WATERBURY — For 2 1/2 quarters, the Woodland girls looked like the same Hawks who had lost their last four games to end the regular season, trailing Ansonia, 33-21, with three minutes, 39 seconds to go in the third.
But over the final 11:39 of Saturday’s Naugatuck Valley League tournament quarterfinal matchup with the Chargers at Holy Cross High School, Woodland put together its most brilliant stretch of basketball this season. The Black and Gold outscored the No. 4 seed, 31-8, thanks to a suddenly-resurgent offense and a stifling man-to-man defense to pull away with a 52-41 win.
Junior guard Lindsay Feducia led the second-half comeback with 12 of her game-high 16 points, while senior forward Jen Fredericks added 9 of her 15 in the half to provide the Hawks’ offensive spark. Senior center Katie Alfiere locked down Ansonia’s leading scorer, Kristin Mooney, throughout the contest, helping to hold the Chargers to just 15 second-half points.
“It comes down to your seniors in games like these,” Woodland head coach Gail Cheney said. “Jen and Katie played great, and we had Feducia showing so much heart with them. I’ve wanted the girls to get emotional after big plays, and I finally saw that tonight. They finally got up for this game.”
Woodland not only needed to overcome a 12-point deficit but also its awful, 10-of-25 free throw shooting. The Hawks started their comeback with 3:39 to go in the third quarter, outscoring the Chargers, 9-2, for the rest of the period and cutting Ansonia’s lead to 35-30.
The Hawks effectively employed a man-to-man pressure defense for the first time all season at about the same time they began to find their offensive stroke. It was a risky play by Cheney—Woodland had only a six-player rotation due to injuries and illnesses—but it was a strategy that seemed necessary to quash the Chargers’ momentum from the perimeter. Ansonia knocked down four threes before Woodland switched to man.
“I was a little nervous about making the switch,” Cheney said. “I didn’t want to get anyone into foul trouble or overtired. But the amount of effort the girls put out in the second half was great. They deserve so much credit for playing as hard as they did and showing that much heart.”
Ansonia extended its lead to 39-32 with 7:20 to play, but the Hawks held the Chargers to just two points the rest of the way. Woodland gained its first lead since late in the first quarter on a 19-footer by sophomore guard Kelsey Deegan with 5:32 remaining and didn’t look back.
Feducia sealed the win by splitting the lane in half and connecting on a runner, as she was fouled. The junior knocked down the free throw to extend the Hawks’ lead to 47-41 with 1:14 left. Woodland sank three of four foul shots in the last minute to keep the game out of reach.
The Hawks’ second-half offensive explosion was somewhat unexpected, as Ansonia rendered ineffective Woodland’s normally-strong post-scoring game. Junior forward Heather Framski managed 13 points, but most came outside the paint, and Alfiere netted only four points. The Hawks settled for jump shots throughout the first half and trailed, 26-19, at the break.
“[Ansonia] played awesome 2-3 defense and really made it hard for our girls in the post,” Cheney said. “We ran into trouble trying to get the ball to them. But everyone else stepped up around them.”
Alfiere did her job, though, holding Mooney, who averaged 16 points per game in the regular season, to 11 points, only two of which came in the second half. Mooney netted 18 in a 47-34 win over the Hawks Feb. 9, the second of two Ansonia victories over Woodland during the regular season.
Alfiere also grabbed 12 rebounds, second on the team to Framski’s 15 boards, limiting Ansonia’s second-chance opportunities, especially in the second half. Woodland’s defense, led by Alfiere and Framski, held the Chargers to just 23 percent shooting (17-of-73) and only three field goals after the switch to man.
The fifth-seeded Hawks move on to take on top-seeded Torrington Monday at Kennedy. The Red Raiders beat Woodland, 58-50, in the regular-season finale Feb. 12. Torrington beat no. 8-seed Kennedy in the last quarterfinal, 52-39. Tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., following the other semifinal matchup between No. 2 Holy Cross and No. 3 St. Paul.