BRISTOL>> It was everything it was hyped up to be and more.
But in the end it was Capital Prep proving once again it is the best team in Connecticut with a hard-fought 69-61 win over previously unbeaten Farmington at Bristol Central High School in the semifinals of the Class L state tournament.
Angelique Rodriguez led Capital Prep with 17 points, Desiree Elmore scored 15 and Dazha Ward 13. The two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year, Kiah Gillespie was held to 12, but was battling the flu all game.
“I’m just really proud of what we’ve done and really proud of what Farmington did,” said Gillespie, the reigning Gatorade State Player of the Year. “It was just a really well fought game. It was a good day in Connecticut for girls basketball.”
Farmington knew if it slowed the big two of Elmore and Gillispe it would have a chance and it happened, but Ward picked up the slack.
“She was much more of a scoring factor than we thought she would be and that was the difference in the game,” Farmington coach Russ Crist said.
Sophie Borg scored 22 to lead Farmington while Hannah Friend had 21.
The Trailblazers will be making their fourth straight trip to Mohegan Sun for the state finals where they will play 11th-seeded Northwest Catholic. They are looking for their third-straight state title and a repeat as Class L champions.
Though Farmington had an early lead thanks to consecutive 3-pointers from Friend and Saunders to start the game, Capital Prep rallied and built what looked like an insurmountable lead with a 21-2 run in hte second quarter.
Ward, Rodriguez, Lizahya Morgan and Elmore all hit 3-pointers and, in the blink of an eye, Capital Prep turned what was once an early Farmington lead into a 39-17 advantage.
“We had a lapse where we didn’t really take care of the ball, they dug in on defense, got in the passing lanes,” Farmington coach Russ Crist said. “They turn turnovers into two points faster than any team I’ve ever seen.”
Farmington got one basket back to go into the break down by 20 — 39-19 — it’s largest deficit of the season.
But, out of the break, the comeback began.
A 3 from Saunders midway through the third quarter jump-started the offense.
Hannah Friend followed with a strong baseline drive and after Kiah Gillespie made one of two free throws, Sophie Borg went down the lane for two. Friend hit a 3, but Rodriguez answered. Saunders hit another three with seven seconds left and just like that Prep was finally challenged by a Connecticut team.
“I felt like we were starting to fall apart on defense and we weren’t getting back to help each other out,” Rodriguez said. “Some of us were in foul trouble, so it was harder for us to play man [defense].”
The intensity stayed high and the volume in the sold out gym was higher, especially when the Indians scored.
Borg scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter for Farmington while Capital Prep managed just three, all from the free throw line.
Sarah Lipinski, wearing a protective mask due to a broken nose, hit a big 3 with 3:22 left to cut Capital Prep’s lead to seven.
After Gillespie missed two free throws for Capital Prep, Friend went to the line for Farmington and drained both to make it a five-point game.
But that would be as close as the Indians would get. The Trailblazers forced a couple more turnovers in the waning moments and put it away.
“We worked so hard to get back into it and we had three possessions with the game at five and we just couldn’t cash in on them,” Crist said. “One of those shots go down, I think we would have had a different outcome.”
Crist subbed out his seniors for the last time, including Isabelle Lipinski replacing her sister Sarah with a big hug on the floor.
Capital Prep 69, Farmington 61
(at Bristol Central High School)
Capital Prep: 19 24 17 9 — 69
Farmington: 15 8 29 14 — 61
Capital Prep (69)
Dazha Ward 5 1-3 13, Lizahya Morgan 3 1-1 8, Desiree Davis 1 0-0 2, Kiah Gillespie 3 6-10 12, Angelique Rodriguez 7 2-2 17, Desiree Elmore 5 5-7 15. Totals 24 15-23 69.
Mary Schoenherr 3 0-0 6, Sophie Borg 9 4-5 22, Cheray Saunders 3 0-3 9, Munah Momah 0 0-0 0, Olivia Sullivan 0 0-0 0, Kelly Winner 0 0-0 0, Abby Wollenberg 0 0-0 0, Devon Michaels 0 0-0 0, Sarah Lipinski 1 0-0 3, Hannah Friend 7 5-7 21, Isabelle Lipinski 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 9-15 61.
3-pointers: Capital Prep — 5 (Ward 2, Morgan, Rodriguez 3); Farmington — 6 (Saunders 3, Friend 2, Lipinski).
Records: Capital Prep 24-1; Farmington 26-1.