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Defense keeps Knights in prime position

NEW BRITAIN—The conditions were conducive for an ambush.

New Britain, at the end of a trying season, was not only celebrating Senior Night before an enthusiastic crowd, but welcoming back dynamic guard Nikira Hooks from an ankle injury.

Southington was in need of a victory to remain in contention for a CCC Tournament berth and possibly a home game to begin the states.

A productive start, an assertive finish and an aggressive defense staved off any New Britain notions of an upset.

Natalie Wadolowski scored a game-high 17 points, grabbed eight rebounds and made five steals Monday night and the Blue Knights led from start to finish in drubbing the Hurricanes, 48-33, in a CCC West clash at Chick Shea Gymnasium.

“We talked about the scenario,” Southington coach Mike Forgione said.

“We get a 15-point win on the road on Senior Night, so emotions were high. We didn’t shoot as well as we would like (17-for-52, 33 percent) but we made plays on defense and scored a lot of hoops in transition.”

The Knights (12-7, 8-5 CCC West) were to travel to Simsbury Tuesday (weather-permitting) for their regular-season finale. The CCC Tournament, its field fluctuating between eight, 12 and 16 teams with each postseason, has opted for eight this year. A bid for Southington, which had the eighth seed last year and made it to the final, remains in question.

“I’m disappointed and a lot of coaches are upset,” Forgione said. “But we’re still in the hunt, so we have to take care of business in Simsbury. Plus, a 13th win could get us a home game in the Class LL’s.”

A loss to New Britain would have made the Simsbury trip superfluous and Forgione has his defense to thank. The Knights forced 29 turnovers. In addition to Wadolowski’s swipes, Nicole Fischer had five and Kaitlin Paterson four.

The Knights used the defense and sparkling execution on offense to take a 19-9 first-quarter lead.

Two assists by freshman point guard Maggie Meehan created hoops for Wadolowski and a 3-pointer for Paterson (10 points). Fischer had steals on three successive New Britain possessions. A hoop by Wadolowski off a pass from Paterson and two Paterson free throws completed what turned out to be a decisive 8-2 run.

New Britain resp onded with a 1-2-2 zone with 5-11 freshman center Dejia Santana chasing the ball in the backcourt. The Southington offense slowed to a crawl, but the defense never relented. Although the Knights shot just 4-for-25 over the second and third quarters, the Hurricanes (5-15, 1-13) were unable to cut into the lead.

Another deterrent for New Britain was foul trouble for Hooks. Hooks injured an ankle in the first game against Southington on January 24 and missed the next six, five of them losses. She drew her fourth personal foul with 27 seconds left in the second quarter but, despite limited play the rest of the way, led New Britain with 13 points.

She keyed a run in the first minute of the fourth quarter that drew New Britain within six points .

A Hooks putback narrowed the gap to 34-28, but the Knights’ defense took over. New Britain went scoreless from the field for over six minutes while Southington was ringing up 15 points and putting the game away.

Forgione noted that the Knights will have to be more consistent on offense if they’re to make any postseason noise.

“In the first quarter, ball movement was the key,” Forgione said. “We got to open spots and knocked down shots. Putting [Santana] up top gave us problems, We’ve got to knock down shots from the wings and the top of the key to get them out of the zone but they were able to stay with it.”

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