NEW FAIRFIELD — Having seen a double-digit lead slowly slip away in the fourth quarter, it was a welcome sight for Newtown coach Jeremy O’Connell to see senior Julia Gerace step to the free-throw line up by two points with 9.9 seconds remaining.
Gerace knocked down both shots from the line, securing a 41-37 win for No. 5 Newtown over No. 4 New Fairfield in the SWC quarterfinals.
Newtown will face No. 1 Notre Dame-Fairfield in the semifinals Tuesday after Notre Dame beat Bethel 60-38 in another quarterfinal.
For Gerace, there is no place she would have rather been than on that free-throw line.
“(I was thinking) I’d better not miss this,” Gerace said. “It was a team effort. We practice free throws in practice every day and it’s something I have worked on with my team. I could not have gotten there without my teammates. I am really proud of us, this was a really good win tonight.”
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Gerace and Bella Gerace both led Newtown with 10 points apiece.
After a slow start for both teams with defenses making clean looks at the basket difficult, the score was just 5-4 New Fairfield after one quarter.
The scoring picked up in the second and Newtown took a 19-13 lead into the break.
The Nighthawks would build their lead to as many as 13 points at the end of the third quarter but the Rebels were not going quietly.
After grinding the lead down to single digits, a 3-pointer by junior guard Ava Romanello with 1:37 left cut the Newtown lead down to 34-32.
Romanello had a game-high 15 for the Rebels including two 3s in the fourth quarter, sparking the rally.
A 3 by freshman Jadyn Brenneman with under a minute to play made it 39-38 but the Rebels never grabbed the lead.
New Fairfield had the ball down two with 12 seconds remaining but a turnover at midcourt left the ball in Gerace’s hands, leading to the foul that put her on the line.
“These kids are so tough mentally. We are not the most offensively skilled team that can light up the scoreboard but they showed so much toughness tonight and a ton of fight,” New Fairfield coach Brendan Moore said. “I can’t ask for anything more than how hard they played tonight. They always believed they could crawl back into it.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Julia Gerace, Newtown. The senior not only sealed the game with her free throws, but she got things rolling in the second quarter, hitting two 3s and a layup in the quarter.
“I am so proud of Julia. She has stepped up above and beyond all season and done all the little things offensively and defensively we needed. She’s been a great senior leader,” O’Connell said. “A lot of these girls have never been on the court in pressure minutes in playoff game against a tough team. Every time we play New Fairfield it’s a great matchup and it’s a grind. Both of our fortes is defense. They play unbelievable defense in that 1-2-2 matchup zone and we’ve hung our hat on our defense the last 11 years.”