Sacred Heart Greenwich’s basketball team’s season came to an end with a 67-56 loss to top-seeded Thayer Academy in the semifinal-round of the NEPSAC Class A Tournament on Saturday, concluding a season of impressive success for coach Ayo Hart’s team.
The winter season saw the Tigers win 13 games, advance to the FAA Tournament semifinals and earn their first-ever appearance in the semifinal game of the NEPSAC Class A Tournament. Qualifying for the NEPSAC Tournament was also quite an achievement for Sacred Heart, since getting into the annual eight-team tourney isn’t easy to say the least.
“The season for me in a nutshell was all about the process,” coach Hart said. “We were averaging 40 points a game a couple of years ago and we were happy to hold a team under 50. If we did that, we felt we had a chance to win. We’ve been so much better offensively, this year though. The whole season has been about steady improvement, which we showed as the season went on.”
Sacred Heart started the season quickly, winning its first four games overall and the first five FAA matchups it played. The Tigers lost some tough games down the stretch of the season to very formidable foes such as St. Luke’s School, Suffield Academy, Storm King School, Loomis Chaffee and Hamden Hall Country Day School. Yet SHG still finished the regular season with 12 victories, which was enough for it to earn a berth into the NEPSAC Class A Tournament.
“Our season got tougher as the season went on,” coach Hart said. “I reminded the girls I don’t think our level of play dropped, we were playing better basketball, but we were playing against some very strong opponents.”
The fifth-seeded Tigers made it to the NEPSAC semifinals for the first time by posting a 52-49 road win over fourth-seeded Kent in the tournament’s quarterfinal-round on March 2. Saturday, Sacred Heart was right there with No. 1-seeded Thayer Academy until late in the fourth quarter of the NEPSAC semifinals.
In Saturday’s semifinal showdown against Thayer Academy, senior center/captain Sarah Augustine scored a team-best 16 points for the Tigers. Sophomore forward Payton Sfreddo chipped in 12 points, while senior forward/captain Franny O’Brien had eight points, including two 3-pointers. Madison Hart, a sophomore guard, ignited Sacred Heart’s offense as well, totaling 11 points.
The visiting Tigers played Thayer to a 17-17 deadlock in the first quarter.
“The first quarter was phenomenal, we came out pistons firing and we were doing what we wanted to do on the offensive end,” coach Hart said.
Leading the way for Thayer Academy was junior guard/captain Aoibhe Gormley, who had a game-high 23 points. Gormley did a lot of damage in the opening quarter.
“She is a high-level point guard can shoot from anywhere, she can score at all levels,” Hart said of Gormley. “We were tied 17-17 in the first quarter and she had 14 of the 17, so we knew we had to make them find another way to score and we kind of locked in on her. The second quarter was another strong quarter for us. We were down one at halftime, fighting right with them, then we came out in the third quarter and we were very excited, we were up by five points in the third quarter.”
Sacred Heart and Thayer Academy entered the fourth quarter tied at 49-49, but the victors outscored the Tigers, 18-7, in the final quarter to earn the triumph and a spot in the NEPSAC Class A final. Third-seeded Loomis Chaffee proceeded to defeat Thayer in Sunday’s championship game, 53-38.
“We were tied with about four minutes left in the game,” coach Hart said. “They had back-to-back 3s in the fourth quarter and all of a sudden we were down by eight.”
Augustine and Sfreddo paced the team offensively as they did most of the season.
“Payton also played great defense on the other end, she’s often tasked with guarding the other team’s top scorers,” Hart said. “Sarah, I’m pretty sure, had a double-double. She had some great moves in the post and once again, played really good.”
Point guard Eva Wilkerson added six points for SHG.
“It was a difficult environment for Eva, playing before such a big crowd on the road as a freshman point guard, but she handled it very well,” Hart noted.
O’Brien continued her strong mid-to-late season shooting, knocking down key perimeter shots.
“If she had two more weeks of the season and if she continued at the pace she was going, she would easily be one of our leading scorers,” Hart said of O’Brien, who found her niche offensively as the season progressed.
Sophomore forward Maddie Hooper had three points for the Tigers, who will return most of their roster next season.
“The girls are going to come back hungry next year and they’re going to be ready to play 32 minutes each game,” Hart said. “That’s going to be our theme, 32 minutes.”