GREENWICH — Sacred Heart Greenwich entered Friday’s basketball showdown against Choate Rosemary Hall with a record of 10-0, while Choate had just one loss on the season and the two squads certainly lived up to their respective records.
Both teams had their moments, as Choate built a double-digit halftime lead, before the Tigers stormed back to close to within a mere point in the final minute of play.
Trailing by a point, Sacred Heart couldn’t make a final push in the final minute to overcome Choate Rosemary Hall, which used clutch foul shooting in crunch time to record a hard-fought win.
Senior Jocelyn Polansky scored 14 points, while senior Ayla Elam added 10 points for Choate Rosemary Hall in its well-earned 49-43 win over host Sacred Heart.
Leah Atkins, a junior guard, totaled a game-high 18 points for Sacred Heart, which trailed, 42-41, with 1:15 remaining in the second half. Senior guard Ryan Smith scored 14 points and sparked the Tigers with numerous steals and aggressive defensive play.
“I thought our team played phenomenal,” Sacred Heart coach Ayo Hart said. “Last year, we lost to Choate 56-18, so coming into this game I’m sure the girls were nervous, but we are such a different team this year. We knew we had to work hard and defend them, because they are tall and athletic and we really did a great job defensively.”
Said Smith: “We went into today’s game knowing we couldn’t be intimidated. They are a hard team to play every year, but I think we held our own on our home court and we relied on our defense to lead us.”
Junior center Jordan Obi contributed nine points, as did senior forward Chloe Blanc for Choate (10-1). The visitors held a 27-15 halftime lead, before holding off the Tigers in the final minutes.
“This past Wednesday, we had a tough game against a tough opponent, Loomis, and coming off that loss, which was our first loss of the season, it was kind of a testament to us to work hard,” Polansky said. “We knew we had to come in here tonight and redeem ourselves. We knew the pressure was going to be on, but we’re always up for the challenge.”
A layup by Obi off a Polansky pass put Choate ahead, 42-32, with 2:55 left in the second half. But Sacred Heart quickly cut into Choate’s lead.
Smith and Atkins combined to make three free throws, Smith converted a fastbreak layup and Atkins made a layup off a steal, making it 42-39. Capitalizing on a steal off the press, Smith drove the lane and made another layup, bringing the Tigers to within 42-41 with 1:15 left to play.
“Our energy in the second half enabled us to make a comeback,” Hart said. “It was press, steal, press, steal for about 30 seconds and the gym was electric. To come back to within one and give ourselves a fighting chance against a great team like that was impressive.”
Blanc made a clutch layup off an inbounds pass with 1:10 remaining, giving the visitors a 44-41 lead. Polansky then calmly sank four free throws in the final seconds to secure the win.
“Just keeping our composure and knowing what to do with the ball and finishing out plays helped us at the end of the game,” said Polansky, who scored her 1,000th career point with Choate this season. “I work hard in practice and shoot a lot of foul shots and I’m confident in my shot.”
After watching Sacred Heart seize the momentum and threaten to take the lead, Choate coach Aliya Cox liked the composure her squad showed in the final minute.
“We made as many plays as we gave up in a 40-second span at the end of the game,” Cox said. “We had a few possessions where we remained under control and worked the ball. It was a tough game and they are a good team, but this was a good win for us.”
Senior center Sarah Eckerson (five points) made a free throw and guard Alana Frederick swished a jumper, pulling the Tigers to within 17-13 late in the opening half. Yet Choate closed the first half with a 10-2 run to take a 12-point lead into halftime.
Polansky sparked the spurt, scoring four points, while Elam made a pair of baskets in the low post.
“It took us a little while to settle in, but once we did, we moved the ball more efficiently,” Cox said.
Sacred Heart wouldn’t go away in the second half. Using an aggressive man-to-man defensive, both teams forced turnovers and made it difficult to get open looks at the basket at times.
Smith had 10 second half points, and Atkins poured in 13 points after halftime.
“Our chemistry was great throughout the game,” Atkins said. “We are a second half team and we knew we had to pick it up. Our chemistry really clicked in the second half. This was the best team we played, they were ranked higher than any other team we’ve played, so losing by six is not bad.”
Junior Morgan Smith, senior Claire Liddy and Frederick each contributed two points for the Tigers, while Indi DelRocco hit for seven points, including two a 3-pointer for Choate.
“Coming off Loomis, which was a tough, double overtime loss, we wanted to bounce back in this game,” said Blanc, who had a solid overall game. “They came out fast and strong and pressured us and really challenged us. But we kept our composure at the end.”
Both teams are right back in action on Saturday. The Tigers host Millbrook School at 1:30 p.m. Choate, whose lone loss was a 59-58 double overtime setback to Loomis Chaffee, visits Phillips Exeter Academy at 12 p.m.
“We had a nice run being 10-0, in all the sports that I’ve played here, we’ve never been 10-0, so it’s been exciting,” Smith said. “Even though it’s a loss it was a great game for us.”
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Polansky shot 8 for 8 from the foul line for Choate, which made 14 of its 19 free throw attempts. … Atkins and Smith formed an effective combination for the Tigers.
CHOATE ROSEMARY HALL 49, SACRED HEART 43
CHOATE 27 22 — 49
SACRED HEART 15 28 — 43
CHOATE ROSEMARY HALL (49)
Indi DelRocco 3 0-0 7; Christian Lucas 0 0-0 0; Jocelyn Polansky 3 8-8 14; Chloe Blanc 4 1-3 9; Ayla Elam 4 2-4 10; Jordan Obi 3 3-4 9; Kayce Madancy 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 14-19 49.
SACRED HEART GREENWICH (43)
Ryan Smith 6 2-7 14; Alana Frederick 1 0-0 2; Claire Liddy 1 0-0 2; Morgan Smith 1 0-0 2; Leah Atkins 6 6-9 18; Sarah Eckerson 2 1-4 5. Totals: 17 9-20 43.
3-pointers: C — DelRocco.
Records: Choate Rosemary Hall 10-1; Sacred Heart 10-1.