BEACON FALLS — The word on the street before the Woodland girls’ titanic clash with St. Paul on Tuesday night was that the game probably wouldn’t be close—after all, the Falcons are one of the best squads in the Naugatuck Valley League, suffering their only loss to mighty Torrington early in the season.
That word must have been in a different language, because the Hawks didn’t get it. Though the Black and Gold fell, 42-40, in the final seconds of the Brass Division showdown, Woodland proved it belongs in the conversation about the best in the NVL.
“No one expected the game to be this close,” Woodland junior Heather Framski said. “We found out that we can compete and have a chance against a really good team, as long as we play to our potential.”
And the Hawks just about played to that potential, save for two glaring areas—Framski was limited by a stifling St. Paul defense to a season-low eight points and, more damagingly, they committed 19 turnovers, the final two of which squandered opportunities to win the game in the final seconds.
“I think we get a little bit too excited sometimes,” Woodland head coach Gail Cheney said of her squad’s painful number of giveaways. “We try to thread the needle and sometimes the pass isn’t there. [Junior] Lindsay Feducia is a fantastic passer but sometimes girls aren’t ready for it or it’s a second too late, but we’re still young so we’ll get there.”
Trailing, 41-37, with 20 seconds to play, Woodland frantically tried to set up some sort of offense against the aggressive Falcons, something with which the Hawks had trouble throughout the fourth quarter—Woodland had scored only three points in the frame to that point. In traffic, the ball found its way to Feducia (eight points) on the left side of the floor, where the junior popped a huge three-pointer to pull her squad within one.
A foul by senior Katie Alfiere sent St. Paul’s Chelsea Mone to the line for a one-and-one opportunity, but Mone clanged the first to give the Hawks more hope. But the turnover bug bit Woodland once again, as the Hawks tossed the ball into the scorer’s table for another turnover with 6.1 seconds left.
Mone was fouled again with 3.4 seconds remaining and split her pair of free throws, giving the Black and Gold one more opportunity. But again, the ball was thrown away in the scurry to move the ball up the court, letting a final chance to win slip away.
“Basically, we were going to come down and run a double screen for Heather to take a three,” Cheney said. “But when it comes down to it, they played really good defense to trap us. … It’s a disappointing loss, but it shows the girls really tried hard.”
It was St. Paul’s defense that came through in the clutch, but the Hawks slowed the Falcons’ offense—a scoring attack which was averaging 53.3 points per game—throughout the game. Thanks to a solid 2-3 zone defense and 12 of Alfiere’s 13 points, Woodland earned a 34-30 advantage heading to the decisive quarter.
“We thought that we’d be able to match up better in man, but we saw in the first quarter that obviously wasn’t going to work,” Cheney said. “We knew they were really good three-point shooters, so we were a little bit worried to go into a 2-3 zone, but we really rotated nicely, and it worked well for us.”
Cheney certainly saw opportunities to improve, notably in her squad’s inability to get the ball into the post, especially to Framski.
“We knew they were going to double and triple in the post,” she said. “We should have set some better screens down low to give the guards a little bit better opportunity to get the ball into [Framski and Alfiere]. I think we had trouble passing it to the wings.”
Even though all credit for the win goes to St. Paul, Cheney knows how important her team’s solid showing was to earning some league-wide respect.
“They are proving they belong in this league,” she said. “Ansonia is good. Woodland is good. There are a lot of really good teams in the mix.”