Greenwich High School’s girls basketball team’s current roster includes less than a handful of players that were on the program’s 2020 squad that was set to face Staples in the CIAC Class LL Tournament semifinals, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the remainder of the state tournament to be canceled.
Kristen Riggs was one of several Cardinals players on that 2019-2020 that reached the Class LL semifinals, so having the opportunity to compete against the Wreckers, after not playing them during last winter’s shortened season, was especially significant to her and her Greenwich teammates.
One night after being defeated at home against St. Joseph, Greenwich rebounded in impressive fashion, earning a crucial win against a Staples squad it hasn’t beaten in quite a while.
Senior forward Cami Jablonski continued her sensational play of late, recording 11 points and 10 rebounds, Riggs scored 11 points and senior forward Kayla Anderson added eight points to pace host Greenwich to a hard-fought 48-45 victory over Staples.
“It’s a nice comeback, because we were supposed to play Staples my sophomore year when we were on the run to the Sun, so it was nice to get that win,” said Riggs, one of the Cardinals’ captains. “It’s a really nice team win.”
The triumph marked Greenwich’s first win against Staples since Jan. 19 2016.
The Cards (3-4) led 11-10 after the first quarter, trailed 20-17 at halftime and entered the final quarter behind, 33-28. Some of their best moments came during a fourth quarter that saw them outscore the Wreckers, 20-12.
“Staples, I give them all the credit in the world, they came out with a lot of intensity and they were knocking down shots,” Greenwich coach Rashamel Jones said. “They were tough to guard and they play with each other so well, so we really had to buckle down on defense. Defense is what’s going to take us to the next level and win games for us.”
The victors played a pretty tight man-to-man defense throughout, as did Staples.
“It was a very hard-fought game, we all pulled together this game,” Jablonski said. “Eight different players scored on our team, which was a big help.”
Staples received 16 points from senior guard McKenzie Didio and 14 points from her sister, Mia Didio, also a guard. The Wreckers led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter, but couldn’t build on their advantage, as the Cardinals began executing better offensively and hitting their shots. The Cardinals also crashed the backboards hard in the fourth quarter and played effective defense.
“Greenwich is a very well coached team,” Staples coach Paco Fabian said. “They played a great fourth quarter and had more energy on defense and rebounding than we did in the fourth quarter.”
Junior guard Sophia Sergio scored all six of her points during the fourth quarter, sophomore forward Julia Monteiro had four points off the bench, sophomore guard Ayanna Davenport converted a 3-pointer and junior guards Carolyn Frankle and Laura Smego added two points apiece in the winning effort.
“We were rebounding, we took care of the basketball, we defended well inside, so it was a total team effort,” said Jones said, who noted that Jablonski had a great game. “No one panicked down the stretch.”
Trailing 40-32 after Mia Didio converted a fastbreak layup, Riggs scored off a strong drive to the basket and Anderson made a basket, bringing GHS to within 40-36 with 3:15 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Sergio made a layup off a steal and after Mia Didio made a foul shot, Jablonski grabbed an offensive rebound, scored while being fouled, then made the ensuing free throw, knotting the score at 41-41 at the 1:57 mark of the final quarter.
Calmly swishing a pair of foul shots, Sergio gave Greenwich a 43-41 lead with just 1:28 left to play. Monteiro converted two free throws, making it 45-41 at the 1:04 mark. With 16.9 seconds remaining, McKenzie Didio made one of two free throws, cutting Greenwich’s edge to 46-45. Anderson sealed the win by going 2-for-2 at the foul line with 14.4 seconds to go, putting GHS on top, 48-45.
Greenwich entered Friday’s matchup off a 75-43 loss at the hands of a tough St. Joseph squad Thursday night at GHS. They also lost to Fairfield Ludlowe earlier this week.
“After the past two games we have been needing a game like this,” said Anderson, who snared six rebounds and is also one of the team’s captains. “All of us were locked in and playing for each other. I hope this game shows that we are a team to worry about.”
Senior Sydelle Bernstein totaled eight points, while junior Scarlett Siegel had four points for Staples (4-4).
“We were 6-14 from the foul line in the last nine minutes of the game and you cannot win close games shooting like that,” Fabian said. “You have to finish games from the foul line and we came up short tonight.”
One foul shot apiece from Riggs and Anderson tied the score at 14-14 in the second quarter, then three straight points from Jablonski put the Cards on top, 17-14 with 3:27 to go in the second stanza. Staples, however, ended the first half with a 6-0 run, courtesy of two 3-pointers from Mia Didio and entered halftime ahead, 20-17.
The Wreckers built a 33-23 advantage late in the third quarter after Bernstein scored off a steal, but a layup by Riggs and a clutch 3-pointer from Davenport gave the home team some momentum entering the final quarter.
“Our composure was awesome, overall, we did a great job,” Jones said.
Said Riggs: “It’s a really nice team win. Eight of our players scored today and Cami stepped up. I’m really proud of us with the way we came back. It’s a matter of staying calm and keep working even when you’re facing defeat. Staples is a really good team and they had a lot of guards and they’re great shooters. I’m proud of us being able not only have our defense be intense but translate it into offense.”
Added Jablonski: “It was a great feeling to get this win, it’s all about our heart – we all played with our heart. We all followed through.”
PLAYING FOR A GREAT CAUSE
Greenwich dedicated Friday night’s varsity, junior varsity and freshman games against Staples to Coaches vs. Cancer. Each Greenwich team united with basketball coaches across the country to raise funds to help beat cancer. For over 25 years, the Coaches vs. Cancer program, the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the American Cancer Society have united to raise funds toward defeating cancer.
At halftime of the varsity game, it was announced that the Greenwich girls basketball program raised $3,486 to benefit the American Cancer Society.
“A representative for Coaches vs. Cancer contacted coach Jones and asked if we would sponsor a game for that organization and of course, we obviously wanted to support them and get involved,” Anderson said. “We had a donation link going the past week to support a great organization. We had a goal at $2,000 at first but we reached that and raised it up again a couple of days ago.”