TRUMBULL — Greenwich has had its eye on the prize all season long, and now coach Chrys Hernandez’ Cardinals are one win away from an opportunity to snatch that elusive first state title.
Greenwich defeated Trumbull, 41-33, in a Class LL state quarterfinal game on Monday night.
Seeded 13th, the Cardinals (17-6) will take on No. 1 seeded Staples (21-2) in the semifinals on Friday at a place and time to be determined.
“This (postseason success) is what we have focused on all year,” Hernandez said. “Now we get Staples. We lost to them 52-49 in the FCIAC semifinals. They beat us good (60-44) in the regular season.”
Greenwich’s only appearance in the finals came in 2016 when it dropped a 50-45 decision to Stamford in Class LL.
Mackenzie Nelson led Greenwich to victory with 23 points, including six made free throws in the final 2:18 of this meeting between FCIAC rivals.
“We made our free throws at the end of the game, which really helped us,” said the 5-foot-7 freshman guard, who blocked a 3-point attempt at the 50-second mark. “Our shooters knocked down jump shots. It was just an all-around effort. Everyone rebounded and everyone played a great game.”
— Bill Bloxsom (@blox354) March 10, 2020
Trumbull, seeded 5th, topped the Cards’ 56-50 in the regular season finale.
The Eagles took a 25-22 lead into the last quarter, but Julia Conforti’s free throw tied the game for the sixth time at 25-25.
Ciara Munnelly forced a Trumbull turnover. Down the other end Nelson not only saved a ball from going out of bounds on the baseline, she shoveled a pass to classmate Ava Sollenne, who buried a corner 3-pointer.
“All the attention (by defenses) is deservedly drawn to Mackenzie,” Hernandez said. “But we have players that can make shots.”
— Bill Bloxsom (@blox354) March 9, 2020
The Eagles’ Cassi Barbato finished off a strong drive to the hoop to cut the deficit to one. That’s when Sollenne, at the 4-minute mark, and Kristin Riggs, 38 seconds later, drained 3-pointers to give Greenwich the separation it needed on the scoreboard.
“We knew against Trumbull that we were in a game where we could never relax,” Hernandez said of the Eagles (19-6). “We knew we had to play defense, knew we needed a team effort and we got it. The girls stuck with the game plan.”
Trumbull coach Steve Tobitsch said: “Coach Hernandez does an outstanding job. I thought they were more aggressive than us and that we didn’t protect the ball well in the second half. They have two terrific freshmen (Nelson and Sollenne). That is a terrific Greenwich team. I heard Staples won (49-42 over Glastonbury). That means one FCIAC team will play for a state title and that is how it should be.”
Trumbull won the Class L title in 1974, the first year of the girls’ state tournament, with a 49-48 victory over Lee High from New Haven. The Eagles were runners-up in Class LL to New London (42-46) in 2017 and Norwich Free Academy (71-42) in 2002.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Mackenzie Nelson scored six points in each of the first two periods to keep things close. She had four rebounds, played great defense by sliding to the side where the dangerous Cassi Barbato set up against the zone, and her body control on drives to the basket is eye opening.
“You don’t come across a player like Mackenzie that often. She makes players around her elevate their game. Mackenzie plays better than her grade (freshman) dictates.” — Greenwich coach Chrys Hernandez