CLINTON — With her team trailing by one point entering the second half of Monday’s quarterfinal contest against St. Joseph, Morgan sophomore Sami Ashton didn’t feel her team was playing well defensively — and she decided to do something about it.
Coming up with two crucial steals in the fourth quarter that she turned into four points, Ashton turned a five-point fourth-quarter deficit into a 54-49 victory in the CIAC Class M state tournament at Morgan.
Ashton’s effort, which culminated with 26 points, including 14 in the decisive fourth quarter, allowed the Huskies (21-5) to advance to the semifinals Friday night at a site and time to be determined against Cromwell.
“Our defense in the first half was not good at all,” Ashton said. “We wanted to come out and score a lot. We were able to hit some shots at the end.”
Ashton was the one hitting the shots for the Huskies in the fourth quarter, connecting on all but three of her team’s 17 points in the final 8 minutes.
After Bridget Sharnick gave the Cadets a 44-43 lead, Ashton came up with a big steal and scored to give the Huskies a 45-44 lead with 3 minutes, 52 seconds left in the game.
Ashton’s second crucial steal of the quarter led to two more points and she gave the Huskies a 49-46 advantage with 2:31 to go.
“I was not happy with the defense in the first half,” Morgan coach Joe Grippo said. “They are a pretty explosive offensive team. I thought we did a great job defending in the second half.
“Sami played intelligent and was aggressive. We just kept grinding. We were down eight and we came back. We were down six and we came back. We showed a lot of resiliency.”
Morgan struggled at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, hitting on just 5 of 11 shots.
The Huskies’ troubles allowed the Cadets to even the game with 1:10 remaining as Shannon O’Meara drained a 3-pointer.
“I don’t know what happened with our foul shots,” Grippo said. “We are usually a pretty good free-throw shooting team.”
The Cadets never scored again.
Ashton hit a bucket and Jen Dawson followed with a steal.
Ashton followed with one free throw, for a three-point lead before Sharnick missed a 3-pointer to tie the game with 16 seconds to go.
“Sami is a great player,” St. Joseph coach Chris Lindwall said of Ashton. “She had two steals in the fourth quarter. I thought the second one was big.
After Ashton missed both free throws on Morgan’s next possession, St. Joseph had one more opportunity but Ana DoCarmo missed a 3-pointer that would have evened the game with 5 seconds to go.
“We were 4-7 in our first 11 games,” Lindwall said. “In our league, we are in a war every night. We were sitting at 4-7 and in the same spot as last year. We turned it around and won 11 in a row to get here. I could not be any prouder of them.”
The loss stung a St. Joseph team that used six points by O’Meara in the first quarter to take a 12-11 lead. After Ashton opened the second quarter with four consecutive points to give Morgan a 17-12 lead, Lindwall called for time.
The Cadets responded with a 6-0 run on buckets by Maite Gritsko, Jacqueline Jozefick and Caitlin Sharnick for an 18-17 lead. Trailing 22-18, the Cadets used a 7-0 run behind a 3-pointer by Bridget Sharnick, for a 25-22 lead.
The Cadets twice extended the lead to eight points in the third quarter, the first after consecutive 3-pointers by O’Meara and Caitlin Sharnick gave the Cadets a 34-26 advantage. When Jozefick drained a basket with 50 seconds left in the third quarter, St. Joseph led 42-34.
Tori Hopkins responded for Morgan with a 3-pointer 14 seconds later to cut the deficit to five points after three quarters and set up Ashton’s heroics.
Bridget Sharnick led St. Joseph with 17 points, while O’Meara finished with 12. Jen Dawson and Hopkins each had 12 for Morgan.