WEST HAVEN — For 31 minutes and 55 seconds, the West Haven girls’ basketball team did all it could to pick up its first victory of the year. It was the last 5 seconds that proved to be West Haven’s downfall.
Failing to seal the game at the free-throw line, West Haven allowed Hamden’s Alivia Wilson to penetrate in the lane and score as time expired in regulation to force overtime.
Four minutes later, Hamden rode the momentum of the buzzer-beater and defeated the Westies, 66-61, at West Haven High Thursday night.
“I was just telling myself to stay calm,” Wilson said.
West Haven (0-17) had plenty of opportunities to seal the game in the fourth quarter but couldn’t do so, missing seven free throws in the quarter and shooting a painful 1-for-5 in the final 54 seconds with the lead.
“We missed seven free throws in the fourth quarter and two more in overtime,” West Haven coach Jessica Moriarty said. “That’s nine missed free throws. We had some defensive lapses. It’s growing pains.
“We had a couple of mental lapses on defense and we missed our free throws. That is the difference in the game.”
The Westies controlled the final quarter, allowing just one field goal — Wilson’s shot at the buzzer. West Haven trailed 50-43 after three quarters, but quickly made an early statement in the fourth quarter.
Kaitlynn Cooke, one of three freshmen on the floor at one point, opened the final quarter with a 3-pointer and a free throw to get within 50-47. A bucket by Lauren Lewis and another by Kial Watts with 4:45 left gave West Haven a 51-50 lead.
Two free throws by Wilson gave Hamden a 52-51 lead with 2:18 remaining, but Amanda Martino gave West Haven the lead with a pair of free throws.
Four times West Haven went to the line in the final 54 seconds with the lead and the Westies connected on just 3-of-7 of those shots.
Hamden, which snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 4-13, never trailed in the overtime as Daija Relaford connected on a pair of free throws before Cooke followed with the same.
Wilson hit two free throws for a 60-57 lead with 1:55 to go and a bucket by Kathleen Shultz increased the margin to 62-59 with 1:06 remaining.
“If we want to build a winning team, we have to learn to finish,” Hamden coach Alan Stekloff said. “You can start strong, but it is how you finish which is more important.”
The game looked like it may be a high-scoring affair in the opening quarter as the Westies held a 15-11 lead.
Shultz had five points for the Green Dragons and Amber Bonewicz added six for West Haven in the quarter.
“On paper, we are not supposed to be in this game,” Moriarty said. “I tell them all the time that a lot of other teams would have thrown in the towel. We come out and fight every single game. We have gotten better. It shows we are taking strides in the right direction.”
A 3-pointer by Cooke in the second quarter put West Haven on top 20-14 less than 2 minutes into the second quarter but Schultz followed with a pair of 3-pointers to even the game at 20.
Cooke had two key baskets in the final 2 minutes of the quarter as her 3-pointer put West Haven up 31-28 and her basket at the buzzer put the Westies on top 33-32 at the half.
Hamden took it to the Westies in the third quarter, using an 18-10 run to take a 50-43 lead. Wilson and Lauren Singleton each scored five points in the quarter.
“Once we get our energy up, the team gets up,” Wilson said. “It is a domino effect. This is a big win. We have a new coach and we are starting the program over. It is a good start.
“We were down and we did not panic. That is a big step from the beginning of the year.”
Shultz and Wilson each finished with 19 points for Hamden, while Relaford and Singleton each finished with 10.
Cooke led three Westies in double figures with 18 points. Watts added 13 and Bonewicz had 10.