Sacred Heart Greenwich begins the new basketball season knowing all 10 of its players have the skill set to make significant contributions and it certainly didn’t take long for the team to show its depth in its season-opener on Saturday.
The Tigers received points from eight players, contributions from all 10 and key plays from numerous athletes in the waning minutes.
And all of that added up to an impressive season-opening game for the home team.
Sophomore forward Payton Sfreddo led a balanced scoring effort with 12 points and sophomore point guard Madison Hart added 10 points to pace Sacred Heart to a well-earned 50-46 win over visiting Hotchkiss School in a back-and-forth NEPSAC matchup.
The game saw the Bearcats jump out to an early eight-point lead, the Tigers rally to take a five-point halftime advantage, which they stretched to 11 points at the beginning of the third quarter and Hotchkiss seize a four-point fourth quarter edge. However, in a game of runs, Sacred Heart had the final one, outscoring Hotchkiss, 11-3, down the stretch to pull out the win.
“It was a game of runs and that was a little bit of coaching,” Sacred Heart coach Ayo Hart said. “We mixed up our defenses, so we got that great run off our press, but he also (Hotchkiss coach Michael Hickey) did a great job of mixing things up. I’m super proud of them for the level of intensity they played with.”
Senior center Sarah Augustine scored eight points, including two clutch free throws in the game’s final seconds and eighth grader Ava Curto, a guard, added seven points to help spark the winning effort.
“I think we all played really well and for our first game we put it all out there,” said the 6-foot-3 Augustine, a co-captain. “I’m just really proud of how we all meshed together and worked together.”
With the score tied at 46-46, Sfreddo gave Sacred Heart the lead for good, converting a layup with just 44 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Sarah Augustine gave me a really good pass and I had good positioning under the basket and was able to get an easy layup for those two points,” Sfreddo said. “It was an amazing way to open our season.”
Guard Kaila Richards scored a game-high 19 points, including three 3-pointers to power Hotchkiss. Forward Jordan Harrison posted 10 points for the Bearcats, who trailed 25-20 at halftime.
After Sfreddo’s layup gave the Tigers a 48-46 lead, senior guard/forward/co-captain Franny O’Brien made a key steal for the home team. Augustine then swished a pair of foul shots with 20.9 seconds left in the final quarter, making it 50-46.
“I’m so excited to start out the season with a win, that says a lot about our team,” O’Brien said. “We really wanted that game and it showed in our play. We executed really well, we were patient and we took care of the ball at the end when we needed to.”
Sacred Heart scored the game’s first five points on a two foul shots by Curto and three points from sophomore forward/center Kaitlin Robinson. Hotchkiss then went on a 14-1 run, ignited by a 3-pointer apiece from Harrison and Richards.
Trailing 20-15 in the second quarter, the Tigers capped the opening half with a 10-0 run. Maddie Hooper, a sophomore, made a mid-range jumper from the right baseline, Madison Hart banked in a shot from the left elbow and Augustine scored on consecutive putbacks, putting the Tigers on top, 24-20, before Sfreddo concluded the half with a free throw.
Sacred Heart continued its spurt at the start of the second half, as freshman guard Eva Wilkerson hit a runner in the lane, Madison Hart scored off a steal and Wilkerson made a lefty layup, giving the team a 31-20 advantage.
“We handled their aggression, their experience very well,” Madison Hart said. “Every single quarter we played with the same intensity, so that’s great. We were hitting our shots, we were moving really well. I think the third quarter we came out and pressed and went on an 11-0 run, so I think our defense helped us contribute offensively.”
Facing an 11-point deficit, didn’t cause the Bearcats to give in. Instead, they went on an 11-0 run to knot the score at 31-31. Richards scored six points during the visitors’ rally, including a layup off a spin move that made it 31-31 with 5:03 to go in the third quarter. Hotchkiss held leads of 36-33, 39-36 and 43-39 toward the end of the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter.
“We are all unselfish and we want the best for each other, so we were never down on ourselves,” Sfreddo said. “We are all playing for each other and that really helped us push forward and get the win.”
Sfreddo’s 3-pointer from the left corner against Hotchkiss’ man-to-man defense brought the Tigers to within 43-32 and her layup put Sacred Heart ahead, 44-43, at the 6:40 mark of the final quarter. The victors played a solid man-to-man defense the majority of the game and mixed in a press.
“Our defense was good,” Ayo Hart said. “We know what we need to work on, but the intensity and communication was there.”
“Defensively we wanted it bad and it showed in the way we were playing,” O’Brien said.
They were very talented, they had a lot of good shooters and a lot of talent, a lot of young talent too. At the end, we executed when it counted.”
Sophomore guard Olivia Leahy scored two points, while sophomore guard Victoria Hart provided stellar defensive play for Sacred Heart (1-0), which hosts Greenwich Country Day School in an FAA matchup on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. Wilkerson added four points in the victory.
“I’m really proud of how we played, especially it being our first game,” Madison Hart said. “I’m really looking forward to the season, because every single player on our team, all 10 players contributed. When players came off the bench, they did something. I think we have a lot of depth this year and we played really well.”
“We knew we had to hustle and put it all out there and not lose focus,” Augustine said. “When we were down by four, we just kept going.”