NEWINGTON - When she checked into the game at the 6:22 mark of the first quarter Friday night, Karissa Zocco was met with a cheer from her home fans.
A loud ovation, though not quite uproarious.
Maybe the Newington girls basketball fans were waiting for the right moment to explode in greeting her return, 15 days after the freshman guard last played since suffering a concussion Feb. 14 in the CCC Tournament.
When Zocco drained her first 3-pointer on her second in-game shot attempt in two weeks, the fans’ cries intensified as the PA announcer shouted into the microphone, “Welcome back, Karissa Zocco!”
And by the time she nailed her fifth and sixth 3s, the crowd went bananas.
Perfectly marking Zocco’s re-entry to the lineup that couldn’t have come at a better time. A return that provided the backbone of the Indians’ surge past the second round with a 55-44 victory over Glastonbury in the Class LL state tournament.
“We told her to just keep shooting. Just keep shooting,” Newington coach Marc Tancredi said. “We were begging her to shoot the ball. Her sister [Marly], who hit the huge three against Shelton, and her can really shoot the ball. They have a great ability to stroke it. We have confidence in [Karissa] putting it up, and I’d say the majority of the time it’s gonna go in. She knows her role, and I don’t need to instill that confidence in her to shoot it. She just does it. She’s a natural-born shooter.”
The Zocco twins had a hand in each of the Indians’ postseason victories last week. Marly Zocco, as Tancredi eluded to, hit the biggest shot of Newington’s season at that point, burying a game-tying three with under two minutes to play in overtime of a 54-50 first-round victory over Shelton on Tuesday.
On Friday, the two finally got back onto the floor together with under three minutes left in the first quarter when Marly checked in for the first time.
“I love playing with [Marly],” Zocco said. “Obviously, I’ve been playing with her my whole life, but it feels great that we’re both out there together.”
With or without Marly on the floor, Karissa Zocco was nearly flawless from downtown. She made six of her first eight 3-pointers to account for a game-high 18 points. She finished 6-for-10 from deep, starting 3-for-5 before hitting three straight to start a second-half run that pushed Newington to a comfortable 44-26 lead.
The second 3-pointer of the half hit the front of the rim, bouncing high off the glass and straight through the net. The perfect shooter’s touch.
And her final trey came moments later, a nothing-but-net swish from the left wing. The shot forced a Glastonbury timeout, and teammate Ashanti Frazier couldn’t stop smiling, playfully pushing her teammate as Zocco walked over to the sideline.
“Ashanti’s just always so proud of me,” Zocco said. “She’s always like, ‘If she’s down, I’ll pick her up. If I’m down, she’s gonna pick it up.’ We’ve just got each other’s back.”
Tancredi said he may have expected a little bit of rust from Zocco. But in the end, well, shooters shoot, as they say.
“She can sure shoot the ball,” Tancredi said. “We were looking forward to having her back. I think that would’ve helped us in our previous games. She’s just a player, so I expected her to step in and play where she left off. She’s been playing great, and I’m happy that we have her for the next four years.”
The first-year coach is ecstatic to have his first-year varsity standout for this season and three more, sure.
But the focus is now. And right now, Zocco’s sharpshooting helped the No. 7-seed Indians (22-4) make history, advancing them to the program’s first quarterfinal appearance since 1997.
What lies ahead is a matchup at No. 2 New London (23-2) at 7 p.m. Thursday. For the first time this postseason, the Indians will be on the road as an underdog.
But the return of Zocco and Alexie Armour to the lineup could be the difference between an exit and a semifinal appearance.
Armour rolled her ankle in the Monday practice prior to the CCC Tournament semifinals. That injury came four days after Zocco’s concussion.
Both missed the semifinal and final of the conference tournament, in addition to the first state tournament game.
But analyzing how the Indians looked in their first-round victory as opposed to the second-round triumph, the comparison in ball movement and fluidity on offense was easy to pinpoint.
“We’ve always had a good dynamic, and it just helps to have another good guard that can spread out defenses,” Tancredi said. “Having those two back helped with our depth, and we were able to keep people more rested. I think that was a little bit of our issue Tuesday and throughout the CCC Tournament. We weren’t as deep, so we weren’t as rested, and people were tired. That’s part of the reason the ball moved so well [Friday].”
Could the now-healthy Indians pull off the upset at full strength?
“I’ve had confidence in our team all year, and New London’s definitely gonna be a challenge,” Tancredi said. “I haven’t seen film on them yet, but I’ve liked our team all season. They’ve stepped up all year. They always have a fighting chance, and we’ve just got to show up next Thursday. I’m just asking them to compete, and when you compete anything can happen in a tournament setting.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or