Though the season didn’t begin the way the Sacred Heart Greenwich basketball team wanted it to, it is starting to turn out the way the Tigers expected.
Sacred Heart entered Saturday’s game against Taft School, a squad that beat them the past several seasons, with victories in five of its last six matchups.
And the Tigers improved upon their success streak on Saturday.
Eighth-grader Payton Sfreddo scored a game-high 15 points, while eighth-grader Madison Hart and senior Leah Atkins added 14 points apiece to spark Sacred Heart to a 54-33 Senior Day victory over visiting Taft.
The Tigers, who started the season 2-9, are now 8-10.
“We are learning each other’s strengths now,” said Atkins, a senior captain, who along with senior Morgan Smith, was honored by the team on its Senior Day. “We know who is comfortable taking which shot and using certain moves. So the chemistry is really working and we’re getting the job done.”
Forward/center Sarah Augustine contributed nine points for the Tigers, who led 29-18 at halftime and 41-25 after the third quarter. Taft (4-10), which defeated Sacred Heart in Tigers coach Ayo Hart’s first two seasons at the helm, was paced by sophomore Eliza Ford’s 13 points.
“We did not make shots that we could have made and that you have to make when you are playing against a zone,” Taft coach Jon Wilson said. “Our ball movement was pretty good, but Sacred Heart was aggressive on defense. We did not respond with poise to their aggression.”
Applying half court pressure, before falling back into an effective zone, the Tigers kept Taft out of rhythm offensively.
“Our defensive play was good,” coach Hart said. “Our press caused some turnovers, which we were able to capitalize on.”
Holding an 11-point halftime lead, Sacred Heart extended its advantage. Augustine scored off an inbounds pass, guard Francois O’Brien swished a corner jump shot and Hart converted a layup, making it 35-18 early in the third quarter.
A fastbreak layup by Sfreddo and a jumper from the left corner by Hart put the home team on top, 41-25, heading into the fourth quarter.
Taft closed to within 41-31 on a perimeter shot by junior guard Natalie Hodak and a jump hook from Ford early in the fourth quarter.
Yet the Tigers built their lead back up, behind consecutive layups from Atkins. Sacred Heart exhibited solid ball movement against Taft’s man-to-man defense.
“Over half of our team was new at the beginning of the season,” Smith said. “So with practices and time we’ve started to jell more, so I think that’s the reason why we’ve been on a winning streak. We have a new offense this year, where everyone is playing every position, which is kind of unique. Leah is leading the offense very well.”
Hodak and sophomore guard Lauren Villanueva added eight points apiece for Taft, while Sacred Heart’s trio of Sfreddo, Hart and Atkins were difficult to defend throughout. Sfreddo grabbed five rebounds, Atkins had six steals and four assists and Hart tallied three steals and three rebounds in the winning effort. Augustine was a force on the backboards, pulling down 13 rebounds for the victors.s
“We had a really big crowd for our Senior game this year and the energy from the crowd really helped,” said Smith, also a captain. “It is bittersweet, because I don’t want to leave this team. But this team has made the day super special for us and I’m super thankful.”
Said Atkins: “We ran a lot today. We wanted to run the full 32 minutes and we showed a lot of hustle.”
Sacred Heart visits Hackley School on Tuesday.
“The team is buying into what we want to do on offense and we are getting the looks we want,” coach Hart said.