Fitch goes on the defensive
Falcons take out NFA in ECC Division I quarters
— The last time Norwich Norwich Free Academy and Fitch played a girls' basketball game, they combined for a 71-68 overtime thriller, a win for NFA which allowed the Wildcats to go on to the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I regular-season title.
On Thursday, the high-intensity offense turned into high-pressure defense, a defensive slog, actually.
No. 5 Fitch won this one over No. 4 NFA 35-28 in the ECC Division I tournament quarterfinals, using patience and teamwork to advance to Saturday's semifinal round against No. 1 New London. No. 2 Bacon Academy will meet No. 3 Ledyard in the other Division I semi.
“It's a great win to continue on,” said Fitch junior Mariette El Khoury, who led the team with 12 points. “Our coach trusts us that we really have to lock up on defense and our offense will come naturally. They played tough defense but we matched it today.
“We love to run. We're really athletic. Our whole team is filled with multisport athletes. We're used to running.”
In the last matchup, NFA coach Courtney Gomez incorporated a triangle-and-two defense to try to stop El Khoury and Gabby Dimock, Fitch's most dangerous duo on offense. Thursday, the Wildcats played a straight man-to-man defense against the Falcons, while still pressuring El Khoury and Dimock, specifically, and holding both of them without a field goal in the first quarter.
Fitch (14-7) took an 8-6 lead at the end of the first quarter, thanks to a 3-pointer by Meleeya Robbins with 3.8 seconds remaining.
El Khoury hit a 3 in the second quarter, missing a free throw yet
chasing down her own rebound and finding herself open for a split second. The Falcons led 14-13 at halftime.
NFA (9-12) took the lead on the first possession of the third quarter as Brooke Stringer connected on a 3-point field goal. But Dimock scored two straight baskets for Fitch, the second on an inbounds play, to give the Falcons the lead for good.
NFA pulled within 21-20 in the third on a pair of free throws by Emily Orcutt, after a technical foul was called on Fitch for having a player listed with the wrong number in its scorebook.
Sierra Lund, however, coincidentally, the player whose number was incorrect in the book, came off the bench to provide a pair of layups and the Falcons held on to a 25-22 lead after three quarters.
The Falcons led by as many as nine in the fourth quarter, 31-22, before sealing the game with four free throws in the final 43.4 seconds, three by El Khoury and one by Dre'Ana Singleton. Dimock and Robbins each scored seven for Fitch.
“Me and Gabby both, we're always ready for the ball to come to us, but we trust our teammates. We trust Dre'Ana, Meleeya, Ada (Ellis), Sierra to step up. We trust them to score the ball.”
“I think it was a real good team win tonight,” Fitch coach Falecia Porter said. “Obviously it was very emotional when we lost at home on that game in double-OT. It was very crazy, a lot of stuff going on. They showed tenacity tonight. Sierra Lund coming off the bench having two huge layups for us, that might not look like anything to the people on the sideline, but to us that's huge.”
Gomez, the NFA coach, noted that last year at this time, when her team lost in the ECC tournament it didn't have a state tournament bid to look forward to. Now it does.
“As much as it hurts and there's not a lot of words to say to the kids after a loss like that, there is some bright light,” Gomez said.
Aislinn Richmond led NFA with nine points. The Wildcats had size but struggled with turnovers trying to get the ball inside. Gomez was pleased with the defensive effort.
“I said to them, ‘Guys, if you would have told me we held Fitch to 35 points, I would have said we're winning the game,'” Gomez said. ”Unfortunately, you can't score less than 30 to do that. I thought defensively both sides were solid. Fitch played an amazing game defensively.“