E.O. Smith was wavering. Missing free throws. The Panthers’ 14-point halftime lead had evaporated.
“It was our first real ‘Oh my God, this is a championship [moment]’ and we got a little nervous,” E.O. Smith coach Mary Roickle said.
But then freshman Claire Greene, who comes off the bench, hit a three-pointer with 1:47 left to give the Panthers a bit of a cushion. Thirty seconds later, she rebounded a missed free throw and Allie Raynor was fouled and hit two free throws. And with 25 seconds left, Greene blocked Marlise Zocco under the basket and E.O. Smith held on to win its first CCC title since 2016, 53-45 Thursday night at Glastonbury High.
“Game in and game out, Claire has always come up big for us, a rebound, a shot,” Roickle said. “She doesn’t have any sense of fear. She was just going in, doing her thing, ‘What do you want me to do, Coach?’”
Senior guard Taylor Verboven led the Panthers (21-3) with 21 points, junior guard Courtney Doherty had 11 and sophomore guard Taylor Golembiewski added eight. The Panthers hit eight three-pointers, seven of them in the first half.
Newington (20-4) was led by junior guard Ashanti Frazier, who had 20 points. Senior forward Olivia St. Remy added 10. It was the Indians’ first time in the CCC championship game and they were down two starters due to injuries.
“E.O. Smith just made plays at the end and we didn’t,” Newington coach Marc Tancredi said. “There was a missed layup for us, [down] 44-42 and I think if we got that, we would have been in better shape and they came down and hit a three … it was two good teams battling it out. We showed resiliency by coming back.”
Against Newington’s zone, E.O. Smith rained 3s in the first half and led 34-20 at halftime. When Raynor opened the third quarter hitting one of two free throws, the Panthers led 35-20. But then slowly the lead started to slip away.
“We went into halftime up by a lot so we were a little too confident, probably,” Verboven said. “We came out with not a lot of energy but our fans helped us.”
Newington switched to a man defense and E.O. Smith’s offense stagnated. The Indians crept back and when Frazier – playing with four fouls – hit a three-pointer at the end of the third quarter, Newington had cut the lead to 41-34.
She hit another three with 3:18 left and Newington trailed, 44-42.
Greene didn’t hesitate when the ball came her way.
“Just the mentality, when your team is down and you’re open, any one of us, you just have to take the shot at the end,” she said. “We were [nervous] in the third quarter, but our team always comes back. We played together. It feels real good.”
Said Verboven: “She’s been doing that all year for us. She has the best three-point shooting percentage on the team as a freshman, so I was confident.”
Raynor, Doherty and Verboven were 6 for 6 from the free throw line in the last 40 seconds to seal the win.
“It’s awesome,” Verboven said. “I’m so happy for all our girls.”