BERLIN - For the second time this school year, Berlin and Sheehan High School will battle it out for a chance to advance to a state final.
Three months after the Redcoats football team took down the Titans in the Class M semifinals, the two schools will meet again, this time on the hardwood, for a spot in the Class M girls basketball final at Mohegan Sun Arena. A win would mean Berlin’s first trip to the state final since 2009.
“It’s a great experience,” sophomore Carly Grega said of tonight’s 7:30 p.m. matchup. “It’s an honor to be playing for a state championship.”
The Redcoats (19-4) have won three tournament games, all at home, thanks to their usual balanced offensive attack led by Grega, Lyzi Litwinko, Ashley Wenzel and Angela Perrelli. In the team’s second round win against Ansonia, it was Litwinko leading the way with 24 points. In Thursday night’s semifinal win, in which Litwinko scored her 1,000th-career point, it was Wenzel pacing the offense with 28 points in a welcomed double-digit win for Berlin, which won its first two tournament games by a combined four points.
Head coach Sheila King, who has watched her team’s next opponent multiple times this season, wouldn’t be surprised if Monday’s matchup unfolds like the Redcoats’ first two tournament games, which came down to the final possessions.
“They’re a very good team,” King said of Sheehan. “I kind of thought we might see them in the tournament. They play really well together.”
The two teams didn’t meet in the regular season, but did have a common opponent in Jonathan Law, which Berlin knocked out of the tournament on Thursday night. Sheehan played the Lawmen twice this year, coming away with a win at home and a loss on the road en route to a 14-6 record and the 13th seed in the tournament.
King and the No. 8 Redcoats won’t be fooled by the Titans’ double-digit seeding, as Sheehan has already upset fourth-seeded Sacred Heart, while allowing just 18 points to Prince Tech in the first round. As the tournament reaches the final rounds, seeds seem to matter less. If a team has made it this far, they likely belong there.
“Some of the upsets that take place are expected, depending on what league teams are coming from,” King said. “If you’re here now, you have a good team. So I don’t look at the seeding, I look at the team.”
If Berlin is to avoid the upset and advance to the state tournament final, it will have to play strong on the defensive end against a Titans team that has scored at least 70 points in two of their three tournament games so far. Berlin knows it can score with any team remaining in the bracket, but it will also have to come up with stops on the other end to come away with a victory.
“They’re a really talented and strong team,” Grega said. “But if we play together and make sure we’re all helping out on defense and closing our gaps, we’ll be able to slow them down.”
One of the key players the Redcoats must slow down is Titans senior Olivia Robles, a 5-foot-10 forward with over 1,000-career points to her name, including a career-high 30 in Sheehan’s quarterfinals win over Weaver.
“She’s certainly a great player,” King said of Robles, who has the ability to exploit Berlin’s lack of size at the rim. “She does a lot of damage each night. But we have a pretty good defense, and if it plays well, we have a chance every night.”
Berlin’s defense won’t have the usual home court support it has had for the majority of the past month, as the Redcoats have played in front of their home crowd in seven of their past eight games, including the last three in the state tournament.
Tonight’s game will be on a neutral court at Plainville High School, where Berlin won a close game against the Blue Devils earlier this season, so the Redcoats take a sense of comfort in knowing there will be a sense of familiarity tonight, even if it doesn’t measure up to the same comfort as their own gym, where they were a perfect 13-0 this season.
“It was a great advantage and a great job by the girls to put themselves in a position to host three games in the tournament,” King said. “But we’ll travel to Plainville, which is not that far away. We’ve played there this year, and we’re not going to think about it. It’s still played on a 94-foot court. Wherever they want to play it, we’ll play it. It’s a state semifinal game. What can be better than that?”