Sacred Heart Greenwich considers its defensive play as its main strength and it certainly surfaced in Wednesday’s game against FAA basketball rival Greenwich Academy.
Points were tough to come by for the Tigers in the first half, resulting in a four-point halftime deficit, so they turned to their strength and turned away GA.
Applying pressure in the backcourt, while raising their overall defensive intensity, Sacred Heart registered a 39-35 comeback win over host Greenwich Academy. With the win, the surging Tigers raised their record to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in FAA play.
Senior guard Leah Atkins scored a game-high 22 points, 12 of which came during the first half, to pace the Tigers. Guard Ryan Smith, also a senior, added 10 points and tenacious defensive play for Sacred Heart, which trailed 21-17 at halftime.
“The second half, we came out with our press, which we feel strongly about,” said Atkins, who made two 3-pointers. “Our defense is one of our strongest suits and how well we play defense gives us a lot of confidence.”
Greenwich Academy dropped to 0-4 overall and 0-2 with the loss. Junior guard Francesca Sileo tallied a team-high 15 points to lead the Gators. Sileo scored 12 first-half points and converted four 3-pointers.
“Turnovers hurt us,” Greenwich Academy coach Wes Matthews said. “Give Sacred Heart credit, they were scrappy and they hustled, but we hurt ourselves with turnovers. You can’t turn the ball over 30 times in the game and 20 times in the second half alone and expect to win.”
After Josephine Genereux’s 3-pointer from well beyond the key gave Greenwich Academy a 24-23 advantage, Sacred Heart took the lead for good when senior forward Claire Liddy swished a short baseline jumper with 12:41 remaining in the second half, making it 25-24.
Atkins banked in a shot from the low post and Smith scored on a transition layup, capping a 12-3 Tigers run and giving the visitors a 29-24 advantage at the 11:37 mark.
Sacred Heart played a 2-3 zone when GA had the ball in the half court, but extended its defense while the Gators were bringing the ball up court. The extended pressure made Sileo, who hurt the Tigers with her effective perimeter shooting in the first half, pass the ball, as she faced traps.
“We are a defensive team and that was the key for us,” Sacred Heart coach Ayo Hart said. “That press and trap helped us get the ball out of their leading scorer’s hands a little bit. We weren’t scoring much, so we turned to our defense.”
Consecutive baskets by Atkins gave Sacred Heart a 37-29 edge, but GA closed to within 37-33 on a putback by forward Caroline Schmitz with 3:08 left to play.
Liddy added four points and senior center Sarah Eckerson had three for Sacred Heart, which edged Hamden Hall Country Day School, 43-41, in its previous game.
“It’s nice to win key games against rivals,” Hart said. “We’ve shown the ability to pull out games by making plays in key situations.”
Senior forward Olivia Davis scored six points, while Genereux and forward Edvardine Joseph had five points apiece for the Gators.
Behind eight points from Atkins, including a 3-pointer from the right side, Sacred Heart seized a 13-7 lead six minutes into the opening half. But the Gators finished the first half with a 14-4 run, sparked by Sileo’s on-target shooting. Sileo made four 3-pointers in the first half, scoring 12 of her squad’s 21 points.
“The effort was there, we just have to adapt a mentality of not allowing ourselves to lose on our home court,” Matthews said. “We have to take care of business at home and value the basketball.”
Said Davis: “We have to work on boxing out. Allowing too many offensive rebounds was a key point that caused us to lose the game.”
Sacred Heart hosts FAA foe Holy Child on Friday, while GA begins competition in the St. George’s School Tournament on Friday.
“The start that we are off to is amazing, I think we’re a more confident team than last year,” Atkins said. “We showed a lot of teamwork, everyone was in their spots and stepped up.”
Added Smith: “We allowed our defense to pull us out of our hole in the second half. We don’t want to let being 4-0 get to our heads, we have to take it one step at a time.”
SACRED HEART 39, GREENWICH ACADEMY 35
SACRED HEART 17 22 — 39
GREENWICH ACADEMY 21 14 — 35
SACRED HEART (39)
Ryan Smith 5 0-0 10; Claire Liddy 2 0-0 4; Leah Atkins 10 0-0 22; Sarah Eckerson 1 1-2 3; Morgan Smith 0 0-0 0; Olivia Caponiti 0 0-0 0; Alana Frederick 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 1-2 39.
GREENWICH ACADEMY (36)
Olivia Davis 2 2-4 6; Francesca Sileo 4 3-4 15; Josephine Genereux 2 0-0 5; Caroline Schmitz 2 0-1 4; Edvardine Joseph 2 1-4 5; Sophia Giannuzzi 0 0-0 0. Totals: 12 6-13 35.
3-pointers: SH — Atkins 2; GA Sileo 4, Genereux.
Records: Sacred Heart 4-0; Greenwich Academy 0-4.