GREENWICH — Sacred Heart Greenwich has enjoyed a considerable amount of success in the FAA basketball tournament, advancing to either the semifinals, or championship game the past several seasons, after flourishing in the quarterfinals.
Monday, the Tigers once again, impressively cleared the quarterfinal-round hurdle.
Eighth-grader Payton Sfreddo scored a game-high 16 points, while senior Leah Atkins added 11 points for fourth-seeded host Sacred Heart in its 53-40 win over fifth-seeded Hopkins School in the FAA quarterfinals.
The Tigers (10-14, 5-3 FAA) earned a berth in the semifinals, where they will visit top-seeded St. Luke’s School on Wednesday in New Canaan, in a rematch of the 2019 championship game, won by the Storm.
Two pivotal runs powered the Tigers. After the Hilltoppers (8-11, 3-5) tied the score at 17-17 late in the first half, the Tigers went on a 14-0 run to seize a 31-17 early in the third quarter. Then after Hopkins closed to within 42-37 with 3:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, Sacred Heart scored nine straight points to put the game away.
“We knew it was going to be a tight game going into it,” Tigers senior co-captain/forward Morgan Smith said. “We looked forward to the FAA playoffs and brought the energy today, which was helpful in the second half.”
Switching between an effective man-to-man defense and several zone defenses, the Tigers excelled defensively.
“In both instances when we made our runs, our defense caused a lot of turnovers,” Sacred Heart coach Ayo Hart said. “We were able to convert off our turnovers and we did a good job on the boards.”
Forward Emma Maldon scored all 11 of her points in the second half and senior forward Casey Dies had seven points in her final game for Hopkins.
“Even though it’s bittersweet that it’s ending for me, our team left it all out there,” Dies said. “That’s the thing about our team that’s so special. We worked hard in practice and at each game.”
Jasmine Simmons swished a pair of foul shots, knotting the score at 17-17 with 1:41 left in the second quarter for Hopkins. Then came a spurt that gave the Tigers the lead for good.
Atkins, a guard, converted a 3-pointer from the right corner and Sfreddo connected on a shot beyond the arc, making it 23-17 with 40 seconds to go in the second quarter. Sfreddo followed by scoring off a steal, putting the home team up, 25-17 just before the opening half ended.
A free throw from Atkins, a layup by forward Olivia Caponiti and another 3-pointer from Atkins put the Hilltopprs in a 31-17 hole at the 6:40 mark of the third quarter.
“Energy was key for us today,” said Atkins, a co-captain. “Going into the second half, the bench energized us and kept us going throughout the game. We definitely wanted it, especially our seniors.”
Maldon’s basket in the post cut the Tigers’ advantage to 36-30 with 1:35 left in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter Sacred Heart’s lead grew, behind seven Sfreddo points and a pair of baskets by Smith.
“They got some fastbreak layups on us when we weren’t getting back on defense,” Dies said. “Once they hit a few layups and some threes, that’s when the gap kind of started.”
Eighth-grader Madison Hart, a point guard, totaled seven points and sophomore forward Sarah Augustine added six points in the winning effort. Forward Charlotte Yin scored eight-first half points, including two 3-pointers for the visitors.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Sfreddo had nine points in the opening half, seven in the second and seemed to score every time the Hilltoppers cut into the Tigers’ lead.
“It’s very exciting, especially as an eighth-grader,” Sfreddo said of moving on to the semifinals. “Being on a new team, everything is new and exciting. The first quarter was a little bit slow, but the second quarter, we really stepped up and that’s what got us ahead. Each game we get a little bit better of limiting our turnovers.”
Said Ayo Hart: “Payton has the ability to shoot and finish at the rim. I encourage her to keep shooting, even if she starts a game slowly.”
ST. LUKE’S UP NEXT FOR TIGERS
The Tigers know the challenge that’s ahead of them in the semifinals in the form of St. Luke’s.
“They beat us twice already this season, but you never know,” Smith said. “There could be an upset and everyone loves an underdog.”