BERLIN - In the state tournament, where the competition is spread across a few short weeks and one loss ends a season, timing is everything.
Past state tournaments are littered with unlikely champions that saw everything come together at the right time, or more importantly, saw everyone get healthy at the right time. The Berlin girls basketball team didn’t have that luxury in the 2020 Class MM state tournament, and it cost the team a promising season that seemed destined for a deep run.
After thumping Rockville in the first round back on Monday night, the Redcoats lost their all-conference junior guard Carly Grega to injury just days before their second round matchup with Jonathan Law on Friday night. Grega, who came into the tournament with the second-highest scoring total for Berlin, had broken her nose in practice, required surgery and was unavailable to take on Law, which handed the Redcoats a 62-47 loss on Friday night.
For Grega and Berlin, that timing seemed brutally unfair for a team that came in as the No. 1 seed, had lost just two regular season games and was poised to make another run toward Mohegan Sun after losing a heartbreaker and last year’s Class M semifinals and retaining almost its entire starting five from that 2018-19 team.
“What happened with Carly, obviously it sucks, but that’s how it was supposed to go down I guess,” senior guard Lyzi Litwinko said after leading the Redcoats with 14 points in Friday night’s loss, which was the last of her historic career. “I don’t know why, or the reason, but that’s how it was supposed to happen.”
Grega’s absence was glaring from the start. Law caught fire from downtown in the second quarter and never cooled down, hitting 11 3-pointers while Grega, one of the team’s best perimeter defenders, was forced to watch from the bench. Grega also led the Redcoats in 3-point shooting this season, and without her on the floor to stretch out the offense, Law was able to double-team Litwinko all night and keep Berlin’s normally high-flying offense grounded, holding the Redcoats to their lowest point total of the season.
“I feel like we played hard,” Litwinko said. “Props to them, they played great, but it sucked to not have Carly on the 3-point line and ready to shoot for us. It would have helped to have her.”
After coming just short of a trip to the state final last year, the Redcoats returned four starters, including its all-time leading scorer in Litwinko, while the remaining core like Grega took big steps forward and helped the Redcoats start the season 9-0.
“Life is unfair,” Litwinko said. “I just feel bad for her that she couldn’t play her last game.”
It’s easy to think about the “what ifs” in terms of Grega’s health, but Litwinko’s refrain was echoed by head coach Sheila King. The season came to a surprising and disappointing end, and it could have gone differently if Grega was able to play, but above all, the Redcoats were devastated that one of their top players wasn’t able to share the floor with them after one of the most successful regular seasons in program history.
“She’s been an incredible leader for us,” King said. “We’re so proud of her. She is such a gritty player, and it does seem a little unfair that she couldn’t play in this game after the tremendous season she had. She was a vital part of this team.”