On Friday night, the Tolland Eagles were just too much for their old rivals, the Ellington Knights.
No. 2 Tolland defeated No. 3 60-38 in the Class M state tournament semifinals, advancing the Eagles to the finals for the first time ever.
Eagles’ coach Rocco Sansone said that his team has been to the semifinal game five of the last six years, and six out of the last eight. He was joking around before the game that he had to believe that the odds were in his favor this time.
“We’ve been here so many times, we’ve gotten this time so many times,” he said. “We’ve knocked on that door so many times. I’m just really excited for them.”
Sansone said that his team had a great week of practice and that everyone was very loose – except him. He gave a lot of credit to his team – particularly the seniors – for the success.
“They just do the whole thing themselves,” he said. “I just watch and orchestrate a little. I just decide which five are going to go on the floor, they do everything. I watch and yell a little.”
Whatever the case may be, things worked very well for the Eagles on this night. Tolland had the height advantage, and used it to its advantage.
“We kind of knew where our strength was going to be tonight, and we just pounded it inside,” he said. “We wanted to go where our strengths are.”
Jenna Lovett, the 6’1” center for Tolland, blazed a trail with 24 points. added 15 points.
Sansone called Lovett “a star.”
“Jenna was a hero tonight,” he said. “That was definitely the best night she’s had. Tonight was Jenna’s night, she shined.”
Ellington coach Lauren Lovetere-Beeler agreed that Lovett was what killed the Knights.
“I think we did a good job on Schatzlein, we didn’t have a matchup for Jenna,” she said. “They clearly had a height advantage coming in. The last couple games, we had stopped the height advantage, and tonight we just didn’t.”
Senior Kelly Conley led the way for Ellington with 27 points. Conley went 16-for-16 from the free throw line in the game and 10-for-10 from the line in the first half.
Sansone said that sending the Knights to the line that many times made him a little nervous.
In the second half, Tolland didn’t foul nearly as much and Lovetere-Beeler felt that the Eagles settled into their game a little more.
Sansone said that he knew that Conley would get her points, so the goal was to shut everybody else down.
“We did a good job,” he said. “We know that they have some kids who like to shoot three’s, so we wanted to take away the three-point shooters. We figured if we took all that away, and make her (Conley) work hard, we would be on the right side of the coin.”
The plan worked and the Tolland defense, which averages only 32 points against per game, did its job and held the Knights to only 38 points.
Lovetere-Beeler admitted that the offense could have been better, but that perhaps they still could have won the game with a low score if the defense was better and if there were fewer uncontested turnovers.
“We did a little bit better defensively (in the second half), but still not what we needed to get done,” she said. “They still outscored us in the second half. They played great defense, don’t get me wrong, but we can’t just throw the ball away just to throw the ball away, and that’s what we did. We did it how many times? There’s your statistic right there - too many to count.”
The Knights (24-3) finish the season on a sour note, but the Eagles (24-3) live on. Sansone said that they will enjoy this victory for the weekend but will get back to work on Monday.
Tolland will take on No. 1 Weaver (23-1) in the championship game on either March 16 or March 17 at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Ellington - Kelly Conley 5 16 27, Kim McCoy 0 2 2, Karlee Alves 2 0 5, Megan Milliken 2 0 4. Totals 9 18 38.
Three-point goals: Conley, Alves.
Tolland - Kristin Schatzlein 7 0 15, Jess Olson 1 2 4, Jenna Lovett 10 4 24, Alli Gallo 2 1 5, Chelsea Domian 1 3 5, Ashley Clawson 3 1 7. Totals 24 11 60.
Three-point goals: Schatzlein.
Score By Quarters
Ellington 8 10 7 13 - 38
Tolland 15 20 7 18 - 60