A spectacular 32-point first quarter enabled top-seeded St. Luke’s to seize a 21-point lead on fourth-seeded Sacred Heart Greenwich in yesterday’s FAA Tournament semifinals, but a solid second quarter cut the Tigers’ deficit to a more manageable 15 points heading into halftime.
Then the third quarter began.
Like the opening quarter, the Storm couldn’t be stopped. St. Luke’s began the third quarter in emphatic fashion, scoring the quarter’s first 19 points on its way to posting a highly impressive 72-47 win over visiting Sacred Heart in the FAA semifinals.
The Storm (10-0 in the FAA, 20-2 overall) earned a return appearance in the championship game of the FAA Tournament, where they will host second-seeded Hamden Hall Country Day School tomorrow at 12 p.m. Hamden Hall moved on to the title game with a semifinal victory against third-seeded Greens Farms Academy. Coached by Matthew Ward, St. Luke’s has won the FAA Tournament title six straight seasons.
Senior guard Ava Sollenne, a Greenwich resident, paced a balanced St. Luke’s scoring effort, totaling 16 points, including four 3-pointers. Mackenzie Nelson, a senior guard, who also resides in Greenwich, added 13 points, 11 of which came in the first half for the surging Storm. The game was a rematch of the 2022 FAA semifinals, which saw St. Luke’s defeat Sacred Heart and move on to the finals. The Tigers dropped a 47-40 regular season decision to St. Luke’s earlier this month.
Yesterday’s FAA semifinals saw the Storm seize a 32-11 lead in the first quarter, before entering halftime with a 42-27 advantage. For Sacred Heart (6-4 in the FAA), junior guard/forward Payton Sfreddo, who reached the 1,000-career point milestone this season, scored 15 points, while junior guard Madison Hart posted eight points.
“We played all-around a great game of basketball in that first quarter,” Mackenzie Nelson said. “From defense, to offense, to boxing out, to going to loose balls, to the energy on the bench. All of that added up to the result on the first quarter. Playing great defense and getting steals and getting fastbreak steals led to our success.”
A 3-pointer from the left corner by Sollenne gave the home team a 21-6 lead with 2:53 remaining in the first quarter. Tigers guard Ava Curto converted a 3-pointer, making it 26-11, then a shot from beyond the arc by junior guard Kayla Weiskopf extended the Storm’s advantage to 18 at 29-11. St. Luke’s played an aggressive man-to-man defense and also applied full court pressure.
“I think we had seven turnovers in the first quarter,” Sacred Heart coach Ayo Hart said. “You can’t turn the ball over seven times in eight minutes and expect to win the game. He’s an amazing coach, he has an amazing group of players, so hats off to him, they outplayed us today. They made a statement.”
Sacred Heart’s best moments came during the second quarter, as it outscored St. Luke’s 16-10 to try to get back into the game. A 3-pointer by Sfreddo, followed by a basket from junior center Kaitlin Robinson, a jumper by Madison Hart and a putback from forward Maddie Hooper cut the Storm’s advantage to 42-27 going into halftime.
“We went upstairs and we were talking about how we kind of let them go on a run,” Mackenzie Nelson said. “We got a little sloppy and didn’t do the little things. But we came back and in the third quarter, with obviously, a 19-0 run, and we did all those little things.”
Sophomore guard Camdyn Nelson had 11 points, seven of which came in the second half, while teammate senior guard Aidan Panian also contributed 11 points for the victors.
“We knew Sacred Heart always comes out super tough, so last practice we were going over our game plan and we just knew we had to come out with our ‘A’ game and I think we did that,” Ava Sollenne said. “Even though they started to come out back in the second quarter, we came out strong in the third quarter, just like in the beginning of the game and tried to put them away.”
Camdyn Nelson began the Storm’s third-quarter flurry by nailing a 3-pointer from the left corner, then made a layup. Driving down the left side of the lane, Mackenzie Nelson converted a layup in traffic, upping St. Luke’s edge to 51-27. Ava Sollenne swished a 3-pointer from the corner, Mackenzie Nelson scored off a fastbreak layup and Sollenne hit another shot from beyond the arc, capping a 19-0 run and giving the Storm a commanding 61-27 advantage.
“I think they came out ready to play, especially after our last game, we held them to a low score and we only lost by seven,” Sfreddo said. “So, they came out ready to play. They’re a super strong team and they’re super fast, so I think we came out pretty slow and that killed us. They also did a good job of capitalizing on our turnovers.”
Indeed, when an experienced postseason squad like St. Luke’s gets rolling, they’re tough to contain.
“It’s hard to stop a team that has so much momentum,” Sfreddo noted. “The same thing can be said for us, once we get the momentum, it’s really helpful.”
Said coach Hart: “The third quarter was like the beginning of the game, unfortunately. Usually, our defense can keep us in the game, but today, we didn’t defend their 3 very well and we turned the ball over too much. At the end of the day, they were the better team, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. Our team played extremely hard throughout the game.”
Ward was pleased with how his squad set the tone for the game early.
“We came out with a ton of energy and when we move the ball and share it like that, we’re tough to guard,” he said. “We have five players who can do a lot of things and are versatile and score, so we made it really difficult.”
St. Luke’s effectively moved and shot the ball during their pivotal third-quarter spurt.
“We’ve been kind of waiting for that,” Ward said. “We’ve been a good second half team, but it usually takes a little bit of time. I think our kids know when we play Sacred Heart, any foot off the gas, they will make a run. It’s happened so many times, where we’ll be up 10 or 12 and then it’s five or six in a blink of an eye.”
“They made a point to not let that happen and share the ball,” Ward continued. “Our pressure in the second half did have an effect a little bit, it kind of wore them down. Mostly it was our mindset, that’s a tough team, they’re well coached and you can never let up.”
Junior guard Victoria Hart had three points, as did guard Mackenzie Gillen for Sacred Heart, which received two points apiece from Robinson, senior forward Olivia Caponiti and forward Jada Marie Henry and one point from sophomore guard Eva Wilkerson.
“Even though it was a tough game, we played as a team until the final buzzer,” Madison Hart said. “They just capitalized on our mistakes. I feel like we kind of beat ourselves today. They’re a really strong team, so it was a great game to get in before NEPSACs. Their defense shook our plan up, it definitely impacted the way we play.”
The season isn’t over for the Tigers. They have qualified to compete in the eight-team NEPSAC Class A Tournament, which commences next week. Seeding for the tournament will be finalized and announced on Sunday.
“This game is a great learning experience against a strong opponent going into the NEPSAC Tournament,” Sfreddo said. “I’m really excited to play on Wednesday. I think we have a chance to make it really far in New Englands and I’m excited to see what this team does.”
The Storm will play in the NEPSAC Tournament (Class B) next week. But first things, first for St. Luke’s. Right now, they have their minds set on claiming a seventh straight FAA title.
“We are going to bring our ‘A’ game to the championship game,” said Ava Sollenne, whose sister Emma Sollenne, a sophomore, contributed two points. “We’re going to stay focused through practice and the entirety of the championship game and hopefully, bring home another win for St. Luke’s.”
“There’s a lot riding on this game, I’m excited,” Mackenzie Nelson said. “It should be a good, exciting game.”
Categories: Sacred Heart Greenwich, Winter sports
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