Zocco's free throw sends Newington to Class L State Championship Game

Published on Monday, 14 March 2022 23:27
Written by MATT HORNICK

@MNHornick

PLAINVILLE ― Newington girls basketball is now one game away from its first state championship in program history.

The top-seeded Nor’easters will head to Mohegan Sun Arena this weekend for their first chance at a state title since 1993 after senior Karissa Zocco’s free throw earned them a 35-34 win over fifth-seeded E.O. Smith in the Class L semifinals. Newington’s final opponent of the year will be third-seeded Notre Dame-Fairfield.

“We’ve set out to do this since I got to Newington and I have the group that deserves to be there and has worked hard enough to be there,” Nor’easters head coach Marc Tancredi said. “It’s amazing, but we’re going to have the mentality that our work is not done.”

With the score tied at 34 in the final minute of play, both sides exchanged turnovers before Newington called a timeout with 37 seconds left. The Nor’easters used up most of the remaining time as Zocco attempted to set a screen for Lilly Ferguson with 10 seconds to go, and earned a trip to the free-throw line when an E.O. Smith defender tried to run through her.

After the briefest worry that the foul was called against her, Zocco stepped to the foul line with 3.2 seconds on the clock and made her first shot to give Newington the lead. She missed the second shot, which allowed the clock to run out before anyone gained possession.

“I was really nervous,” Zocco said. “If you make it, you go to Mohegan. If you miss, your season is over. I had to step up as a senior on this team, so I’m glad I was able to help my team out in that moment.”

Having already beaten the Panthers twice this season, the Nor’easters were challenged more in this contest than either of the other two as both defenses made points a valuable commodity. E.O. Smith led 6-5 after the first quarter and neither team broke 10 points in a quarter until the final period when they both did.

“They really pushed up on us when we had the ball,” Tancredi said. “They denied [passes] a lot harder and made it really difficult for us to do anything offensively. They crowded us.”

Lilli Clark scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to give the Panthers their first lead of the half, but Newington scored the next six points to take one of its biggest leads of the game. Clark refused to let her team fall far behind and brought her team back even with Newington by converting an and-one.

A layup from Olivia Verboven and free throw from Maddie Hughes on consecutive possessions put E.O. Smith in front 34-31 in the final minutes, but Ferguson quickly leveled the score with a three-pointer from the top of the key with just more than a minute left.

“We knew they were going to bring their best,” Tancredi said. “They’re a really good program, really well coached and we knew there was going to be no backing down. If you want to be successful, it requires you to do more and we did a little bit more tonight to pull out this game.”

After a three from Newington freshman Bela Cucuta broke an 11-11 tie just before halftime, which helped the Nor’easters push their lead out to seven points in the third quarter. Cucuta forced the Panthers to call a timeout after her second triple, which shortly followed a three from Kendall Miller that had Newington gaining momentum.

Clark, who finished with 15 points, led a 6-2 run late in the period that kept E.O. Smith within striking distance entering the final period.

In search of any scoring opportunities with both defenses at their stingiest, both teams turned to their benches to change the complexion of their offensive attacks. Freshman Selah Prignano gave the Nor’easters their first lead of the day with back-to-back buckets in the second period that made the score 11-9.

Newington’s lone field goal of the first quarter came on a fast break when Karissa Zocco connected with her sister Marlie on a well-placed pass for a layup. The Nor’easters’ offense grew in confidence from there and progressively found more quality looks throughout the night.

“It’s been a while since Newington has gone to a championship,” Karissa Zocco said. “We’re ready, we’re excited for it and I’m super proud of this team. We worked so hard all season for this so I can’t ask for a better team or coaches.”

Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or mhornick@bristolpress.com.

NEWINGTON 35, E.O. SMITH 34

At Plainville

Newington 5 9 8 13 - 35

E.O. Smith 6 5 8 15 - 34

NEWINGTON : Lilly Ferguson 6-3-16, Kendall Miller 1-1-4, Karissa Zocco 1-1-3, Selah Prignano 2-0-4, Marlie Zocco 1-0-2, Bela Cucuta 2-0-6. Totals 13-5-35.

E.O. SMITH: Claire Greene 1-1-3, Maddie Hughes 0-3-3, Lilli Clark 6-3-15, Bella Mallory 3-1-7, Olivia Verboven 2-0-4. Totals 12-8-34.

Three-point goals: Cucuta (N) 2, Miller (N), Ferguson (N).

Records: Newington 25-2, E.O. Smith 19-7.



Posted in New Britain Herald, Newington on Monday, 14 March 2022 23:27. Updated: Monday, 14 March 2022 23:29.