By MICHAEL LETENDRE
OAKDALE – The Plainville girls basketball team didn’t travel over an hour just to turn around, give it the old preverbial try and head home in its first round Class M showdown against Montville on Tuesday, Feb. 26.
The Blue Devils were looking for more, much more, and attempted to pull off a major upset on the road.
And while No. 26 Plainville never led in the contest, the Blue Devils closed a significant deficit late before late free throws by the Indians sealed the deal as Montville held on to dear life to pick up a 42-35 victory from Oakdale.
Montville raised its overall record to 16-5 on the season while Plainville ended its campaign with a 10-11 ledger.
The Blue Devils had some good looks at the hoop over the first 16 minutes of the game. But during that first half of action, the visiting squad missed 18 of 19 field goals and at one point, trailed by as many as 17 points.
But it was a different story in the second half as Plainville made it a game late.
“I thought we had a good second half,” said Plainville coach Jen Micowski. “I thought we lacked a little energy in the first quarter especially. We picked it up in the second quarter. It was tough to get our offense started but in the second half, we really came up and took the ball strong to the basket, made some shots, got them in foul trouble and it made a big difference down the stretch.”
Plainville’s Kelsey Clemens led the squad with 13 points, nine rebounds, four blocked shots, and two steals while Katy Dressel – playing in her final game for the Blue Devils – tallied up four points, nine rebounds, and a couple of steals in a solid all-around effort.
Carly Martino added six points, two rebounds, and a handful of steals while sister Stephanie Martino nabbed three rebounds and dished out a couple of assists.
Kelley Slabinski scooped up two rebounds and displayed her usual hustle on the floor while Abby Nigro also played for the final time.
Sophomore Deja Nolan was a beast off the bench and nearly picked up a triple double on the evening.
She netted 11 points, a team high 11 rebounds and snatched six steals as she strung together several late hoops to cut the deficit to five with 20 seconds left to play in the fray.
That five point deficit would be as close as Plainville could get to the lead.
Both teams did not shoot very well during the event. But even as Plainville hit for 24 percent of its field goals in the game, Montville was only a tad bit better at 26 percent.
The Blue Devils played exceptionally well defensively against the Indians, out-rebounding the home team by one, while tallying up 16 steals in the contest.
“We worked on (our defense) a lot throughout the course of the week, trying to find a way neutralize their threats inside, and their shooting threat outside,” said Micowski. “I would have liked to have been a little stronger and a little bit more solid on defense but that didn’t hurt us tonight.”
“It was the offensive end that we fell a little short on.”
Montville sharpshooter Jamie Hill led all players with 19 points and hit both of the squads’ three-pointers in the game.
Cassidy Bundy, the Indians’ 6-foot-2 center, ended the showdown with 12 points, several rebounds and blocked shots but fouled out with 5:37 left to play.
Bundy was pretty disruptive in her stints on the floor but once she was disqualified, it opened the entire floor up for the Blue Devils and that’s when the visitors made its late push.
Plainville missed its first 16 shots of the contest as Montville forced the Blue Devils to shoot from outside.
But the visitors hung around in the first as a free throw by Slabinski and two additional charity tosses by Clemens saw Montville grab an 11-3 edge after one period of play.
The Indians opened the second stanza off a 10-1 tilt as two foul shots from Meghan Autencio made it a 21-4 game with 2:29 left before the half.
“Montville played a zone and they played a very compact zone,” said Micowski. “Obviously, they did their scouting report and did their work knowing that we have our threat from the paint and the forwards.”
But Carly Martino broke the shooting ice with a free throw and off a long three-point bomb to close out the half, Plainville was hanging around at 21-8.
Clemens started the third stanza with an offensive rebound and a hoop as Plainville began to find its offensive grove.
But the Indians racked up a 29-14 push with 3:01 left in the frame as a jumper by Hill put the home team in firm control of the showdown.
Plainville finished the period off a surge and used a 5-0 run to close within 10 as Clemens popped in a huge three-pointer and then laid in another put-back attempt, making it a 29-19 contest with eight minutes left to play.
With renewed energy, Plainville opened the final quarter by getting Montville into foul trouble and from the 7:35 mark of the period to the end of the game, the Blue Devils were shooting free throws off every Indians’ foul the rest of the way.
But Clemens surprisingly missed two free throws, Carly Martino clanked a three-pointer and then turned the ball over as empty possessions haunted the Blue Devils early in the fourth.
And with Bundy out with 5:37 left to play, Plainville wasn’t able to take advantage early as a lay-up by Hill with 4:35 left made it a 35-22 game.
Clemens fouled out with 1:27 left to play and off a missed three-pointer by Stephanie Martino, Hill made two additional free throws to pick up a 37-26 edge with 1:08 remaining.
But Nolan took over, made a quick leaner and then followed it up with an even quicker lay-up as Plainville was still in business and down just 37-30 with 46 seconds left to play.
Autencio made only one of two attempts at the line. But Nolan burned Montville with a tough three-pointer to make it 38-33 with 20 seconds showing on the scoreboard.
But Autencio made things academic with four straight free throws to make it a nine-point game with 7.5 seconds left.
Nolan skipped in one last hoop as the buzzer sounded and Montville hung on for dear life, and advanced to the second round of the Class M tourney with a 42-35 win.
“We did our best to come up with looks (at the hoop),” said Micowski. “I think we fell short on some of the ones we got.”
NOTES…In a rare occurrence, all the top seeds in the Class M bracket advanced. Teams ranked 1-16 all qualified for second round action…Along with Plainville, five teams lost first round game by seven or fewer points. Sixth-ranked Lewis Mills hung and survived against No. 27 New London 40-35 but the higher seed moved on…Nolan scored all 11 of her points in the final 3:10 of the game against Montville.