Nicole Beard and Alyssa Eannotti combined for 32 points as the Shelton High School girls basketball team came from behind to defeat Norwalk High, 50-38, in the championship game of the Shelton Christmas Tournament Friday night.
The Gaelettes erased a 10-point second-quarter deficit with more efficient play on both ends of the court over the game’s final 18-plus minutes to win the crown for the first time since 2007.
“That was our first goal for the year,” said fourth-year Shelton coach and former Gaelette Mary Piccirillo of Shelton winning its own event. “It’s a good feeling.”
It didn’t come easy for Shelton, which also had to wipe out Bunnell’s four-point halftime lead to upend the Bulldogs 45-42 in a first-round game on Thursday night, before coming from behind again to beat the Bears (2-5).
The Gaelettes got the job done in both games in large part thanks to a combined 33 total points from Beard, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and solid play from the rest of the team, including Eannotti and Jessica Wilm, who were named to the all-tournament team.
Beard made five 3-pointers in the championship game, the last of which gave Shelton a 49-38 lead with just 2:48 left and sealed the win.
The junior said the win was for Shelton’s seniors, who had never won a Shelton Christmas Tournament, including injured teammate Megan Burke.
“We really wanted to win this for them,” she said. “I think we can go from this and go at every team we play.”
The Gaelettes struggled for the better part of the first half. After jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead, Shelton saw Norwalk gain control with a 26-9 run that left the Bears (2-5) holding a 26-16 advantage with 2:35 left in the first half.
The only good news for Shelton was that Norwalk standout Emma Oyamba picked up her third foul 21 seconds later.
Oyamba went to the bench, helping Shelton end the half with six straight points to pull within 26-22 at halftime.
That Shelton trailed by just four points was a minor miracle, as it turned the ball over 16 times in the session, with most coming on walking or traveling violations.
Even when the Gaelettes managed to shoot the ball, they weren’t having much success, making just 7-of-31 overall, and 2-of-11 from beyond the three-point arc.
Piccirillo’s halftime speech got to the point.
“I kind of singled some people out,” said Piccirillo. “I told them what they needed to do.”
Whatever she said, it worked as the Gaelettes played their best basketball of the night in the third quarter.
After an Oyamba free throw to open the second half, Brooke McCone sank a trey from the left wing. An Oyamba putback off a missed free throw was answered by four straight Shelton free throws — two each by Eannotti and Nicole Roberts – to tie the score at 29.
Oyamba made a driving layup to give Norwalk back the lead, but Eannotti scored nine second later and was fouled by Oyamba, who was saddled with her fourth foul just 1:43 into the second half.
That’s when the Gaelettes took control.
McCone gave Shelton its first lead since late in the first quarter with another 3-pointer.
An Eannotti 18-footer was sandwiched between two Oyamba baskets, but Beard increased the Shelton lead to seven, 42-35, with a 3-pointer to end the quarter.
Shelton outscored Norwalk 20-9 over the eight-minute period, turning the ball over just three times and making six field goals, just one shy of its first half output.
Four of those field goals were 3-pointers, as the Gaelettes made 4-of-9 treys in the quarter.
Beard opened the final quarter with a driving layup to extend the Shelton lead to 44-35 and the game took on a defensive tone from there.
The only two baskets over the next three-and-a-half minutes were layups by Oyamba and Shelton’s Nicole Wells.
Oyamba (game-high 26 points) made a free throw with 3:03 remaining to cut the Shelton lead to eight points, 46-38.
That’s when Beard (17 points) nailed her last trey of the game to clinch the Gaelette win, as Shelton shut out Norwalk over the game’s final three minutes.
Eannotti scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Jessica Wilm added four points and seven boards.
McCone had six points, Roberts five points and six rebounds, Nicole Wells two points and Colleen Flood one to round out the scoring for Shelton.
On Thursday night, Beard scored 16 points and Eannotti added nine points and 12 rebounds, as Shelton narrowly edged Bunnell, 45-42.
The key is for the Gaelettes to build off of their Shelton Christmas Tournament title as they continue regular season play.
“Hopefully, now that we start the Housy games, this will give them a spark,” said Piccirillo, whose team will try to even its Southern Connecticut Conference Housatonic Division mark at 1-1 when it travels to Woodbridge to take on Amity High on Friday.