The smiling faces of the Shelton High girls basketball players, coaches and fans told the story on Jan. 28.
The Gaelettes, who have taken their lumps this season, had just pulled off an exciting 43-42 come-from-behind victory over host Hamden in a Southern Connecticut Conference interdivisional game.
“All the way around, it feels good,” said Shelton Coach Mary Piccirillo of Shelton’s second win of the season, which broke a four-game slide. “When you win, it breeds good feelings, good thoughts and even better play. That was needed.”
And it was two freshmen that came up with the big plays at the end to fuel the Shelton victory.
Trailing 42-41 with 25 seconds remaining and the ball belonging to Hamden, freshman Sarah Skowronski took a charge to turn the ball over and give the Gaelettes a chance to pull out the victory.
And that’s exactly what they did, although it didn’t come easily. Freshman Casey O’Connor missed a shot. Skowronski grabbed the rebound but also missed. O’Connor pulled down that board and stuck a six-footer to give Shelton a 43-42 lead with eight seconds left.
Hamden (3-11) had one last chance, but a desperation heave at the final buzzer bounced harmlessly off the backboard, and the Gaelettes had their second win of the season.
“Some of the youth stepped up at the end. They should be very proud of themselves,” said Piccirillo, whose 2013-14 team includes just one senior, three juniors and a combined eight sophomores and freshmen. “They are starting to blossom.”
The game see-sawed back-and-forth all night with 11 lead changes and five ties. Neither team ever led by more than four points.
Shelton led by four points late in the third quarter on a Jessica Wilm layup off an assist from Colleen Flood, and still led by three points, 34-31, on a Nicole Roberts’ driving layup with 5:55 remaining in the game.
Hamden tied it 20 seconds later on a 3-pointer, and then went ahead, 37-34, on another trey with 4:02 to go. O’Connor pulled Shelton to within 37-36 with an elbow jumper, and after the Green Dragons had extended their lead to 40-36 O’Connor scored on a drive through traffic in the lane to make it 40-38 with 3:15 left in the game.
Neither team scored over the next two-plus minutes, before Skowronski calmly sank a pair of free throws with 1:05 left to knot the score at 40. Hamden countered with a bucket with 46 seconds left to regain the lead, 42-40.
O’Connor was fouled on Shelton’s ensuing possession, and made the first before missing the second, leaving Hamden with a one-point lead. That set up the exciting finish for the Gaelettes.
“I think some of the other games before this, because we’re so young, we didn’t know what to do in a crisis like that,” said Piccirillo. “Hopefully, we are growing up.”
O’Connor scored seven of her team-high 11 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winner. The Gaelettes had plenty of balance offensively, with sophomore Roberts adding 10 points and a team-high 10 rebounds, while Flood added eight points and five rebounds. Skowronski chipped in seven points, Wilm four points and seven rebounds and Brooke McCone three points.
Piccirillo called the Hamden victory “a team win,” with contributions from all 12 Gaelettes.
“You don’t always have to score. Sometimes it’s a rebound. Sometimes it’s defense. Sometimes you’re sitting on the bench, you’re not playing, but you are cheering your teammates on,” said Piccirillo. “It was a full-out team effort tonight.”
She also praised Shelton captain Wilm, the only senior on the squad.
“It’s hard,” she said. “When you are a winning team, it’s easy to be captain. If you’re the only senior, and it’s a losing season, to keep everybody’s head in it [isn’t easy].
“The girls’ heads are in it, and they’re still smiling, so that says a lot about her.”
Shelton traveled to division-leading Amity on Friday. The Spartans prevailed, 62-44, officially knocking Shelton (2-13 overall, 0-5 Housy) out of state tournament contention.