CLINTON – Bacon Academy coach Dave Shea knew the key to stopping Career was to limit the play of star junior Ky’Jae Hargrove.
Shea could not have imagined just how well the defense of his team would play.
Holding the second-seeded Panthers without a field goal for a stretch of 11 minutes, 8 seconds in the third quarter, No. 11 Bacon Academy rolled to am eventual 56-40 victory in the Class M semifinals at Morgan Monday evening.
The Bobcats (20-6) advance to their first final since 2013 when they fell to Farmington. Bacon Accademy will look to win its first state title since 2012 when it faces No. 4 New Fairfield — which defeated Waterford at the buzzer in the other semifinal — at the Mohegan Sun Arena this weekend at a day and time to be determined.
“The big thing was not letting (Hargrove) penetrate,” Shea said. “She creates. We had to keep her out of the middle. She’s the whole show. We felt, when she penetrated, we had to pick her up. Containing her was a big deal.”
While the Bobcats contained Hargrove, Career was unable to do the same with Bacon Academy’s Kellie Nudd and Jocelyn Luizzi. Nudd finished with a game-high 21 points and Luizzi had 15.
“When someone is hot on the team, we get them the ball,” Nudd said. “We get the ball to the people that are hot. You just have to play the game.”
The Panthers (21-5) stuggled to find any rhythm in the game, especially in the third quarter when an eight-point deficit turned into a 40-21 Bacon Academy advantage.
“I was disappointed because I thought we were very tentative,” Career coach Steve Bethke said. “Being a state tournament game, maybe it was pregame jitters. But, like I told the girls, we finished 21-5 and no one had us on their radar. We did some nice things this year. It is unfortunate the way it ended.”
Leading by six points in the third quarter, Bacon Academy took over when Nudd scored the next six points for a 31-19 lead. Nudd’s efforts were part of a 10-0 run to give the Bobcats a 35-19 lead.
Down by 16 points, the Panthers faced an uphill battle as they were forced to play without Carmen Rosemond who was in foul trouble early in the third, and Hargrove, who left for a brief time following an injury.
“At that point, it was a 14-point game,” Bethke said. “We were chasing too much.”
Career got as close as 14 points on a bucket by Ciara Little in the fourth, but Bacon Academy went on an 11-0 run to seal the victory.
— Mike Madera (@MikeMadera2) March 14, 2017
“I thought their press generated a lot of our offense,” Shea said. “Once we broke the press, we had a lot of easy shots.”
The Bobcats held a 25-17 lead at halftime thanks in part to a 9-0 run to close the opening half. Nudd scored seven of the nine points in the run and finished with 11 points in the opening half.
Despite their speed, the Panthers were unable to convert in the second quarter, connecting on just three field goals. Two of those baskets, one by Hargrove, and the other by Kayla Williams gave Career leads of 15-12 and 17-16.
The Panthers did not score in the final 3:36 of the half and the Bobcats wasted no time capitalizing. Luizzi had a bucket and two free throws to give Bacon Academy some momentum, before Nudd took over.
The first eight minutes saw both teams counter with baskets before Career scoed the last five points of the half. Williams drained a long 3-pointer late in the quarter, and Rosemond hit a bucket at the buzzer to give the Panthers an 11-10 lead after eight minutes of play.
Williams and Little led Career with 11 points apiece, while Hargrove finished with 10.
— Mike Madera (@MikeMadera2) March 13, 2017