If opponents were going to have success against the Hand girls basketball team this past season, they needed to figure out how to beat the Tigers’ full-court pressure defense.
And the first wave of Hand’s defense was usually the most difficult part to stop. Gabby Martin would shift side to side, off both made baskets and misses, harassing the opposing team’s guards up and down the court, sometimes wearing them out.
“She was absolutely essential to everything we did (defensively),” Hand coach Tim Tredwell said. “She’s a selfless superstar. She could cover every inch of the court and had a hand on every pass.”
Martin was truly an all-around presence for the Hand Tigers en route to its Class L state championship. But the Area MVP’s for girls basketball left her biggest impression on the defensive end of the floor. The five steals per game doesn’t do her justice.
“My defensive game fueled my offensive game,” Martin said. “Being captain, I tried to lead by example. I gave it my all and so did my teammates.”
No team reached 60 points this year against the Tigers. No team reached 50 points against the Tigers during the entire postseason (eight games).
Martin, a three-time Register All-Area selection, averaged 15 points, six rebounds and five assists per game as well.
“She’s so smart, so aware. She had such unbelievable vision and was so unselfish,” Tredwell said. “I don’t want to imagine our team without her. We’re not going to replace Gabby.”
Hand was the top seed and defending champion in the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament, but lost to Mercy in the championship final after beating Mercy twice during the regular season.
That only fueled Hand’s Class L state title run. Martin had a game-high 22 points in the quarterfinals against Woodstock Academy. She also had a game-high 25 points, including the 1,000th of her career, in the semifinals against Pomperaug. She also made four steals.
Holy Cross coach Frank Lombardo knew what to expect from Martin in the Class L championship game.
“Their point guard is very quick, very aggressive who creates havoc in the game off on the defensive end,” he said prior to the final.
Hand switched from man-to-man to zone defense in the second half. With Martin at the top of the zone, that helped hold Holy Cross to just four field goals in the second half.
“Four baskets, that’s crazy,” Martin said.”That’s not something you think about as it happens. Our team worked hard on each (defensive) possession as it came.”
Martin was able to have the season she had despite missing most of this past summer of AAU ball due to a dislocated elbow in late June. At a time when rising seniors are trying to get recruited for basketball — or golf in Martin’s case — she could do neither.
“I was playing in an AAU tournament in New Hampshire and I went to block a shot,” Martin said, trying to describe how the injury occurred. “I never want to sit down and not be active for more than two days. It was a weird experience, but it gave me a chance to look back and reflect on my game and what I had to work on. I watched a lot of film and I became more of a teammate (during AAU), cheering them on, giving them support.”
It wasn’t a summer completely lost physically — Martin said she ran with her cast on to get ready for the fall’s cross country season. She also had plenty of time to decide that she wanted to play two sports in college.
Martin said Division I schools Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, Hartford and Navy were interested in her for golf. She was interested in Williams, a Division III school in Williamstown, Massachusetts, for both.
“It was either go play golf at a Division I school or play basketball and golf at Williams,” Martin said.
Once she was cleared to return to full action in September, Martin had to prove herself to Williams that she could play there. All she needed was one open scrimmage during the fall and she was welcomed into the program’s fold.
“She’s had so much success basketball-wise that she really wasn’t ready to give that up yet,” Tredwell said. “No matter what Gabby decides to do, she will be great at it. That’s what makes her so special.”