GREENWICH — After starting its season with two decisive victories, the Greenwich girls basketball team faced a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit against Fairfield Ludlowe and needed a strong finish, to say the least, to continue its early-season success.
Well, the Cardinals certainly produced the finish they needed.
Scoring the game’s final 14 points, Greenwich rallied to register an impressive 65-60 win over visiting Fairfield Ludlowe in an FCIAC matchup on Monday.
Freshman forward Mackenzie Nelson turned in another sensational performance, scoring a game-high 29 points, while tallying an eye-opening 14 steals for the 3-0 Cardinals.
“We knew coming into this game Fairfield Ludlowe was a really good team,” Cardinals coach Chrys Hernandez said. “Going back to last year’s game, it was one of our worst games of the entire season (a 55-22 loss to Ludlowe), so we had that in the back of our mind. But we know what we have in our own locker room and what we are capable of. We knew we needed to control the tempo and limit their transition scoring.”
Sparked by its underclassmen, GHS received 13 points from freshman guard Ava Sollenne and a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) from sophomore forward Kayla Anderson. Greenwich trailed 60-51 with just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but held Ludlowe scoreless the rest of the game.
“Our execution on offense dropped in the fourth quarter,” Falcons coach Sara Kinsley said. “We were still looking to attack, but we needed to take better shots off ball reversals. Greenwich has a very quick team, a very skilled team. They have great shooters and they outplayed us at the end.”
Junior guard Anna Paulmann totaled a team-high 16 points, while senior guard Ira Boci added 14 points for the Falcons (0-2).
“We need to focus on executing, especially what our coach’s talk about,” Paulmann said. “As leaders and older people, we need to take our time and tell the younger players what to do. It’s a game early in the season and it’s a learning experience.”
Freshman forward Caitlin Finnegan scored on a putback and Paulmann made a free throw, giving Ludlowe a 60-51 advantage a little more than three minutes into the fourth quarter.
Anderson made a pair of free throws and scored on a pick-and-roll off a well-executed pass by Sollenne, cutting Ludlowe’s lead to 60-55 with 4:45 remaining. Senior forward Ciara Munnelly converted two foul shots, then Nelson made a layup off a steal, making it 60:59 with 3:44 left in the final quarter.
Nelson, who shot an impressive 16 of 17 from the foul line, gave GHS the lead for good at 61-60 with 3:10 to go by swishing two free throws. s
Anderson’s left-handed layup put the home team ahead, 63-60, at the 2:30 mark of the fourth quarter. The Cardinals sealed their win when Nelson made two more foul shots with 22.7 seconds left.
“The key to our team having great production on offense was moving the ball, getting it inside and outside and making our jump shots,” said Nelson, who poured in 23 points in Greenwich’s win against Trinity Catholic last week. “Unfortunately, we missed a lot of open layups at the beginning, but we finished strong at the end.”
Greenwich jumped out to a 10-6 first-quarter lead, behind a pair of 3-pointers from Sollenne. Down 14-11, the Falcons had a solid finish to the first quarter and held a 16-15 edge, heading into the second stanza.
A free throw from freshman forward Kaleigh Sommers (eight points), a 3-pointer by Paulmann and a shot from beyond the arc from Boci helped the visitors open a 23-17 lead midway through the second quarter.
Ludlowe was ahead, 40-33, following a basket in the low post by Finnegan late in the second quarter and entered halftime, leading 41-35.
Greenwich stayed close in the third quarter, behind Nelson’s ability to drive to the basket and draw fouls against the Falcons’ man-to-man defense. She made all six of her free throw attempts in the third quarter for the Cards, who were down just 52-48 going into the final quarter.
Sophomore point guard Kristin Riggs scored five points, including a 3-pointer, while efficiently helping run the Cardinals offense.
“The chemistry on our team is amazing,” Riggs said. “We’re all very good friends, we are so hyped up for each other and we are working together for a win.”
The Cardinals outscored the Falcons, 17-6, in the fourth quarter. Greenwich effectively shifted between a man-to-man and zone defense, while mixing in full-court pressure.
“Offense will come, but we take a lot of pride in our defense,” Riggs said. “If you play good defense, the offense will come.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Nelson was a force on both ends of the court, aggressively driving to the basket when the Cardinals were in their half-court offense and creating turnovers on numerous Ludlowe possessions.
“She has a very bright future as an athlete at Greenwich,” Kinsley said of Nelson. “She can shoot, she comes off screens really tight and she can drive. We knew we needed to stop her.”
Said Hernandez: “Mackenzie is doing a great job for us. We have never been a one-person team, it’s more about getting her the ball and once she draws the defense, it opens up opportunities.”
DOING IT WITH DEPTH
Through their first three games, the Cardinals have received contributions from numerous sources. Seven players scored Saturday for Greenwich, which saw 11 players enter the game.
“The energy we received off the bench was amazing,” Nelson said. “Everyone was off their feet cheering and we all just finished everything we needed to — layups, jump shots, rebounds, defense.”
The Falcons converted 10 3-pointers, with Bocci’s four 3-pointers leading the way. The Cards made six shots from beyond the arc, behind Sollenne’s four 3-pointers pacing the team.
“We shot well, but we definitely have to work the ball around more for our shots,” Paulmann said. “We took a lot of rushed shots, rather than working it around for the best shots.”
“It feels great to be 3-0,” Munnelly said. “We are a really aggressive team and we have a lot of good players with potential. In practice, we’ve been working on moving the ball and shifting the defense and getting as many options as possible. We knew that we had to keep pushing and finish today.”