CROMWELL – Good teams find ways to overcome bad nights and win games, and Cromwell had the depth and the determination to do that Tuesday in the Shoreline Conference tournament semifinals.
As Cromwell’s top offensive threats struggled big-time with their shots, junior Sadie Budzik and seniors Gina Sousa and Taylor Yankowski gave the Panthers a much-needed lift in a 44-29 victory over Old Lyme at Jake Salafia Gymnasium.
Top seed Cromwell (19-3) will take aim at its fourth straight Shoreline championship and eighth in the last 10 years when it takes on No. 2 East Hampton on Saturday (7 p.m.) at Old Saybrook High.
Vanessa Stolstajner, Cromwell’s leading scorer, had 13 points, six below her season average, on 4 for 16 shooting and Najla Cecunjanin was held scoreless against the Wildcats, but up stepped Budzik and Yankowski with 10 points apiece and Sousa with six.
“I think we just wore Old Lyme down over time,” Cromwell coach Kelly Maher said. “We know a lot of teams are going to try and shut those two (Stolstajner and Cecunjanin) down, and so we told (the team) to be ready to step up. The kids did a nice job in that area.”
Old Lyme (16-6) trailed by only four points at halftime, but the Wildcats could not mount the extra push coach Don Bugbee was hoping for to stay close to the Panthers in the second half.
“They’re solid and well-coached. Kelly does a good job with them. It’s obvious by the number of banners on the wall,” he said. “When you come to a place like Cromwell, you have to do everything perfect or you’re not going to win.”
The Wildcats were within three points of the Panthers, at 20-17, in the first minute of the third quarter. That’s when Cromwell’s depth and its defense flipped the switch.
After Stolstajner missed two free throws, Yankowski hit a 3-pointer against Old Lyme’s 2-3 zone on the next trip down. Budzik then scored on a tough drive in traffic — after losing one shoe – to give Cromwell a 25-17 lead.
Britney DeRoehn’s layup trimmed Old Lyme’s deficit to six, but Budzik drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing to extend the Panthers’ lead to 28-19. After two free throws from Emily DeRoehn, Yankowski scored on a feed from Stolstajner and then swished another 3-pointer for a 33-21 advantage with 1:09 to go in the quarter.
Cromwell took a 34-23 lead into the fourth quarter and rattled off seven points on another Yankowski three, two free throws from Stolstajner and her drive to the basket to ultimately put the game away.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t have a stronger showing in the second half, but I can’t complain when I think about the whole situation,” Bugbee said. “We graduated four starters and I don’t remember anyone picking us to go 15-5 and reach the semifinals of the Shoreline tournament. We basically started over.”
Emily DeRoehn led Old Lyme with 12 points. The Wildcats made only 11 fields goals, and while they held their own on the defensive end, Cromwell’s defense was just a little more aggressive and disruptive.
The Panthers had 14 steals (Stolstajner had a team-best four and Eliza Weston had three).
“We caused a lot of turnovers on the defensive end and made the extra passes on the offensive end,” Maher said. “Eliza was all over the court tonight, causing turnovers and getting steals.
Both teams left a lot of points at the foul line. Old Lyme missed 9 of 15 attempts and Cromwell was only 9 of 17. Old Lyme found itself in the bonus in the final seconds of the first quarter, but made only two of six attempts.
“We didn’t take advantage of the situations we could have. If we could have put in four or five of the ones we missed,” Bugbee said, his voice trailing off.
Cromwell played almost six minutes of the first quarter without Cecunjanin, who went to the bench with her second foul and stayed there. Her absence forced the Panthers to look to others to make up for the scoring and Cecunjanin’s defensive presence.
“We were in foul trouble early as a team, but we were still able to maintain the lead at the half,” Maher said. “We were really struggling on the offensive end. We really needed to control the intangibles (going forward — win the 50-50 balls and get rebounds.
“We had to start outworking and outhustling them and we did a better job of that in the second half. The way we were able to keep or composure through that stretch in the first half, and the way other people stepped up, is going to help us in the long run.”
Curtin’s 3 sparks East Hampton to final
Meryl Curtin hit a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter as No. 2 seed East Hampton (20-2) advanced to the Shoreline tournament final over No. 3 Morgan.
After trailing by only three at halftime, Morgan (15-7) was unable to catch the Bellringers, managing only one field goal in the third quarter and nine points total in the second half.
Danielle Adam’s drive to the basket fell through the net just as the third-quarter buzzer sounded to put East Hampton up 23-16.
Morgan’s Leah McComiskey sank two jump shots in the first minute of the fourth quarter to close her team’s deficit to 23-20, but Curtin’s 3-pointer pushed the lead back to six.
The closest Morgan got down the stretch was four, 27-23, when McComiskey hit another jumper with 2:01 to go. East Hampton made three of four free throws inside the final minute to seal the win.
Curtin led East Hampton with 11 points. Catie Donadio led the Huskies with 10 points and McComiskey scored nine.