MADISON — It was only appropriate that the two teams involved in what’s currently the Southern Connecticut Conference’s biggest girls’ basketball rivalry were scheduled to meet in the first few days of the 2017-2018 season.
Hand vs. Mercy. Defending CIAC Class L champion vs. defending SCC champion. And two teams that have combined for the last three SCC championships with Mercy winning two of them.
In a game that sometimes looked like an SCC title game and at other times a preseason scrimmage, Mercy went on a 17-5 run in the fourth quarter to take a 50-40 victory.
“They’re defending state champions and whenever Tigers play Tigers, it’s always out for blood,” said Mercy’s Isabella Santoro, who led all scorers with 18 points.
“People call it a rivalry, but it really just started three or four years ago,” Mercy coach Tim Kohs. “Every time, the games are unbelievable. Very few teams play with the intensity of Hand. As much as you try to tell them that, they aren’t prepared to have a kid in their face all the time.”
The big difference in the game came in the second half when Mercy went to a halfcourt trap that rattled the Hand backcourt.
“I wouldn’t have gone to it in the first half,” Kohs said. “It looked like we were afraid to engage anyone. We played a little tougher and physical in the second half. It looked like we couldn’t get our motor running early.”
Mercy’s decided height advantage also was a big difference as the visiting Tigers snared most of the rebounds.
“They are so long and so big,” Hand coach Tim Tredwell said. “They probably outrebounded us by 175 or at least it felt like it, but for our first game, I loved our effort.”
With the exception of 1:22, Hand led throughout the first half. The host Tigers went out to a quick 5-0 lead and pushed it to 9-3 on an Emma Sullivan putback with 3:34 left in the first quarter.
Mercy (2-0 this season) clawed back slowly, finally tying things at 15-15 on a Samantha Chapps’ bucket off the glass with 4:32 remaining until halftime.
However, Hand went on an 8-2 run from there with Gabby Egidio closing out the first half with an 8-footer to make it 23-17 at the break.
“We were a little anxious when we brought the ball up against their 2-3 zone that they like to stretch out,” Santoro added. “We were running thing a little too quickly in the first half. Coaches wanted us to slow things down and get open shots.”
Mercy did that in the third quarter, cutting the hosts lead to one, 23-22, in the first two minutes on a pair of Isabella Santoro free throws. Finally, Mercy deadlocked things again at 33-33 on a trey by Chapps with 1:48 to play in the third.
Mercy took its first lead of the night when Santoro was fouled on a putback and she hit both free throws to give the visitors a 36-35 edge just 39 seconds into the fourth quarter.
It remained a one-possession game until Jessica Carroll flipped in a scoop shot and completed a three-point play with 1:40 to go to give Mercy a 43-39 lead. After Halle Freund hit a free throw to pull Hand within 43-40, Kameryn King’s layup gave Mercy its biggest lead to that point, 45-40, with 1:20 left.
After that, it was five Mercy free throws to close things out.
“I don’t think the final score was indicate of how the game went,” Tredwell said. “It didn’t feel like a double figures loss, but you look up and see they’re up by 10 at the end.”
MERCY 50, HAND 40
Bella Santoro 4 8-11 18, Kameryn King 1 0-0 2, Lexi Leon 0 1-2 1, Samantha Chapps 2 0-0 6, Meghan Deville 5 3-5 13, Jessica Carroll 2 1-1 6, Sophia Finkeldey 2 0-0 4. Totals 22 13-19 50.
Sara Wohlgemuth 2 4-6 9, Emma Sullivan 5 0-0 12, Gabby Egidio 3 0-1 6, Hannah Martin 1 0-0 2, Summer Adams 1 0-0 2. Halle Freund 4 1-4 9. Totals 13-6 6-11 40.
3-pointers: Mercy – Santoro 2, Chapps 2, Carroll. Hand – Wohlgemuth, Sullivan 2.