NEWTOWN — Newtown senior Jackie Matthews had one job to do in her team’s game against rival Pomperaug on Tuesday night. And she did it to virtual perfection.
Matthews stuck to standout Maggie Lee like glue for most of the 32 minutes of action, allowing no field goals to punctuate a defensive effort by the Nighthawks, who sank several free throws late to hold off Pomperaug 37-30 in a matchup between perennial playoff teams.
Matthews had just two points at the other end of the floor, but her impact was substantial in Newtown (8-1) grinding out another win to stay undefeated against in-state opponents this season.
“Her mantra forever is that she’ll just defend whoever,” said Nighthawks coach Jeremy O’Connell. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a post, if it’s a point guard. It doesn’t matter if it’s the All-State-caliber shooting guard that Maggie is, she relishes that role and just loves it.”
Pomperaug (6-3) pulled to within 32-30 on a 3-pointer from Alex Rafferty with less than two minutes left, but a key layup from Cyleigh Wilson pushed Newtown’s lead to four points. The Nighthawks missed a pair of one-and-one opportunities but a turnover and a missed 3 cemented the win for the hosts.
The Panthers had a substantial edge in rebounds but couldn’t get enough shots to fall. Both teams went more than 6 minutes without a made field goal at different points in the contest. The Nighthawks led by nine points early in the fourth quarter before a 7-0 run by Pomperaug ended with Rafferty’s triple.
“Our defensive effort and our rebounding effort was great,” Pomperaug coach Joe Fortier said. “We talked about coming in here with that intensity because (Newtown) plays physical, they play quick. I think we did to a T; we matched their intensity. We just needed a couple of stretches for the ball to fall in.”
Both sides are in the middle of the most difficult part of their schedules after challenging out-of-conference slates. Newtown will host Bethel on Friday and visit ND-Fairfield the following Friday while Pomperaug has the Lancers on Friday.
“We had some good wins last year but nothing really close,” O’Connell said. “Down the stretch in close games it hurt us at the end of the year because we didn’t have too many close ones throughout. This has been great to have these earlier in the season against great opponents.”
“We didn’t go into the season and say we’re going to struggle because we graduated six (seniors),” Fortier said of his team’s 6-3 start against a difficult schedule. “We’re still learning; this was the first close game they played at the varsity level. This team is ready for the challenge.”
NEWTOWN 37, POMPERAUG 30
POMPERAUG (6-3): Marina Lambiase 0 0-1 0 Alex Rafferty 1 0-0 3 Jada Stietzel 3 0-0 6 Molly Flanagan 1 8-8 10 Maggie Lee 0 1-4 1 Maddie Villa 3 2-2 10. Totals: 8 11-15 30.
NEWTOWN (8-1): Amy Sapenter 4 0-0 9 Emma Magazu 0 1-2 1 Cyleigh Wilson 2 2-3 6 Carlie Smith 4 1-2 10 Juliette Cryder 0 2-2 2 Jackie Matthews 1 0-0 2 Nicki DaPra 3 0-0 7 Shea Murphy 0 0-1 0. Totals: 14 6-10 37.
POMPERAUG 8 6 9 7 — 30
NEWTOWN 7 14 9 7 — 37
3-pointers: P—Rafferty, Villa 2; N—Sapenter, Smith, DaPra.