Greenwich Country Day School

Sacred Heart Greenwich uses strong second half to pull away from Greenwich Country Day in FAA quarterfinal-round

Photo by David Fierro: Olivia Caponiti of Sacred Heart Greenwich goes up for a shot while being tightly guarded during a game against visiting Greenwich Country Day School in the FAA Basketball Tournament quarterfinals.

Today’s game between neighborhood rivals Sacred Heart Greenwich and Greenwich Country Day School in the quarterfinal-round of the FAA Basketball Tournament was too close for comfort for Sacred Heart’s taste in the first half, so it knew what it needed to do in order to build a commanding lead in in the second half.

Raising its intensity level, behind a fullcourt and halfcourt press, forcing turnovers and scoring in transition, Sacred Heart quickly extended its five-point halftime lead and proceeded to post a similar result when they met Greenwich Country Day School in last season’s league tournament quarterfinals.

Sophomore guard Eva Wilkerson scored 20 points, while junior guard/forward Payton Sfreddo added 18 points and junior backcourt mate Madison Hart totaled 13 for fourth-seeded Sacred Heart in its 68-39 win over visiting Greenwich Country Day in the FAA Tournament quarterfinals. SHG advanced to Thursday’s 4 p.m. FAA semifinals, where they will visit top-seeded St. Luke’s School, which eliminated eighth-seeded Masters School, 77-40, in today’s quarterfinals.

In today’s matchup between the Greenwich-based schools, Sacred Heart held a 14-10 lead on GCDS, then entered halftime with a slim 27-22 advantage. SHG broke the game open by outscoring Greenwich Country Day, 22-6, in the pivotal third quarter.

Photo by David Fierro: Payton Sfreddo of Sacred Heart Greenwich is guarded by Kylie Frank of Greenwich Country Day.

“We’re a great second half team, so coming out with fire to go up by more and have a better second half really motivated us,” said Sfreddo, who scored 10 first-half points and has amassed more than 1,000 points for her Sacred Heart career. “We really wanted to get good transition looks and turn up the intensity overall, which helped us get a great win.”

Madison Hart recorded her 100th assist of the season for the victors, who scored 41 second half points. Sfreddo, meanwhile, grabbed her 500th career rebound in the win.

“They played good defense, it was hard to get open looks and we came out kind of flat on our side on defense,” Madison Hart said. “It was pretty even. In the second half, we focused on improving our defense and that’s what changed the game.”

Greenwich Country Day was carried offensively, by point guard Brianna McDermott. A junior, McDermott turned in a sensational performance, scoring a game-high 31 points. She scored 18 of GCDS’ 22 first-half points and 13 of her team’s 17 second-half points.

Photo by David Fierro: Greenwich Country Day School guard Brianna McDermott scored a game-high 31 points during the FAA Tournament quarterfinals against host Sacred Heart Greenwich on Feb. 21, 2023.

“The first half was very close,” SHG coach Ayo Hart said. “Brianna McDermott is a phenomenal player. She has amazing range, she’s really good off the bounce and she single handedly kept them in the game in the first half. I thought our offense started clicking together in the second half.”

McDermott displayed her shooting range, converting four 3-pointers and also exhibited impressive moves while driving hard to the basket.

“We knew it was going to be a dogfight, we knew what we were coming into,” said McDermott, Greenwich Country Day’s leading scorer throughout the season. “We played hard in the first half and I think we just got tired. They started moving the ball more against the 2-3 (zone) and we weren’t getting to spots like we were before. They had an energy boost and we didn’t.”

Power forward Olivia Caponiti, Sacred Heart’s lone senior, scored eight points, while Victoria Hart, Madison’s twin sister, added six points off two 3-pointers.

Sacred Heart guard Madison Hart looks to pass the ball during the FAA.

“It’s so exciting to advance to the semifinals again,” Caponiti said. “We worked really hard the whole season to get to this point and we’re ready. We have an exciting game on Thursday and we’re going to try to bring this second half energy right to the start of the next game.”

Greenwich Country Day took a 4-0 lead on a pair of baskets by McDermott, then Sacred Heart went on a 9-4 run to take a five-point lead. A layup off a steal by McDermott and a jumper from the right corner by junior forward Anna Lonski gave GCDS its last lead of the game at 10-9.

Wilkerson was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer, then swished all three foul shots, putting SHG at 12-10 with 18.2 seconds left in the first quarter.

Mia Grant of Greenwich Country Day School (42) guards Maddie Hooper from Sacred Heart Greenwich.

Wilkerson made a steal off a GCDS pass and quickly moved the ball up the court to Sfreddo, who made a layup just before the buzzer sounded, putting the home team ahead, 14-10, after eight minutes of action. The quarterfinal-round game remained close in the second quarter.

Wilkerson made three more free throws, after being fouled again while taking a shot from beyond the arc, making it 17-13, but Greenwich Country Day scored four straight points off a strong low post move by freshman forward/center Mia McCauliffe-Grant and a layup from McDermott, evening the score at 17-17 at the 4:39 mark of the second quarter.

Driving to her right, Madison Hart converted a layup and Sfreddo notched four points, giving SHG a 23-17 edge. After the visitors closed to within 23-22 on McDermott’s long 3-pointer from the left side, Sfreddo scored off a fastbreak layup and Madison Hart nailed a runner in the lane at the buzzer, ending the opening half.

Sacred Heart Greenwich guard Madison Hart looks for an opening while Briana McDermott (No. 11) and Nina Ferry (11) play defense during the FAA basketball quarterfinals at Sacred Heart on Feb. 21, 2023.

Sacred Heart’s backcourt was highly productive, with Wilkerson, Sfreddo and Madison Hart combining for 51 points.

“We work hard all three of us, we work hard individually and together,” Wilkerson said. “It was an entire team effort, but we really tried to put the team on our backs on offense.”

Greenwich Country Day, which was eliminated by Sacred Heart in last season’s FAA Tournament quarterfinals, liked the position it was in at halftime, as it was in striking distance of Sacred Heart, thanks to McDermott’s clutch shooting.

“She’s a rock star,” GCDS coach Elisa Brown said of McDermott. “Brianna facilitates, she’s a leader and she hit some deep threes and big shots to keep the momentum going. It was a team effort, we played hard throughout the game.”

SHG quickly gained separation in the third quarter. Wilkerson scored six straight points, the last two coming off a steal, making it 33-24. A basket by Caponiti off an offensive rebound, put Sacred Heart on top, 35-24, inducing a GCDS timeout with 5:07 left in the third quarter.

Sacred Heart Greenwich defeated Greenwich Country Day in the FAA Tournament quarterfinals.

A basket by Sfreddo off a Caponiti pass and a putback from Sfreddo stretched the lead to 39-25.

Applying full and halfcourt pressure defense, made Sacred Heart, which played man-to-man defense most of the game, play at a quicker pace, as it created turnovers and got out in transition.

“Coach Hart told us that the only way we’re going to win this is rebound, work hard and race,” Wilkerson noted.

Said Sfreddo: “The steals were super helpful and staying locked in on defense was also super helpful.”

Indeed, Sacred Heart’s defense was tough for GCDS to navigate past the second half, as it was outscored 41-17.

“They are a quick, fast, agile team,” Brown said of Sacred Heart. “They pushed the ball, we had some quick misses and they had some quick transition baskets. With the press, we had a hard time breaking it at times and getting it to the middle of the floor and breaking it down.”

Madison Hart of Sacred Hearts scores off a layup. Click the arrow to watch the video.

The fourth quarter began with Sacred Heart holding a 49-28 advantage.

“The best time to beat a zone is in transition, so we were moving the ball up faster,” Ayo Hart noted. “That opened things up. I thought we played almost perfect basketball in the second half.”

Greenwich Country Day, which posted a 5-4 FAA record during the regular season, could still qualify for the eight-team NEPSAC Class B Tournament. They know they’ll of course, have their sights set on returning to the FAA Tournament in 2024 and advance.

“We are in the same position last and it’s not happening three times in a row,” McDermott noted.

McCauliffe-Grant scored four points, while Lonski and sophomore Nina Ferry had two points apiece for GCDS. Forward/center Jada Marie Henry posted three points for SHG, which lost to St. Luke’s in the 2022 FAA semifinals.

“They are a very strong team and I’m really excited to see what we can do,” Sfreddo said. “I have full confidence in this team.”

“It was a really good matchup last time we played them, I’m really excited,” said Madison Hart, referencing Sacred Heart’s competitive 47-40 loss to St. Luke’s during the regular season.

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