On Friday night in Wallingford, Cheshire High School junior basketball player Grace Lurz couldn’t believe the opportunity that literally fell into her lap in the Southern Connecticut Conference Division II quarterfinals. CHS had just tied host Lyman Hall at 29-29 with 13 seconds left in overtime and then after racing back down court, Lurz saw a loose ball spin right in front of her.
“From midcourt, I saw that there were four seconds left on the clock,” reflected Lurz. “I knew that I had to get to the other end fast.”
With a couple of Trojans sprinting after her, Lurz dribbled down to score the winning basket as time expired on the clock. The fifth-seeded Rams stormed the court to celebrate the 31-29 victory.
“I’d never scored a game-winner before,” stated Lurz. “I’ve taken shots at the end, but they hadn’t gone down. It was a good time to make a big shot.”
After the quarterfinal, CHS and fourth-seeded Lyman Hall both have 4-9 records. In advancing to Monday’s semifinals, Cheshire will visit Hamden to play top-seeded Sacred Heart Academy (12-1) at 6 p.m.
“It is a great feeling to advance,” said first-year Rams Head Coach Angelica Ariola. “I love tournament time where you know how much is on the line every game.”
Friday’s overtime period was scoreless until senior Natalie Panagrosso scored on an offensive rebound to put the Trojans up 29-27.
“I thought that we were in great shape because there was only a minute left, but they (the Rams) made a couple plays at the end,” said Panagrosso.
In need of a basket, Cheshire turned to junior Tess Givens, who hit a turnaround jumper to tie the game with only 13 seconds left. From there, Lurz’s basket sealed the win.
“I didn’t get expect to get the ball, but when I received a pass, I knew that I had to put the ball in the basket,” stated Givens.
Before winning in overtime, the Rams made a push at the end of regulation. The Trojans held a 27-24 lead, but Lurz scored on a layup and after a making a steal, junior Jenna Stickney was fouled and hit one of two foul shots to tie the game at 27-27 with under a minute left.
Lyman Hall had an opportunity to win the game, but the Trojans missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer.
“We picked up our intensity in this game,” stated Givens. “Our shots weren’t falling, but we won this game with defense.”
The quarterfinal was the second straight thriller between the rivals. Exactly one week ago, Cheshire pulled out a 33-32 victory over the visiting Trojans.
“We all battled so hard,” said LH senior Grace Gagliardi. “These games could have gone either way, but we just came up a little short.”
Like the first meeting, baskets proved very hard to come by on Friday. Cheshire took a 4-0 lead on a runner by Givens and two free throws from Lurz, however senior Brianna Mik hit a three-pointer to put the Trojans on the scoreboard.
After a long drought, there was a flurry to end the first quarter. Senior Kaylee Clark made a three-pointer and scored in the lane, while Mik drained another three-pointer to cut Cheshire’s lead to 9-6.
Mik, who scored the opening nine points for her team, tied the game, 9-9, on a layup. It was an emotional game for Mik, whose mother Sarah is the freshmen coach for the Rams.
Brianna grew up at CHS where her mother served as head coach before retiring in 2016. Sarah Mik returned this year to assist on Ariola’s staff.
“It is always tough to play against her. Some say that it is cool and it is in a way,” said Brianna Mik. “It is hard when you look to your mom for advise on the court and she is sitting on the other side.”
Mik’s offense picked up her teammates on Friday. Cheshire went up 11-9 on two foul shots from sophomore Taylor Fitzgerald, but the Trojans closed the half on a 4-0 run to take the lead. Panagrosso sank two foul shots and sophomore Shea Barron made a layup.
Clark provided a spark for CHS in the third quarter, netting a runner and hitting a foul shot. Givens scored inside to pull the Rams to within 18-16, but right before the buzzer, Mik banked in a three-pointer to put the Trojans up by five points going to the fourth quarter.
“That was fun,” said Mik. “I pushed the ball up the court and took a shot.”
From there, Lurz and Givens combined for 10 points during the fourth. After making the game’s final two shots in overtime, they both finished with 10 points overall.
Clark netted eight points for the Rams.
“I’m so proud of the way our girls competed tonight,” stated Ariola.
Mik and Panagrosso led the Trojans with 12 points each. The girls will graduate with Gagliardi in a small senior class.
“We were a really close group this year,” said Panagrosso. “We’ve been together for so long. It will be hard to not play next year.”