BETHEL — The Bethel High School girls basketball team ran its machine-like high- and low- post game to perfection Tuesday night, and scored a crucial victory in the process.
Led by their dynamic pair of 6-foot-2 forwards, and sparked by a couple clutch shots down the stretch, the Wildcats held off New Milford 41-36 in a South-West Conference clash between two playoff hopefuls. Abby Saunders scored a game-high 16 points and Maranda Nyborg chipped in with six points, along with two key blocks in the second half, to lead the Wildcats (10-2, 4-1 SWC). Their presence in the paint, whether alone or in tandem, has been a match-up nightmare for most teams.
“We work hard together,” said Saunders, who scored 10 of the Wildcats’ 13 points in the first quarter. “It’s just practicing post moves and all that together, basically just high-low.”
Lily Daniels chipped in with nine points for Bethel, Vicky Gracy scored seven — and both players came up big in the fourth quarter.
Aunalise Anderson scored 13 points to lead New Milford (7-3, 3-2 SWC), and Nicole Vivian scored 10.
TOUGH AS NAILS
Nyborg gave everyone a scare about five minutes into the game when she jumped for a rebound, fell awkwardly and banged her head on the floor. After being examined by the trainer on the court, Nyborg walked to the bench under her own power, rested for several minutes, and returned in the second quarter without missing a beat.
“She’s a tough kid,” Bethel coach Anderson Rawlins said. “She just really wanted to be back out here with her teammates. She wanted to contribute in any way, shape or form.
“And that’s our whole team: they keep getting knocked down, and they just keep getting up and want to keep going,” Rawlins added. “I love it.”
In an effort to neutralize Bethel’s multi-faceted offense, New Milford coach Bill Kersten employed a game plan in which the Green Wave slowed the pace of the game to a crawl by possessing the ball for long stretches on offense, dribbling and passing without taking a shot. The idea was to make Bethel continue to work on defense for as long as possible and keep the score down.
Bethel opened its biggest lead of the night, 26-17, less than two minutes into the second half, but New Milford closed the third quarter with a 10-2 run to cut the Wildcat lead to one heading to the final stanza. A pair of foul shots by Taylor Kersten put New Milford ahead 33-32 with 4:29 to go. On Bethel’s ensuing trip up the floor, however, Gracy stepped up and buried a 3-pointer to put Bethel ahead to stay. Moments later, a steal and bucket by Daniels extended Bethel’s lead to four.
Anderson sank a floater with 3:11 remaining to cut New Milford’s deficit to two. A minute later, Nyborg flashed a nifty move in the low post and laid one in to stretch the lead back to four. Gracy sank a pair of foul shots in the final minute to ice it.
“That New Milford team is really good, and I was pleased to see our kids step up to a challenge again,” Rawlins said. “I think that was our best team game. Everyone contributed, which is nice to see. Our high-low game was there, our outside game was there, and it was really good to see the girls face adversity and be able to come forth and be successful. That’s key for a young team, learning how to win different styles of basketball games.”
Despite the loss, Kersten was proud of his players for buying into the game plan for the sake of the team — and the Green Wave darn near pulled it off, too.
“I’m extremely proud of the way they worked,” he said. “They believe that if they execute and do what they need to do, good things will happen. We were down nine at one point, and it would have been easy to just fold up the tents and take off for home. It says a lot about them.”
BETHEL 41, NEW MILFORD 36
NEW MILFORD (7-3, 3-2 SWC)
Jess Horkan 1 0-0 2; Nicole Vivian 4 0-0 10; Mackenzie Brady 0 0-0 0; Abby Sobutka 1 0-0 2; Taylor Kersten 1 2-2 4; Gillian Boss 2 0-0 5; Aunalise Anderson 5 3-4 13. Totals: 14 5-6 36.
BETHEL (10-2, 4-1 SWC)
Mia Prazeres 0 1-2 1; Vick Gracy 2 2-2 7; Lily Daniels 3 3-3 9; Anna Riolo 0 0-0 0; Stephanie Mosley 0 0-0 0; Gabriella Mendonca 0 0-0 0; Britney Roach 1 0-0 2; Maranda Nyborg 2 2-2 6; Abby Saunders 8 0-0 16. Totals: 16 8-9 41.
NEW MILFORD13 4 10 9 — 36
BETHEL13 9 6 13 — 41
3-pointers: NM—Vivian 2, Boss; Be—Gracy.