UNCASVILLE – With his team down by seven points early in the third quarter, Hand girls basketball coach Tim Tredwell felt a change was in order.
That change may have been the best decision Tredwell has made all season.
Switching from a man-to-man defense to a zone, second-seeded Hand held top-seeded Holy Cross to just four baskets in the second half and used a 16-3 run to capture a 50-45 Class L championship victory at the Mohegan Sun Arena Sunday afternoon.
“I don’t know where they found it. They dig deep every single time. They just found a way,” Tredwell said. “They are just a special group, talent wise and chemistry wise.
“They (Holy Cross) hit five 3s in the first half. We knew they were going to pound the glass hard. They were going to punish us for it. We switched from man to zone and it keyed the kids in. They fed off it.”
The title was Hand’s second in program history, and first since 1999 when the Tigers defeated Killingly.
“We really felt we were not playing to our full potential,” Hand guard Emma Sullivan said. “But, we were only down five at the half. We thought about how much we could be up by if we were playing like we could.”
After Sullivan scored the last five points of the first half to get the Tigers within 33-28, Holy Cross started the third quarter by taking a 38-31 lead on a bucket from Century McCartney and a free throw by Meah Austin.
A bucket by Gabby Goldman would be the last by Holy Cross until a 3-pointer by Hannah Brown with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Hand held the Crusaders to just 12 points in the second half, including five in the fourth.
“I thought it was a tremendous game,” Holy Cross coach Frank Lombardo said. “I thought it was a well-played game. Turnovers definitely hurt us today. Usually, we are the team that looks stronger in the fourth quarter. Today. Hand looked pretty strong in the fourth quarter.”
Between those baskets by the Crusaders, Hand went on a 16-3 run to take a 47-41 lead. Following the 3-pointer by Brown, Hand iced the title at the free throw line in the final seconds. Holy Cross finished the game 6-of-18 from 3-point range after hitting five of its first nine attempts.
Baskets by Hand’s Halle Freund, Sullivan, and Hannah Martin gave Hand the lead for good, 41-40, to end the third quarter. Buckets by Gabby Martin and two free throws by Kaitlyn Martin put Hand up 45-40 in the fourth.
“We needed to make sure they were not getting offensive rebounds,” said Hand’s Gabby Egidio, who had six of Hand’s 12 steals. “In the first half, they got a lot of second shots.”
The pace of the contest was dictated in the opening half as each team ran up and down the court with plenty of open looks. Hand connected on just 4-of-12 field goals in the opening quarter and 9 of 29 in the first half.
While the Tigers (24-4) struggled to find a groove, the Crusaders (25-3) took advantage. They began the second quarter on an 8-0 run, keyed by Idalis Miranda’s 3-pointer for a 22-15 lead.
The Tigers got within four points on buckets by Sullivan and Egidio, but the Crusaders answered with another run.
Miranda, who connected on all three 3-pointers she took in the opening half, drained another to put Holy Cross on top by 10. Sullivan capped the half for Hand with a 3-pointer and a field goal to get the Tigers within 33-28 at halftime.
Sullivan and Egidio led Hand with 12 points apiece, while Sara Wohlgemuth had eight points. Kaitlyn Martin finished with six. Miranda led Holy Cross with nine points, and Isabel Plant finished with seven.