SHELTON — The East Haven girls’ basketball team built up a 20-point lead early in the third quarter before hanging on for a 47-41 victory over host Shelton in a critical SCC Hammonasset Division game at Murray Gymnasium Thursday night.
The win gives the Yellow Jackets (10-5, 4-1) sole possession of first place in the Hammonasset. The Gaelettes (13-2, 3-2), trying to win an SCC divisional crown for the first time since the 2003-2004 season, fall into second place with the loss.
“It puts us a step closer, but we have some difficult games next week,” said East Haven coach Anthony Russell, whose team has won its division each of the last four years.
East Haven never trailed Thursday, and went up by 20 points, 31-11, on an Isabella Ragaini fast break layup with 5:45 left in the third quarter.
But the Gaelettes, who had scored just two points since late in the first quarter, suddenly came to life.
Shelton went on a 19-2 run over a stretch of three minutes and 45 seconds to get within one possession, 33-30, with 1:29 left in the third quarter.
Five Gaelettes scored in the run, including a steal and layup by reserve forward Ashia Askew to cut the deficit to three points.
A Keira O’Connor pull-up 15-footer to open the fourth quarter pulled Shelton to within 33-32.
The Gaelettes, who also lost to East Haven 53-50 earlier in the month, were still only down two points, 40-38, with three minutes to go.
“You can’t get down 20 to a good team, but we had a lot of fight in the second half. We got it three or four times to a one possession game,” Shelton coach Joe Cavallaro said.
With the outcome still up for grabs, East Haven senior Alexis Pendziwater came through in the clutch.
Pendziwater, who had struggled with her shot in the second half, got open just beyond the arc on an out-of-bounds play and calmly drilled a trey to extend the East Haven lead to 43-38 with 1:58 remaining.
Pendziwater added three free throws down the stretch to help stave off the Gaelettes comeback and secure the East Haven win.
“No matter how many times Lexi misses, you’ve gotta keep riding her because I think she has 220-career 3s, which is insane,” Russell said. “You know at some point she’s going to find her stroke and knock it down and she did on that out of bounds play where she got that open look.”
For Shelton, the hole it dug itself over the game’s first 18-plus minutes proved too deep to crawl out of.
Juniors Angelina Munoz and Taylor Salato got things started for East Haven, scoring 10 of the game’s first 13 points as the Yellow Jackets jumped out to the early lead.
Shelton pulled within 12-9 by the end of the opening quarter thanks in large part to an O’Connor baseline 3 and Leya Vohra steal and layup.
But the Gaelettes, with center Clarissa Pierre on the bench with two fouls, went ice cold in the second quarter.
Shelton took 13 shots in the quarter, but only Vohra’s pull-up 15-footer went through the twine.
Meanwhile, Pendziwater got hot over the final 4:15 of the first half, scoring 10 points as the Yellowjackets took a 26-11 lead into the intermission.
“We just didn’t seem to have enough energy in the first half,” said Cavallaro. “Not to take anything away from them, they played great, but we seemed to pick it up a lot more in the second half.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
East Haven’s Alexis Pendziwater scored a game-high 21 points, including five points in the game’s final 1:58 to help East Haven hang on for the victory.
“It was nice to get up (by 20 points) because as good as a team as Shelton is, you knew they were going to make a run at some point.” — East Haven coach Anthony Russell.