Title : Girls basketball: E.O. Smith wins first CCC title since 2016
Create Date : 2021-03-14 23:38:34
Created Time : 2021-03-14 23:38:34
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.”
Title : Pair of Panthers on the Prowl
Create Date : 2021-03-14 23:51:26
Created Time : 2021-03-14 23:51:26
Owen Stacey offered up an interesting revelation when asked what first attracted him to the game of hockey a number of years ago.
“I was first attracted to hockey around age four because my pre-school friends played and I liked the equipment,” said Stacey.
Fast-forward 14 years or so and it’s a given that Stacey, now a senior leader for E.O. Smith hockey coach John Hodgson, is still well-equipped when it comes to an impressive list of skills that he relies upon while leading their Panthers to success on the ice.
Claire Greene, a freshman who has already assumed an important role with her E.O. Smith girls basketball team this winter, followed a slightly different path toward her sport of choice.
“I was first attracted to basketball when I was younger. I would join in when my neighbors played in their driveways,” said Greene. “After playing on Mansfield travel and rec teams, it eventually led to a love for the game.”
E.O. Smith coach Mary Roickle and the rest of her players are certainly loving Greene’s game-skills these days after the varsity newcomer helped their Panthers secure the Central Connecticut Conference tournament title recently with some huge plays down the stretch of what eventually became a 53-45 victory over Newington.
“Claire is a student of the game,” said Roickle. “She listens and applies herself to understand and deliver within the team concepts of offense and defense. She works hard to improve her individual skills.
“She is adept at ball-handling and passing, possesses an accurate shot with 3-point range and can dribble-penetrate. She senses where rebounds will end up and positions herself well to go get them.”
That ball-handling, passing, 3-point shooting and rebounding all paid huge dividends for the fifth-seeded Panthers in their CCC championship game showdown against No. 3 Newington.
Greene scored just five points in the title game, but all of them arrived in the decisive fourth quarter, none more important than a 3-point swish with 1:47 remaining that turned a squirmy 44-42 E.O. Smith advantage into a 5-point lead.
And it was her offensive rebound following a pair of Panther misses from the foul line that paved the way for teammate Allie Raynor to convert two free throws and stretch the lead out to seven. Greene then added a key block on defense as the Panthers (22-3) used the tourney title as a springboard into the CIAC Class LL state tournament where they opened play with a 69-44 first-round victory over South Windsor.
“Claire is always working to improve offensively and defensively,” said Roickle. “She has an innate sense to use her athleticism and quickness to be in the right place at the right time on the court.
“Early in the season as a freshman, Claire earned being the first player off the bench. She brings a presence of energy and hard work that sparks our play with key shots, passes, rebounds, steals. For Claire, it’s the quantity of her stats — it’s the quality of what she delivers when she is playing.”
Greene averages 4.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game for her Panthers, but it’s the timing of the big plays she delivers that have already stamped her as an important piece of E.O. Smith’s program for years to come.
“I don’t feel my role has changed much since the beginning of the season,” said Greene. “Whether it’s setting a screen, getting a rebound, playing tough defense, cheer from the bench or take an open shot, my role is to do whatever they need me to do.
“I like to believe my biggest strength is to make my teammates better either in practice or during a game. I try to play for the team and not myself.”
Stacey was a known commodity well before he joined the Panthers as a freshman and was immediately inserted into a prominent role once he arrived in Storrs.
“Owen was a known talent when he got to high school,” said Hodgson. “He joined us as a freshman and immediately played on our top varsity line with 2-time All-Stater Nick Mayer and Evan Valenti. He effectively replaced Nick’s brother, Pete Mayer, who had just graduated after scoring four goals in the final while leading our team to its 2015 state title. Owen even confidently chose Pete’s No. 10 jersey. As a freshman, Owen helped lead the team to its second consecutive CCC South title.”
The Panthers currently boast a 15-5 record while preparing for the CCC tournament as well as the upcoming Division II state gathering.
E.O. Smith could be a tough out in both post-season tourneys if Stacey delivers like he did on Senior Day while leading the Panthers to a 4-1 CCC South Division victory over WMRP (Wethersfield-Middletown-Rocky Hill-Plainville) as the University of Connecticut’s Freitas Ice Forum.
Stacey pumped home a pair of goals and dished off two assists for good measure. Stacey then added two more assists in a 5-1 non-league victory over the Connecticut Redhawks that wrapped up the regular season, padding his season stats to 22 goals and 26 assists for 48 points.
“It is in this year, as a senior, that I have seen the most improvement in Owen,” said Hodgson. “He played on a talented premier team in the offseason and I think it really helped his vision and sense of time on the ice. He’s also really focused this year on seeing where he can go with hockey.
“His 26 assists this year are a testament to his growing ability to see others on the ice and find them with timely passes. He has, remarkably, doubled his point total from last season when he made first-team All-State. Part of this is a testament to the talent of his linemates, fellow seniors Gavin Till [18 goals, 21 assists, 39 points] and Ross Lennon [14-15 — 29]. Owen has clearly reached a new level this year. His teammates also elected him captain and he has carried this title well. He is passionate about his team and playing for his school and sets a great example.”
“Over the years, I’ve taken on more of a leadership position on the team,” said Stacey, who has lit the lamp 55 times and collected 76 assists for 131 points during his career at E.O. Smith. “As a freshman, I respected the captains of the team a lot and that sort of taught me how to lead a team.
“My strengths are definitely my speed and my ability to find teammates in tight spaces. This year, the team has had one of the best seasons of my career and I couldn’t be more proud. I plan to take a gap year next year to focus on more hockey opportunities.”
Title : Panthers Collect CCC Tournament Crown
Create Date : 2021-03-15 00:06:50
Created Time : 2021-03-15 00:06:50
GLASTONBURY — When the shot left her hand from behind the 3-point line, E.O. Smith freshman Claire Greene had a good feeling.
Senior Taylor Verboven had those same thoughts.
“She has the best 3-point shooting percentage on the team,” Verboven said of her teammate. “I was confident it was going in.”
Greene scored all five of her points in the fourth quarter, the biggest on that 3-ball with 1:47 remaining, then added a key offensive rebound and a blocked shot down the stretch as fifth-seeded E.O. Smith (21-3) sealed it at the foul line for its first Central Connecticut Conference tournament title since 2016 with a 53-45 victory on Thursday night over No. 3 Newington (20-4).
“Game in and game out, Claire has always come up big for us … a rebound, a shot,” E.O. Smith coach Mary 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?’”
E.O. Smith, which led by 14 points, 34-20, at halftime, saw that lead cut down to two, 44-42, following a 3-pointer from Ashanti Frazer (20 points). And Newington missed a pair of layups that could have tied up the game.
On the ensuing E.O. Smith possession, Courtney Doherty (11 points) drove to the basket before kicking it out to Greene behind the arc.
“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,” Greene said.
“I was just in the moment.”
Two free throws from Allie Raynor after Greene had grabbed a key offensive rebound following two misses from the line by E.O. Smith increased the lead out to seven before Frazier hit another three as the Indians crept within four, 49-45.
Doherty and Verboven (21 points) each made two foul shots in the final 25.7 seconds to seal the win and Greene provided the punctuation in-between the foul shots with a blocked shot.
E.O. Smith shot 12-of-23 (52.2 percent) in the first half and made seven 3-point field goals to build its double-digit halftime advantage with solid execution in its half-court offense.
When Newington switched to man-to-man in the third quarter, that free-flowing movement disappeared.
“We just kind of stopped moving without the ball,” Roickle said.
“We had one or two movements and then we’d dribble into three people.”
Taylor Golembiewski added 10 points for E.O. Smith, which won its ninth straight game dating back to a 57-41 loss at South Windsor on Jan. 28.
That game saw the Panthers trail by a 30-10 margin at halftime after shooting 3-of-30 (10 percent) from the floor.
The next day, E.O. Smith held a captains’ meeting to clear the air.
“We changed our warm-up to come out with more energy,” Verboven said.
“We talked about things that we needed to work on in practice and in games.”
Said Roickle: “The kids started to put together offensively that if we do certain things … one more pass, play as a team and not rely on individuals taking one pass and a shot that we were going to be more successful.
“The next game [Conard] was the best offense I’ve ever seen [in a 67-41 win]. They just blew it apart.
“When I saw that it was like, ‘Wow, this team has potential’.”
E.O. Smith is the No. 6 seed in the upcoming CIAC Class LL state tournament and opens play on Tuesday night with a first-round game at home against No. 27 South Windsor (9-11).
Title : Girls basketball: No. 14 seed E.O. Smith beats East Catholic to win second straight CCC tournament championship
Create Date : 2021-03-15 00:11:24
Created Time : 2021-03-15 00:11:24
GLASTONBURY — Back on Feb. 7, the E.O. Smith girls basketball team had lost its third straight game, to East Catholic, in overtime.
“If you look at the film of when we played them in overtime, we were almost sleeping through our defense,” E.O. Smith coach Mary Roickle said Thursday night. “That was not acceptable.”
E.O. Smith went into the CCC tournament as the 14th seed out of 16 teams. But after the loss to East Catholic, the Panthers had a renewed commitment to defense. It showed in their win over Conard in the tournament semifinals Tuesday and once again Thursday as they stifled fourth-seeded East Catholic and won their second straight CCC tournament championship, 42-28, at Glastonbury High School.
Courtney Doherty led the Panthers (18-7) with 19 points. But the defense was the story. East Catholic had scored 73 points in a win over Bloomfield in Tuesday’s semifinal. The Eagles (18-6) managed 14 in the first half Thursday and only three points in the fourth quarter.
“They just pressured us, essentially,” East Catholic coach Jeremiah Brown said. “A lot of active hands. They communicated very well. They’re very fundamental on defense. Offensively, we got stale. We didn’t have our off-ball screens. We had a lot of standing around. Too much dribbling. Those were our bad habits earlier in the season and we reverted back to those bad habits. A lot of standing around, watching, waiting for somebody to make something happen.
“And they did a good job as far as closing out, getting hands up on shooters. They didn’t give our shooters a clean shot. Then we had a hard time, when we attacked, finishing layups.”
Cami Pasqualoni led East Catholic with nine points. It was the Eagles’ first trip to the tournament championship.
E.O. Smith had been there before and it showed, as the Panthers attacked the basket aggressively in the first half and played equally aggressive defense.
“In our last game [against East], we lost in overtime, when we reviewed the film, we realized there were some things we could do defensively that we felt we didn’t do in the first game,” Roickle said. “I think a little bit more pressure, a little bit more closing to their three-point shots … their commitment to defense has been just awesome.”
The Panthers didn’t really care about their seeding. They beat third-seeded Northwest Catholic 59-43 in the first round and No. 6 Glastonbury 50-42 in the quarterfinals. They improved as they advanced, beating Conard 57-28 in the semifinals.
“We got 10 times better over four games,” Doherty said.
E.O. Smith led 15-8 after a quarter and 28-14 at halftime. The Panthers’ offense slowed in the third quarter, when East Catholic upped its defensive pressure and forced turnovers. But the Eagles had a hard time finishing their shots, especially on the break, and missed some open looks. They trailed 34-25 after three quarters but then went cold again in the fourth quarter, hitting only one shot, a three-pointer by Emily Jeamel with a little over two minutes left.
The Panthers had lost three close games to open the month — to Berlin 47-46, Simsbury 35-32 and then to East Catholic 55-53.
“Kudos to the captains, Allie Raynor, Courtney Doherty and on the floor, the leader, Taylor Golumbiewski, came to me and said ‘We’re not doing it defensively. We need to create defense,’” Roickle said. “That’s what we’ve focused on to really take the next step.
“When we went into the tournament the 14th seed, we did not feel we were the 14th seed. But we had to come out and prove it. And these young ladies did an awesome job over the past four games.”