WINSTED – Northwestern took care of business with a 45-19 win over Stratford Tuesday night in a Class L Girls Basketball first round with few surprises in the mismatches created by this year’s CIAC decision to fill five divisions with the top 32 teams in each, regardless of records.
Stratford (6-15) made its hour-and-10-minute ride to Winsted with more hope than some other low-ranking teams with long rides across the state. The Red Devils, facing a team from the mostly small-school Berkshire League, come from the big-school South West Conference.
“I told my kids, ‘You play some of the best teams in the state,’” said Stratford coach Kelsey Gilmore, whose young team (one senior and lots of sophomores) started the regular season 3-17, then won its last three games in a row over Platt Tech, Brookfield and Masuk.
“They could have rolled over, but they didn’t,” Gilmore said.
But, ironically, Stratford, along with most of the other low seeds in the state, came off a two-week layoff because they didn’t qualify for their league tournaments while playing as part of the CIAC’s desire to avoid the same kind of layoff for byes in undermanned divisions under the old 40-percent win requirement.
Northwestern, moving up to Class L thanks to its Class M quarterfinal finish two years ago and its designation as a school of choice because of its vo-ag program, came off a disappointing BL Tournament loss to Class MM Nonnewaug last Friday, primed and ready.
“The kids stepped up,” Highlander coach Fred Williams said. “They made big shots and I’m pleased with their effort.”
The first big shot came from freshman Morgan Plitt (game-high 15 points) almost half-way through the first period for the game’s first points as the first of four 3s in the game.
Red Devil Abby Anka followed with a drive to the hoop, but Northwestern was off and running on offense and defense from there.
Natalie Munson got an easy layup on a pass from Jana Sanden (10 points, 8 rebounds); freshman Natalie Brodnitzki (10 points) got her first of four steals, racing downcourt to convert, then followed with a trey.
After Stratford’s Amanda Ogrodowicz hit from the foul line, Sanden matched her, finishing the quarter with a 12-4 lead and only Highlander exhaust fumes left for the Devils.
Northwestern’s bulge was 21-6 at the half, 35-13 after three.
“They’re not (20-4) for nothing, whether it’s the Berkshire League or the SWC,” Gilmore said.
The only darkness in a bright night for the Highlanders came with 1:24 left in the third quarter. Following her back-to-back third and fourth 3s of the night, Plitt stole the ball, got tangled with several players and went down with an undetermined ankle injury.
The fifth-seeded Highlanders host No. 21 East Lyme (10-11) Friday. The Vikings beat No. 12 Fitch 32-26 Tuesday in an upset that really wasn’t because the teams come from different-size divisions of the Eastern Connecticut Conference. East Lyme, from the big division, beat smaller-division Fitch soundly during the regular season.
As for No. 28 Stratford, getting on the bus for its 1:10 drive home, Gilmore chose the high road.
“Any time you get to play in a state tournament, it’s great experience,” she said.