Despite making a return to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference class LL tournament, not that many people were giving the Greenwich High School girls basketball team a chance during their opening round game against E.O. Smith High School.
Big Red was playing a perennial state playoff team in their house, as the Panthers entered LLs as the No. 9 seed and only lost three times this season.
Instead of being intimidated, the Lady Cardinals made their first playoff game in long time memorable. Greenwich was never out of the game and was within striking distance a bunch of times, eventually falling to the Panthers 44-39 during Tuesday’s game.
“I am so proud of these girls,” Hernandez said. “They came up here to a team that historically has been successful and we knew what we were coming up against. I think we rose to the occasion. Our defense was key and rebounding was going to be the difference. I think for three of the four quarters, we did a good job with that. They are a shooting team, so we really tried to defend the three-point line tonight.”
Abbie Wolf had a stellar game for Big Red, finishing with 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Not to be outdone was Connie Barrett, who added nine points. Jaime Kockenmeister added six points and eight rebounds, while Brittany Rodriguez netted five points. Defensively, Alexa Moses grabbed five rebounds for the Cards.
For the Panthers, Holly Worski led the way with 10 points. Her older sister, Olivia Worski also was in double-digits with 10 points. Morgan Lawlor added eight points and Isa Peczuh netted four points.
“I thought there were several plays in the first half where Greenwich came up with a lot of the 50-50 balls,” E.O. Smith head coach Kirk Murad said. “I thought we should have come up with at least half of them. We needed to fight for the ball every time down the court and I think we did a much better job of that in the second half. We also packed it in down low in the second half and that was very effective.”
Greenwich started the game on a 6-2 run, as Wolf netted a layup in the paint and followed that up with an offensive rebound and putback. Kockenmeister hit her offensive rebound and putback with 5:11 to play in the opening quarter to give Greenwich it’s 6-2 lead.
Rodriguez helped Big Red extend the lead to 10-5 with four minutes to play when she calmly drained the baseline jumper.
Although the Panthers went on a 10-0 run to end the quarter and took the 15-10 lead on Greenwich, Hernandez’s team kept in the game due to its stifling defense, a common theme in the game.
“E.O. Smith is a very good team and they are well-coached,” Hernandez said. “We wanted to defend the three-point line and we took that away from them. They started penetrating to the basket and I think we could have done a little better job in our defense, but overall I have no complaints.”
Big Red was only down 25-22 at the break and had a chance in the final moments of the first half to tie the game.
E.O. Smith started to pull away late in the game, however Big Red finished the game on a 7-2 run. Barrett hit the running layup down the land and Wolf grabbed the offensive rebound and putback with 27 seconds to play. With only seconds to play, Barrett drained a three-pointer to cut the the score to 44-39.
“I was impressed with Greenwich,” E.O. Smith head coach Kirk Murad said. “Barrett is really tough and Rodriguez is going to be really good. They are well-coached, ran their stuff well and get inside. We weren’t able to turn them over like we have done with other teams this year. We did just enough and I am proud of my kids to show some resiliency.”
The Panthers were able to gain the victory without their leader throughout most of the game, senior Murphy Murad, who was playing with cramps in her feet and only saw extremely limited time in the game.”
“I thought we played well, considering that we didn’t play without a point guard before,” Kirk Murad said. “She missed three-quarters of the game. She’s our leading scorer, leader in assists, leads in defense and is the best ball-handler. We had someone play the point that hasn’t played that before. We did just enough offensively.”
With the loss, Greenwich saw its turnaround season come to an end.
“I am very proud of them,” Hernandez said. “We came in here this season and we said from the beginning that we wanted to shock the world. We wanted to prove that Greenwich High basketball is back on the map. I think they did that. It’s only the beginning. We’re not content on what we’ve done.”
Also with the end of the season, seniors Barrett, Jenny Cespedes, Rebecca Kural and Daniele Raviele played their final game for Big Red.
“Our seniors were awesome and they stepped up throughout the season,” Hernandez said. “They played different roles for us at different times, but they all had great leadership and led the underclassmen. They set the standard for how things should be running in this basketball program.”
Overall, Hernandez said her team’s biggest improvement throughout the season was its ability to compete at a high level consistently.
“Early on we dropped a couple of games because we were playing three-quarters of a basketball game,” Hernandez said. “They’ve come a long way since those games. They are now finishing games and competing until the end.”