Trailing by only one point at halftime, before taking a four-point lead in the third quarter, Sacred Heart Greenwich was, of course, feeling good about its chances of upsetting top-seeded and undefeated St. Luke’s School in the semifinal-round of the FAA Basketball Tournament on Thursday.
Yet there are plenty of reasons why the Storm are undefeated and the outstanding play of Mackenzie Nelson is one of them.
A junior, Nelson scored a game-high 30 points, 17 of which came during the first half for St. Luke’s, which used an impressive fourth quarter to register a hard-fought 74-58 win over fourth-seeded Sacred Heart.
Nelson, a Greenwich resident, reached the 1,000-career point milestone in the first half. She’s reached the 1,000 point mark in just two seasons. She played at Greenwich High School as a freshman, last season was almost entirely canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and this winter marks her first full season with St. Luke’s.
“We know we are a strong second-half team so coming out of the locker room, the girls really felt like they had a shot at the title game,” Sacred Heart coach Ayo Hart said. “We played toe to toe with the Storm for eigh minutes — even leading by four points in the third quarter, but we just had no answer for Mackenzie Nelson.”
St. Luke’s hosts Hamden Hall Country Day School in Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. FAA final.
Sophomore guard/forward Payton Sfreddo had a sensational game for Sacred Heart, scoring a team-best 21 points. Sfreddo paced the Tigers in the opening half, scoring 15 points. She converted three 3-pointers for the game.
Senior forward Franny O’Brien continued her strong perimeter shooting, pouring in 17 points. O’Brien made a game-high five 3-point shots.
The Storm (21-0) which defeated the Tigers during the regular season, jumped out to an 8-0 lead early in the first quarter, forcing several turnovers in the process.
“We settled down and knew we could play with them if we stayed focused and composed,” Hart said. “Coming out of that timeout, we did just that. We outscored them 12-11 for the remainder of the first quarter to trail by only seven going into the second.”
Senior guard Caroline Lau scored 17 points, including two 3-pointers for St. Luke’s, while teammates Camdyn Nelson (freshman) and Ava Sollenne (junior) recorded 10 and eight points, respectively.
The second quarter saw the Tigers outscore the Storm, 20-14, to cut their deficit to 33-32 at halftime. Sarah Augustine, a senior center, scored all five of her points in the second quarter, while Sfreddo scored 10 of her 21 points, including a pull-up jumper right before the buzzer.
“We were particularly pumped going into the locker room to not only be trailing by just one point, but to have held St Luke’s to fewer points in the first half than we allowed in the first quarter during our first matchup,” Hart said.
In the third quarter, the Nelson sisters powered the Storm, combining for 15 of the team’s 17 points. Mackenzie Nelson had nine third-quarter points, while Camdyn Nelson hit two 3-pointers.
Still, the Tigers trailed by just a point at 50-49 going into the fourth quarter. During the fourth quarter, St. Luke’s outscored Sacred Heart 24-9, making three shots from beyond the arc along the way, to seal the semifinal win.
Freshman guard Eva Wilkerson had six points for SHG, which received three points from sophomore forward Kaitlin Robinson and two apiece from sophomore guard Madison Hart and forward Maddie Hooper. The Storm held a significant advantage at the foul line, making 17 of 26 free throw attempts. Meanwhile, the Tigers took only 12 foul shots, making eight.
“Despite the loss, I am excited about how our team continues to step up every day and elevate their game,” coach Hart said. “I feel that we are beginning to peak exactly at the right time and am really looking forward to having an opportunity in the NEPSAC tournament next week.”