— Mike Madera (@MikeMadera2) January 28, 2017
HAMDEN – Hamden coach Alan Stekloff and his staff have been preaching to the girls basketball team about playing hard for a full 32 minutes. With his team’s athleticism, Stekloff feels hard work from start to finish will wear down opposing teams.
Stekloff’s theory proved correct Friday evening as the Green Dragons rallied late in the fourth quarter to force overtime, then defeated rival Sacred Heart Academy 51-44 in overtime of a Southern Connecticut Conference interdivision contest at Hamden High.
“We preach making the whole 32 minutes as hard as we can possibly make it for opposing teams,” Stekloff said. “If we work hard as a team and make teams play at our pace, we feel we can wear them down at the end.”
Such was the case Friday evening when the Green Dragons trailed by seven points at the start of the fourth quarter following a 3-pointer by Sacred Heart’s Claudia Capozzo. With a quick pace forcing numerous turnovers and missed shots by the Sharks, the Green Dragons, who won their seventh straight game, closed the final seven minutes on a 13-6 run to force the extra period.
After Sacred Heart’s Allie Brennan sank a pair of free throws with one minute, 41 seconds remaining in the fourth to give the Sharks a 37-36 lead, Hamden’s Sarah Streete put Hamden back on top 16 seconds later.
Hamden (11-3) took a 40-39 lead in the final 30 seconds of the fourth on a bucket by Tahjai Mazyck, but Brennan hit one of two free throws with 22 seconds left to force overtime.
“I have to give Hamden all the credit,” Sacred Heart Academy coach Bruce Rich said. “They are probably as physical a team as there is in the SCC right now. They have size and speed, and they are quick to the basket. We were undersized against them. We played cat and mouse against them, which was successful for 31 minutes. They just wore us down in overtime.”
Sacred Heart freshman Ally Kirck evened the game at 42 early in the overtime, before a basket by Hamden’s Makaela Johnson and a 3-pointer by Katie Esposito had the Green Dragons in front 47-42 with 2:15 left in overtime.
“This is huge for us,” Esposito said. “We have played some close games with them. I think, in the fourth quarter, we started playing as a team, not as individuals. We started passing the ball around and took the ball hard to the basket.”
Trailing 23-22 to start the second half, the Sharks took a 30-23 lead as Aleksandra Koziol scored the first eight points of the second half. The Green Dragons did not get their first points until Johnson’s basket with 2:23 remaining. When Streete connected with 45 seconds to go in the third, Hamden was within 31-27.
Sacred Heart (7-8) jumped out to a quick lead in the contest as a bucket by Kirck had the Sharks up 11-6 in the opening quarter. But two baskets by Taniyah Thompson brought Hamden within 11-10 with 36 seconds to go, before Capozzo’s 3-pointer with five seconds to go in the quarter put the Sharks on top 14-10.
“We were much more aggressive in the fourth quarter and overtime,” Stekloff. “In the first quarter, we missed a lot of easy shots in close, a lot of chippies. We started to concentrate on the shots we missed, instead of being aggressive.”
Capozzo led Sacred Heart with 17 points. Koziol had 10 points, while Brennan had seven and Kirck finished with six for the Sharks.
Hamden had three players in double figures and was led by Mazyck with 13 points. Thompson finished with 12 points and Esposito had 11 in the win.