Coming into the Southern Connecticut Conference Division II semifinals on Monday, the Cheshire High School girls’ basketball team knew that they faced a tough challenge in visiting Hamden to play top-seeded Sacred Heart Academy. The Rams stepped up to produce one of their best offensive performances of the season, but the depth of the Sharks proved to be too much to overcome on the road.
SHA (13-1) reeled off 11 straight points to take a 27-13 lead and proceeded to earn a 76-50 victory over the fifth-seeded Rams (4-10). Led by a career-high 19 points from senior Kaylee Clark, Cheshire staged a rally in the third quarter, but were unable to close the deficit to within single digits.
“We fought all the way to the end,” said CHS first-year head coach Angelica Ariola. “I’m happy with how we competed against a good team. Every single player on that team can shoot the ball and score.”
SHA junior tri-captains Rosa Rizzitelli (22) and Carina Ciampi (21) were the game’s top point-scorers. As a Cheshire resident, Ciampi looked forward to playing friends from her hometown.
“It was exciting to play tonight,” said Ciampi. “I grew up playing travel basketball with a lot of those girls and our families are close, too.”
While entering Monday’s game as underdogs, Cheshire came out fast to build a 10-9 lead. Senior Ella Watson made two baskets early, while junior Tess Givens and Clark hit three-pointers.
“I think we came out tougher than they thought we would,” said senior Jordan DeMatteo.
SHA went on a 7-0 surge to earn a 16-10 advantage. Junior point guard Grace Lurz sank a three-pointer to cut the deficit, but the Sharks responded by scoring the final nine points of the first quarter and then adding another basket to start the second.
“They have a lot of players who can do different things,” explained Watson.
Sophomore Taylor Fitzgerald netted a basket inside to end Cheshire’s drought and she made two free throws soon after, however SHA outscored the Rams, 14-8, in the second quarter to build a 39-21 lead. Rizzitelli tallied 14 points in the opening half.
Facing an 18-point deficit at halftime, the Rams returned to stage a comeback. In the best offensive quarter of her career, Clark exploded for 13 points in the third. She sank three of her personal-best five three-pointers during the frame.
“It was great,” reflected Clark. “Every one was helping to get me the ball.”
“This was her best game,” stated Ariola. “It is tough to lose, but she’ll remember how well she played tonight.”
CHS twice cut the deficit to 11 points (40-29, 45-34) in the third, but SHA wouldn’t let them get any closer. Ciampi sank two clutch three-pointers in the quarter and Rizzitelli beat the buzzer with another three-pointer that put the Sharks up 59-42 going to the fourth.
“When they came out strong, we looked at each other and said that we had to pick it up (our play),” reflected Ciampi. “This is our home gym and we needed to win.”
The Sharks used the foul line to outscore CHS, 17-8, during the final frame. With the victory, the Sharks advanced to Thursday’s title game against West Haven (second seed) at a time and site to be announced.
“We are excited,” said Ciampi. “Making the championship has been our goal since we lost to Pomperaug (39-38 in the Class L Second Round) last year. We worked in the off-season to prepare for this moment.”
For Cheshire, Givens and Watson both finished with eight points on Monday. DeMatteo joined Fitzgerald with four points.
Lurz tallied three points, while junior Jenna Stickney and sophomore Anna Hurlbut had two each.
With the season coming to a close, Cheshire will graduate senior co-captains Hailey Beling, Clark, DeMatteo, Sophie Vagts, and Watson, as well as manager Avery Gress.
“I’m going to miss playing with everyone,” stated Vagts.
While only having coached the seniors for one season, Ariola enjoyed getting to know them as people.
“It is sad to see the seniors leave. I’m glad that I got to coach them,” stated Ariola.