CROMWELL >> The Shoreline Conference girls basketball tournament is just around the corner and folks got a sneak preview Thursday night when Cromwell and Morgan went toe-to-toe in front of a boisterous crowd at Salafia Gymnasium.
Get your tickets early. The SLC tourney promises to be a barnburner.
Senior forward Janelle Harrison converted an old-fashioned three-point play with just 25 seconds left, then added a free throw in the final second as the Panthers edged the Huskies, 49-47.
“This was a typical game with Morgan,” said Cromwell coach Kelly Maher. “They make their runs, we make our runs. And it always comes down to the end with them. They’re a a tough team and to get a win against them is huge.”
Morgan, which rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit, took its first lead at 43-41 on junior forward Jen Dawson’s putback with 2:37 left in the fourth quarter.
“I give the kids credit for getting back into the game,” said Morgan coach Joe Grippo. “But once you get back in it you’ve got to figure out a way to finish it.”
Harrison tied it with a pair of free throws but the Huskies regained the lead on a pair of free throws from junior guard Tori Hopkins (five points).
With under a minute to play, Panthers junior guard Nicole Rojas found sophomore Alyssa Wright (six points) open in the low post and Wright’s hoop tied it at 45.
Morgan, however, responded again when senior Lily Dawson (six points) made a nifty inside move for a layup, giving the Huskies a 47-45 lead with 39 seconds left.
But Harrison, the reigning SLC Player of the Year, tossed in a shot off the glass from the low post while getting fouled. Her ensuing free throw gave Cromwell a 48-47 lead with just 25 seconds remaining.
Hopkins then missed a 3-pointer from the left wing in the waning seconds and Harrison grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 1.8 seconds left.
“We wanted a better look than that,” Grippo explained. “I really wanted Jen Dawson to try and take the ball and go to the basket but we just never got her the ball in a spot where she could. Tori let it go and I thought it looked pretty good.”
Harrison finished with a game-high 21 points, including 11 points in the fourth quarter. She also grabbed nine rebounds. Rojas had 11 points and three assists, while sophomores Alyssa Wright added six points for Cromwell (15-1).
“(Cromwell’s) an incredibly talented team,” said Grippo. “They’ve got a kid going to a Divison I school, they’ve got good size, they’ve got guys who can slash to the basket and a couple of guys who can shoot the jump shot. They’re a difficult matchup.”
The Panthers enjoyed an early 12-0 lead and had a 26-11 halftime advantage before Morgan stormed back.
Sophomore guard Sami Ashton spearheaded the Huskies comeback by scoring 13 of her team-high 19 points in the third quarter. Sophomore Josie Sullivan, who was saddled with foul trouble in the first half (Sullivan eventually fouled out with 2:22 left to play) was also instrumental at both ends of the court for Morgan, which outscored Cromwell, 22-7, in the third stanza.
Sullivan’s layup off a feed from Ashton with 18 seconds left tied it 33 and capped a terrific quarter for the Huskies.
“Sami did some great things tonight,” added Grippo. “And when Josie was on the court we definitely could commpete with them. She’s the only kid we have that can really guard Harrison to any degree.”
Jen Dawson scored 12 points and grabbed rebounds for the Huskies (13-2), which had a 13-game winning streak snapped.
Senior guard Emily Appleby added four rebounds and three assists for Cromwell, which avenged its only loss of the season – a 54-44 defeat in Clinton on Dec. 13 – while extending its winning streak to 14 games.
“At the end you’ve got to rely on our experience and Janelle and Emily have been through a lot,” said Maher. “We look to them to settle down the sophomores a little bit. They haven’t been in situations as big as this and I thought (Janelle and Emily) came through at the end.”