UNCASVILLE >> The St. Joseph girls basketball team got to party like it’s 1979 on Saturday.
The senior-laden Cadets built a big halftime lead and then held off Cromwell, 50-44, to win the CIAC Class M state championship at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
It was the Trumbull school’s second state title. St. Joseph topped Immaculate in the 1979 Class M finals.
Senior forward Bridget Sharnick scored 16 points and junior center Jacqueline Jozefick posted a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds for the No. 11 Cadets (19-7).
Four years ago St. Joseph’s nine seniors rolled to an undefeated season on the freshman team and Cadets coach Chris Lindwall knew he had something special.
“We said to them right then and there, this team can win a state championship if you make the commitment and those kids made the commitment,” Lindwall said. “Everybody said to me, ‘Why nine seniors?’ This is why. Because every one of them did something along this (championship) run that was unbelievable.”
St. Joseph drained five 3-pointers in the first half and led 31-16 at intermission. But fourth-seeded Cromwell (23-5) responded by outscoring the Cadets, 12-3, in the third quarter.
“I’m proud of my kids,” Cromwell coach Kelly Maher said. “They could have folded but they fought hard and made it a game and that’s all I can ask of them.”
Junior guard Enma Belcourt poured in 16 points, senior guard Nicole Rojas added 13 points and six rebounds, while junior forward Mya Villard had a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds for the Panthers.
Cromwell sophomore Nikki Bitinaitis buried a three-pointer that closed the gap to 45-40 with 1:47 left in the fourth quarter.
After Jozefick made a pair of free throws, Rojas converted a floater and Belcourt sank a short baseline jumper and suddenly it was 47-44 with 1:02 remaining.
“I always say to the team as long as there is time on the clock the game is not over,” Rojas said.
Belcourt, who was fouled while making her basket, missed the ensuing free throw. Jozefick, who went 8-for-8 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, sank a pair of free throws for a 49-44 advantage with 57 seconds left.
Jozefick then rebounded a Panthers miss and senior Ana DoCarmo (five points) added a free throw with 45 seconds left.
“We knew and talked about it at halftime that Cromwell would be coming back at us,” said Lindwall, who guided Joel Barlow to a state title in 1995. “We knew they were a great team and they were well coached. We were almost at the end there just trying to survive. And the girls executed everything we needed to do in those last two minutes.”
Despite making just 2 of 19 field goals in the second half, the Cadets kept Cromwell at bay by making 15 of 22 free throws.
St. Joseph took control with a 13-2 first half spurt fueled by 3-pointers from Sharnick and senior Caitlin Sharnick (eight points).
Senior Shannon O’Meara (six points) also drained a pair of 3-pointers, while senior Juliana Farmer added one trey as St. Joseph built a 15-point halftime lead.
“We got away from our game plan a little bit and I thought we looked a little scared,” Maher said. “We were rushing on offense, taking one shot and that was it.”
Cromwell, which was vying for its second state title in three years, made just 6-of-18 field goals in the first half.
“I think the nervousness was there,” Rojas said. “At halftime we were very disappointed in our performance. We thought that was ridiculous the way we played. We came out and did a better job (in the second half).”
Rojas, who will play at Stonehill next season, is the Panthers lone senior.
“As sad as it is, I’m very proud of my team and how far we got,” Rojas said. “And I’m really going to miss them next year. I think that’s what hurts the most, not even the losing part. I really hope they can execute it next year and win a championship.”
For St. Joseph’s nine seniors, there was no better ending.
“We just believed in ourselves the entire time,” Bridget Sharnick said. “We were focused and every practice was great. (Having seniors) helps a lot with leadership and everyone knows their roles and everyone knows what it takes to be successful. It gave us a lot more motivation to go out with a championship our senior year.”
St. Joseph 11 20 3 16 – 50
Cromwell 6 10 12 16 – 44
ST. JOSEPH (50)
Ana DoCarmo 1 3-5 5, Bridget Sharnick 4 7-13 16, Shannon O’Meara 2 0-0 6, Caitlin Sharnick 2 3-6 8, Jackie Jozefick 1 8-8 10, Julie Farmer 1 0-2 3, Maite Gritsko 1 0-0 2. Totals: 12 21-34 50
Emma Belcourt 7 1-2 16, Nicole Rojas 4 5-6 13, Araya Lessard 1 0-0 2, Alyssa Wright 0 0-0 0, Mya Villard 4 2-4 10, Nikki Britinaitis 1 0-0 3, Geanna Williams 0 0-0 0, Theresa Quinn 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 8-12 44
3-point goals: St. Joseph 5 (Sharnick 1, O’Meara 2, Sharnick 1, Farmer 1); Cromwell 2 (Belcourt 1, Britinaitis 1); Fouled out: St. Joseph (Gritsko); Cromwell (Belcourt); Records: St. Joseph 19-6; Cromwell 23-5
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