed to the foul line. Standing at the charity stripe and waiting for the ball from the official, Litwinko kept her focus on the game as fans throughout the gymnasium revealed signs and banners with “1,000” proudly displayed, while the Red Sea student section hoisted a cardboard cutout of Litwinko’s head.
While the focus was on the floor and maintaining Berlin’s 18-point lead, Litwinko allowed herself the briefest of moments to soak in the moment before turning her attention back to getting her team to the state semifinals.
“It almost felt like it was happening in slow motion,” Litwinko said. “I was excited, and then I looked over and saw all those banners. It really meant a lot.”
Litwinko’s memorable bucket felt like even more of a relief after the way the first half unfolded, with the Law defense harassing Berlin’s greatest offensive threat and holding her to just one point through the first 16 minutes.
“They were face guarding her,” King said. “She had three points hanging over her head, but we knew she would fight through it and get it, and she did. She wound up having a great game.”
Litwinko admitted to having initial nerves as minutes continued to fade from the game clock with a basket seemingly impossible to come by, but she also remembered what was more important. Even if she finished the night with one point for the game and still at 998 points for her career, she would still have another game and her entire senior season to reach 1,000.
“The win is most important,” Litwinko said. “I would have been fine if we came out with the win and I didn’t get it.”
Litwinko helped Berlin accomplish its main goal of the evening with a 69-55 win, and the newest member of the Redcoats’ 1,000-point club was honored afterward with the game ball and congratulations from teammates and coaches. As King handed her the ball and hugged her prized junior at midcourt, she couldn’t help but think back to Litwinko’s ascent to one of the most bonafide scorers in central Connecticut.
“I’ve been watching her since she was five years old,” King said. “I couldn’t wait to see her put on a red uniform here. She’s turned out to be everything we hoped she could be.”