NEWINGTON - As he watched pregame warmups, Marc Trancedi commented that he hoped Newington would take care of business early against underdog Shelton and breeze to a stress-free win Tuesday night.
The Indians girls basketball head coach did not get his wish.
No. 7 Newington had to squeak out a 54-50 overtime win over No. 26 Shelton in a Class LL state tournament first-round game, buoyed by some huge late plays by Ashanti Frazier and Marly Zocco.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation and Newington trailing by three, Frazier was fouled on a layup that barely rolled in, and the junior guard buried the game-tying free throw with 26 seconds left for a 46-46 stalemate.
The Indians (21-4) had two chances at the end of regulation for a game-winner, but Frazier and Olivia St. Remy each missed a good look near the rim.
With Newington again facing a three-point deficit, this time with less than two minutes to play in overtime, freshman guard Marly Zocco drained a 3-pointer to tie the score at 49, and on the Indians’ next possession, Frazier hit two go-ahead free throws. Aby Flores then made a layup with 1:03 remaining for a 53-49 lead, and the Indians held on.
“This is why we always need to have a level head. We came in here thinking it was gonna be a quick, easy game - go home and eat dinner, whatever,” said Frazier, who scored a game-high 20 points, including a free throw with 4.7 seconds left to ice the game. “[Shelton] came in here and showed us what it means to be a true underdog.”
“We’ve got to come in with a more level head,” Frazier added. “We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to come out stronger than that as a team. We played a lackadaisical game. We didn’t speed up until a couple minutes left in overtime. We’re a better team than that, so we’ve got to come out harder.”
It wasn’t pretty. Sloppy play, an abundance of turnovers, frustration with officiating and a lack of an aggressive rebounding presence led to a near early exit for Newington, which defeated the Gaels for the program’s first state tournament win since a 2010 Class L victory.
“I’m happy we won, but I’m not happy in the way we played,” Trancedi said. “It’s really a reflection of the way we practiced the past two days. We were a step too slow, we were making uncharacteristic plays and we need to play better because if we play like that on Friday, the result is gonna be much different.”
Maya Gajowiak scored 16 points for the Indians, and Shelton (10-12) was led by Maggie Howard’s 18 points.
The Indians will host No. 10 Glastonbury (16-5) at 7 p.m. Friday in the second round, and Trancedi expects his club to be fully healthy.
Newington has played the last three games without two starters, Karissa Zocco and Alexie Armour, due to injuries. But the Indians were able to hold on for the win, thanks to big contributions from players such as the younger Zocco twin.
“Marly is the definition of a ‘quiet assassin,’” Frazier said. “She’ll play a quiet game, get a couple steals and put a couple shots up, and then she’ll come out and show you what it means to be a big player. She’s a phenomenal player.”
In a sloppy first quarter, the Indians coughed the ball up six times and struggled to find an aggressive rebounding presence, but they still held a 10-6 lead by holding Shelton to 2-of-12 shooting.
A wild sequence with less a minute and a half remaining in the period led to Newington’s biggest bucket of the quarter.
Following two missed Indians shots, the ball caromed out to mid-court, where Leya Vohra grabbed the ball and passed it to Shelton teammate Maggie Howard for a layup attempt. Frazier bodied up Howard and blocked her shot, but no foul was called. Gajowiak then converted a three-point play with a minute left.
Newington then held a 23-14 halftime lead following a Frazier “and-one” play with 3.3 seconds left.
In the third quarter, Gajowiak and Frazier netted back-to-back jumpers for a 27-16 lead, but the Gaels closed the gap with a 10-2 run capped by a Howard three.
Frazier knocked down a big 3 on the next possession for a six-point lead, and the Indians led 36-30 at the end of the third period.
But Howard was lethal in the fourth quarter, going 3-for-3 from deep, with her third trey giving the Gaels a 41-40 lead at the 3:10 mark.
Despite nearly allowing Shelton to complete a second-half comeback, Trancedi and crew are moving onto the second round - even though it was an unsatisfactory performance.
“I said at the beginning of the season that I hold every player to a high expectation level, and I don’t think they met that expectation level today, but the good thing is we survived and advanced,” Trancedi said. “We have more days to prepare and play another game.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org