HAMDEN — All-Staters Maky Johnson and Taniyah Thompson, who starred for Hamden during last year’s run to an SCC championship and the Class LL semifinals are gone, now, off playing Division I girls basketball at Albany and East Carolina, respectively.
But Hamden still has spunky point guard Asya Brandon to direct this relatively new cast of Green Dragons, and she produced and directed yet another big victory.
Brandon poured in 17 points to lead a balanced Hamden offense that knocked rival Sacred Heart Academy from the ranks of the unbeaten, 54-48, Monday night at SHA.
Senior forward Rebecca Oberman-Levine, junior Diamond White and freshman Gianna Robert all chipped in with 10 points apiece as Hamden won its fourth-consecutive game since starting the year 1-2.
“We have younger girls, but slowly we’re progressing each and every day,” said Brandon, who added a pair of 3-pointers as Hamden improved to 5-2, which also includes a win over Amity. “This one was really big for us. So far, now, we’ve knocked down two undefeated teams. So it feels really good. We just have to keep going.”
Despite the challenge, playing an unbeaten Sacred Heart Academy team that was looking to cement its status as an SCC contender, Hamden coach Amanda Forcucci said the Dragons remained focused on themselves.
“We acted like this was any other game that we’ve played,” she said. “We wanted to come in and worry about the things that we had to worry about. We wanted to control things on the defensive end and take care of business on the other end. I keep telling them not to worry about the names on the other shirts, whether we’re playing in their gym or our gym.
“We lost two big pieces from last year, so we’re just worrying about us, now.”
It was the first loss for Jason Kirck as SHA’s new head coach, who took the setback as a learning experience for his young group. The Sharks were, once again, without sophomore forward Carina Ciampi, who has missed the last couple weeks due to a concussion, Kirck said.
SHA did get a strong effort inside from senior forward Elena Farquharson, who led all scorers with 18 points. Rosa Rizzitelli added 12 as Sacred Heart Academy rallied back from a 15-point deficit in the final minutes.
“We’ve come a long way in a short time,” Kirck said. “We’ve fought really hard tonight and I’m so proud of our girls to bring it back and keep their composure.
“Tonight’s a good lesson for us. It’s a good opportunity to learn and a good opportunity to play one of the top notch programs in the state and compete at a high level.”
SHA actually led 16-10 early in the second quarter before Brandon and Hamden asserted themselves. The Dragons embarked on a 15-5 run to grab a 25-21 halftime lead.
“It’s just your mindset,” Brandon said. “You’ve just got to go and get it. And I thank my team, too. If it weren’t for my team I wouldn’t have got the points I did tonight. I’m in a groove right now.”
Hamden really took control with a 10-2 run to start the third quarter. Brandon and senior Yarliz Santiago hit back-to-back 3-pointers and then Brandon fed White for an easy bucket in transition.
“She’s very good, she’s very skilled and very quick,” Kirck said of Brandon. “She shoots the ball extremely well and makes her free throws. It makes them difficult to pressure because of how quick and how good they handle the ball and our defense hasn’t been up to where it’s been all year. Give credit to Hamden, they made the plays.”
A 3-pointer from Robert late in the third quarter pushed Hamden’s lead to 42-27.
Sacred Heart Academy managed to get that lead down to six points with just over a minute remaining, the Sharks missed several chances to have a legitimate shot to win the game. By the time Sydney Rossacci scored to make it a 4-point game, only 11 seconds remained and Brandon sealed the game with a pair of foul shots.
“We just need to play as a team, that’s it,” Ferrucci said. “Share the ball, play like a team. We needed our guys from last year to be leaders, which they are. We challenged them early on this year and you see bits and pieces.
“You’ve got Becca (Oberman-Levine) being a leader. You’ve got Assa being a leader… and Yarliz (Santiago) and Mo (Montsho Canto)… They’re taking the young kids under their wing, so to speak. And that stuff has made all the difference going forward.”