Sacred Heart Greenwich

Sacred Heart Greenwich defeated by rival St. Luke’s in key FAA basketball matchup

Photo by David Fierro: Sacred Heart Greenwich guard Payton Sfreddo dribbles the ball during a game against visiting St. Luke’s School in FAA basketball action on Feb. 2, 2023, in Greenwich.

Winners of six straight FAA Tournament titles, St. Luke’s School’s girls basketball team has been the gold standard in the league – the program their rivals look to measure themselves against.

Sacred Heart Greenwich, which has built quite a postseason history with St. Luke’s, having played them several times in the league tournament the past five seasons, is one of the teams that’s aiming to challenge the Storm in their quest to garner another FAA championship.

The Tigers gave the Storm all they could handle when the familiar foes met at Sacred Heart Greenwich on Thursday, but a quick start in the opening quarter proved to be pivotal to the visitors’ fortunes.

Photo by David Fierro: Madison Hart of Sacred Heart Greenwich dribbles the ball up the court while being guarded by Ava Sollenne of St. Luke’s School during an FAA basketball matchup, held at Sacred Heart on Feb. 2, 2023.

Seizing a 13-point lead early in the first quarter, before Sacred Heart closed the gap and eventually took a slim lead in the third quarter, St. Luke’s capitalized on its fast start and strong finish to post a 47-40 triumph in a physical, defensive duel.

With the win, St. Luke’s improved its FAA record to 6-0 and is tied for first place in the conference with Hamden Hall Country Day School. Sacred Heart’s FAA record stands at 5-3 and is currently in fourth place in the league, which has an eight-game postseason tournament. The Storm and Tigers played each other twice last season, with St. Luke’s winning both matchups, including a 74-58 victory in the FAA Tournament semifinals. The teams could very well be on a collision course to meet in the postseason again this winter.

In Thursday’s game at Sacred Heart Greenwich, St. Luke’s led, 21-15, after the first quarter and took a 23-22 lead into halftime. The visitors were ahead, 33-26, following three quarters of action and maintained that seven-point lead in the final quarter.

Greenwich resident Mackenzie Nelson, a senior guard/forward, scored a game-high 24 points, 13 of which came during the second half, to pace the Storm. Senior guard Ava Sollenne, also a Greenwich resident, added 10 points for St. Luke’s, which has lost only one game so far this season.

The Tigers were sparked by a 20-point effort by junior guard Payton Sfreddo. She scored 12 first-half points for Sacred Heart, which received 11 points from sophomore guard Eva Wilkerson.

Mackenzie Nelson of St. Luke’s School dribbles the ball while being guarded by Eva Wilkerson of Sacred Heart Greenwich.

“I’m very proud of the team and all the effort we put into the preparation and the game itself,” said Sfreddo, a co-captain. “I feel like every year and every game we play St. Luke’s it gets closer and closer and I think next time we have an even better chance of getting them, because each game has been an improvement.”

Both teams played effective man-to-man defense, mixed in a little zone and the Storm used a full-court and halfcourt press at times, to create turnovers and get the Tigers’ out of their offensive flow.

“All season we’ve been working on getting those defensive stops and working hard to get those loose balls,” said Mackenzie Nelson, who will continue her basketball career at Virginia Tech next season. “Today, we didn’t do it as well in the first half and we did a good job of adjusting in the second half. Things like boxing out and talking on defense helped us get the win today.”

Sfreddo grabbed nine rebounds, while junior forward/center Kaitlin Robinson had four points and pulled down 11 rebounds for SHG.

“Our team has a lot to be proud of for sure,” Sacred Heart coach Ayo Hart said. “We took a lot of good shots in the first half that didn’t fall. The big thing for us were our turnovers, those hurt us in the second half. They made adjustments, they sagged in a lot, they didn’t leave us as open and they doubled us. Given the crowd, the team we were playing – I thought we handled it well. It was a physical game and I thought we handled the adversity well.”

Eva Wilkerson of Sacred Heart Greenwich, right, looks to pass the ball while being defended by Cam Nelson of St. Luke’s.

Sophomore guard Camdyn Nelson added five points for the Storm, who built a seven-point lead by outscoring SHG, 10-4, in the third quarter. St. Luke’s excels at getting back on defense and not allowing teams to score many points in transition or easy baskets.

“Our defense is our calling card to some degree,” St. Luke’s coach Matthew Ward said. “We have a lot of quickness, a lot of toughness, so even when games are tight with that, we’re always confident, because we know we’ll defend. We work on getting back on defense a lot. At the beginning of season we did give up a bunch of transition buckets, but we fixed it quickly.”

Trailing 16-3 in the first quarter due to excellent shooting by the Storm, the Tigers got back into the game with some solid shooting of their own. Wilkerson converted a 3-point shot from the left corner, Robinson made a layup and Sfreddo drove hard to the basket and scored, bringing the home team to within 16-10. Following a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Kaya Weiskopf, senior forward Olivia Caponiti scored on a layup off the press breaker an Wilkerson buried another 3-pointer, cutting the Tigers’ deficit to 19-15.

Photo by David Fierro: Sacred Heart forward/center Kaitlin Robinson gets ready to take a foul shot against St. Luke’s School.

“Every time we come here, it’s a tough place to play,” Ward noted. “Ayo is a great coach, she always has them ready to go. They don’t stop, they don’t give up, they always give themselves a chance.”

Points were very tough to come by for both teams in the second quarter. The Storm managed to score just two points, while the Tigers put seven on the scoreboard. Following Mackenzie Nelson’s baseline drive for two points, Sfreddo swished a 3-pointer from the left corner, pulling Sacred Heart to within 23-22 at halftime.

Sfreddo’s jumper from the left side gave Sacred Heart its only lead of the game at 24-23 with 7:10 remaining in the third quarter. Mackenzie Nelson’s right-handed layup through traffic quickly put the Storm back on top at 25-24 early in the third quarter. Later in the quarter, Mackenzie Nelson came off a pick set at the top of the key and scored on a layup, upping the Storm’s advantage to 33-26.

“We didn’t come out as strong as we could have and we came out in the second half and started to get into more into it mentally,” said Sollenne, who made two 3-pointers. “We played our game, we played strong defense and did our thing on offense.”

Sacred Heart point guard Madison Hart looks to set up a play during a game against visiting St. Luke’s.

Junior point guard Madison Hart had two points, as did her twin sister, Victoria, for Sacred Heart, which got four points from Caponiti.

“It was definitely very competitive, it was physical and both teams fought super hard,” Madison Hart said. “It’s always a competitive matchup when we play them every year. I think seven points is a small amount, so we have a chance to win it the next time we play them.”

Said Sfreddo: “It was a very low scoring game with both teams under 50. It was a defensive game and both teams were gritty offensively. The offensive rebounds were key in giving us second and third chances to put the ball in the basket.”

Kaitlin Robinson of Sacred Heart Greenwich (No. 22) gets into position in the low post against St. Luke’s School.

Sacred Heart is in action again today against Hopkins School in New Haven in an FAA contest.

“We had more turnovers than they did and they shot the ball better – they finished more shots than we did and those were some keys to the game,” Madison Hart said.

Ayo Hart was especially pleased with her team’s defensive performance.

“Holding them to 47 points is difficult,” she said. “The big thing for us was the second quarter. That was huge for us, it was a great defensive effort.”

Indeed, several of their rivals are vying to stop the Storm’s reign of supremacy in the FAA, so they know they have to remain focused on their ultimate goals.

“It’s getting close toward the end of our last season, so we want to go out with a win the FAA Tournament and NEPSACs,” Mackenzie Nelson said. “We have to do the little things and push each other to get better. “The season has been great so far,” Sollenne said. “We’re not only hoping to win an FAA championship, but the NEPSAC championship as well.”

Sacred Heart Greenwich’s Payton Sfreddo lines up a foul shot in a game against St. Luke’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s