BERLIN - The Berlin girls basketball team enjoyed two celebrations on its home floor Thursday night, the latter potentially setting the Redcoats up for an even bigger celebration come next week.
The first came on the opening possession of the second half, when junior captain Lyzi Litwinko banked home the 1,000th point of her career. The second came on the final possession of second half, when No. 6 Berlin clinched a 69-55 win over No. 16 Jonathan Law to send the Redcoats to the Class M state semifinals.
“I’m so happy for these kids,” head coach Sheila King said. “They really deserve it. This is what they wanted and what they’ve been working for. I’m so happy for them.
Berlin (19-4) is now one win away from heading to Mohegan Sun Arena for the Class M state tournament finals and closes its home slate with a perfect 13-0 record. The Redcoats take on No. 13 Sheehan in the semifinals on Monday night.
There was plenty to cheer about for the team’s final home game of the season, especially Litwinko’s historic accomplishment that prompted “1,000” signs to appear throughout the home gym.
“It was a great feeling,” Litwinko said of her big moment. “To be honest, the win is the best thing though. But there was no other group I’d rather have done this with.”
There was still a game to win after Litwinko’s basket, and the Redcoats briefly left the outcome in question in the third quarter. Litwinko’s 1,000th point gave Berlin an 18-point lead, but that advantage quickly slipped to six before the Redcoats settled themselves and sealed the game at the free throw line, knocking down 19 shots from the charity stripe.
Litwinko struggled to get her monumental basket early, finishing the first half with just one point after dropping a game-high 24 in the previous round, but sophomore Ashley Wenzel helped Berlin jump out to a big lead thanks to three 3-pointers in the opening quarter en route to a game-high 28 points.
“Imagine a sophomore starting a game like that,” Berlin head coach Sheila King said of Wenzel’s performance. “She’s had a great tournament so far. What a great player.”
Wenzel’s first 3 came off an offensive rebound to cap a 7-0 Berlin run and put the Redcoats ahead by eight midway through the first quarter. Consecutive 3-pointers by Olivia Kowalski cut Law’s deficit to two, but Wenzel followed with another triple to put Berlin back ahead by five.
Wenzel struck again with 20 seconds left in the first, draining her third 3-pointer of the quarter, which gave the Redcoats their largest lead of the game to that point at 10. Senior Angela Perrelli started the second like Wenzel finished the first, knocking down a 3 to extend Berlin’s lead to 13.
Sophomore Carly Grega got in on the scoring with four straight points to put Berlin up 15, prompting a timeout from Law (16-7), who could only inch as close as 13 at the half.
Liwtinko opened the second half in historic fashion, but it didn’t stop the Lawmen from fighting thier way back in the form of an 8-2 run to cut the lead down to 12. But Wenzel again connected from 3-point range minutes later to put the Redcoats back ahead by 17, forcing another Law timeout.
The Lawmen again battled back out of the timeout, using an 11-2 run to cut the lead to eight with 2:30 left in the third. Samantha Thacker capped the run and forced a timeout from King after scoring a driving layup off a Berlin turnover.
The Redcoats briefly took back control out of the timeout with Wenzel’s fifth triple of the night, part of a mini 5-0 Berlin run, but Law answered with four in a row to end the quarter down nine.
Calli Jolley knocked down a turnaround jumper for the Lawmen to open the fourth, but the Redcoats drew a pair of fouls on the next two possessions to put themselves in the bonus with 6:24 remaining. Still, Law hung around and cut the lead to six with 3:50 left on a 3-point play by Fallon Adriolas, but it wasn’t able to get any closer as Berlin avoided the same fate at top-seeded Northwestern, which the Lawmen upset in the previous round of the tournament.
Instead of fighting off the shock of an upset loss like Northwestern earlier this week, Berlin was able to celebrate a big win and Litwinko, who was honored after the game and presented with the game ball.
“It’s a great feeling, especially to be able to do it with a team like this in an environment like this,” Litwinko said. “There’s nothing better.”