NEW BRITAIN - With starting forward Alexie Armour sidelined with an injury prior to Tuesday nightâ€™s CCC Tournament semifinal matchup against second-seeded East Hartford, Newington girls basketball head coach Marc Tancredi glanced over his bench.
Already down starting guard Karissa Zocco, Tancredi needed a spark from someone not normally familiar with a starting role, who would be thrust into that responsibility for the Indiansâ€™ biggest game of the season to date.
On the bench was senior Maya Gajowiak, who could give Tancredi and Newington some experience by years if not starting minutes so far this season.
Tancredi made the move and penciled the forward into the starting lineup, confident that her performance would match that which he receives from any of his players that are asked to step up.
â€śWe talk about it every game, every day,â€ť Tancredi said. â€śYou have to be a star in your role. People really stepped up [Tuesday night]. Maya stepped up.â€ť
It took three quarters, but Gajowiak shined in her new role on Tuesday, scoring eight points in the fourth quarter to help the third-seeded Indians erase a 10-point deficit and upset the Hornets with a 46-42 win.
â€śItâ€™s an awesome feeling,â€ť Gajowiak said. â€śWith two of our starters out, I knew I had to step up, having a starter role for once.â€ť
Even while Gajowiak and the Indians labored through a rough first quarter that saw eight turnovers, they didnâ€™t think about the production they were missing from their starters.
Instead, they created the missing production themselves, which has been the story of Newingtonâ€™s season so far, and why it will be playing for a championship on Thursday night.
â€śThey knew what we needed to do,â€ť Tancredi said of Gajowiak and the rest of Newingtonâ€™s supposedly depleted offense. â€śI have no words. Iâ€™m just super proud of this team.â€ť
Gajowiak wasnâ€™t the only Newington scorer to come alive when the team needed it most.
After going scoreless in the quarterfinal matchup against Berlin, junior Sabrina Soler led all Indians scorers with 14 points on Tuesday, while the Hornets looked to shut down Newingtonâ€™s usual offensive leaders in Ashanti Frazier and Olivia St. Remy.
Those two combined for 13 points after Frazier alone dropped 30 on Saturday, but as has been the case with the Indians this season, others stepped up their offensive production while Frazier and St. Remy were slowed down.
For Gajowiak, her shift into the starting rotation felt anything but unfamiliar, which has helped Newington find scoring in crunch time when its usual contributors go quiet or suffer an injury.
â€śWeâ€™re the type of team where anyone can start,â€ť Gajowiak said. â€śEveryone who comes off the bench is able to start, so itâ€™s really not much of a difference. Weâ€™re all capable of doing everything.â€ť
On Thursday night, the Indians will find out if theyâ€™re capable of taking down E.O. Smith, the fifth seed in the tournament that shocked top-seeded Windsor on Tuesday.