In a game up for grabs, Blue Devils falter

PLAINVILLE – When you have two 13-7 squads face-off in the first round of a scholastic girls basketball tournament game, the contest is an affair that is truly up for grabs.
Hopefully, a long bus ride and a trip to a foreign territory would be enough to keep a visiting squad off-balanced but in a Class M, first round match-up that pitted Stonington at Plainville, the home team just fell a bit short.
The Blue Devils fell to the Bears, 54-48, from the Ivan Wood Gymnasium in Plainville.
Stonington improved to 14-7 on the season while Plainville ended its campaign at 13-8.
Kelsey Clemens – Plainville’s most recent 1,000-point scorer – ramped up 25 points in her final scholastic game while nabbing 11 rebounds.
Before fouling out, Deja Nolan played extremely well as she zipped up 10 points, eight rebounds, and three assists while Step Martino steered the ship and dropped in nine points.
Rachel Lancaster added four points, two rebounds and two steals while Lauren Tanner, Taleah McCrorey, Nicole Davis and Jess Masco all played well in the losing effort.
But it was a challenge all the way to the end as the game was for the taking for both squads.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a back-to-back kind of game,” said Plainville coach Jen Gombotz. “We came out on the losing end tonight but I thought our effort was where we needed it to be.”
Stonington center Margot Calmer flipped in a team high of 25 while Taty LaFrance-Boyce added in 20 to lead the visitors into the second round of action.
“She stepped it up, she’s a good player,” said Plainville coach Jen Gombotz of Margot Calmer. “I think in the first half, we contained her. In the second half, we opened up with back to back plays with them getting the ball in the post scoring easy lay-ups.”
Both teams coughed up the ball 22 times apiece but when the Blue Devils were making its late run, each gaffe and miscue hurt even more as time became a factor.
But early on, Plainville’s defense didn’t allow the Bears much in terms of offense as the visitors missed its first nine field goal attempts.
Plainville’s 2-3 zone worked well and later, box-and-one tactics were employed to keep Stonington’s tallest players away from the hoop.
However, Stonington ended the contest making 18 of its final 34 field goals (52.9-percent) as the squad pounded the ball inside to Calmer for high percentage shots and put-backs.
Her job was made easier when Clemens picked up her fourth foul with just over five minutes left in the third period.
Too her credit, Clemens remained in the game and did not foul out but the task of guarding Calmer fell on her mates in the zone defense.
Nolan did a credible job defending the agile Calmer but when the Plainville warrior was disqualified with 3:50 remaining in the game, it became a bit more of a challenge.
Down 2-0 just a minute into things, the Blue Devils used an 8-0 spurt to take command of the first frame.
Nolan scored four of the eight points and off two Lancaster free throws, it was an 8-1 game with 3:30 left in the first as Plainville held the early edge.
Later, Clemens hit three of four free throws but off a big three-pointer from Tia LaFrance-Boyce, the visitors trailed 11-7 after eight minutes of action.
Early in the second, Nolan sank a baseline jumper while Clemens hit a driving lay-up as Plainville’s edge reached 17-12 with 6:13 left in the period.
But that would be the last hoop the Blue Devils hit in the half as Stonington surged in front via a 10-0 push.
Off five straight points from Taty LaFrance-Boyce, the Bears clawed its way to a 22-17 lead with 3:29 left before intermission.
Plainville ended the half with six free throws and off two makes by Nolan, Stonington was clinging to a 24-23 halftime push in a game that favored neither opponent to that point.
However, that was as close as Plainville could get to the lead as the Bears led over final 16 minutes of action from wire-to-wire.
Stonington used a 9-0 zip to post its biggest lead in the contest as a free throw from Calmer with 4:21 left in the third propelled the Bears to a 33-23 cushion.
“I think they came out of halftime looking to get the ball inside and executing from the block,” said Gombotz of Stonington. “And they did well with that.”
But Plainville never relented as it ended the stanza with zest and a renewed defensive energy as a 9-2 run – highlighted by a huge three-pointer from  Martino – cut the deficit to 35-32 with one quarter to go.
“Our girls, they didn’t pack it in,” said Gombotz of her squad. “They fought all the way to the end.”
And each and every time the Blue Devils inched closer to the lead in the game, Stonington hit a huge hoop or a big free throw to hold on to its edge.
Off two free throws by Clemens with 5:48 left in regulation, Plainville had it down to 38-36 as the senior warrior notched the final 14 points for in the game for the Blue Devils.
But over the next 3:19, the Bears notched seven straight points as turnovers and missed hoops hurt the home team’s chance late into the thing.
Taty LaFrance-Joyce smashed in a three-pointer. Calmer hit for a big put-back. Off free throws by Calmer with 2:29 to play, Stonington’s lead reached 45-36.
Clemens kept plugging away, canning hoops and making free throws. But the Bears kept going to Taty LaFrance-Joyce and Calmer to close out the contest.
A foul shot from Taty LaFrance-Joyce gave Stonington an impressive 50-42 lead but off a Clemens hoop, the teams were just exchanging baskets.
But Plainville made one last dash at it before time ran out.
Clemens nailed one of two free throws. Off a turnover, Plainville found the senior again for a big hoop.
Martino saw Clemens on the left side of the three-point stripe and the senior buried a huge three as the Blue Devils cut the deficit to 52-48 with 20.8 seconds left.
Plainville was forced to foul Taty LaFrance-Joyce again and she calmly canned two free throws to push the visitors cushion back out to six again at 54-48 with 17 seconds remaining in regulation.
But time ran out on the home team as the Blue Devils couldn’t dent the deficit any further as Stonington held on to the six-point victory and moved on to the second round of the Class M fray.
“I think our defense let-up in the second half,” said Gombotz. “We always said if we’re going to let-up (the opponents score) in the 50s, we’re going to have trouble. That’s what you saw in the second half of the game tonight.”
The game was the final contest for Plainville seniors Emma Andy and Kelsey Clemens.
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2014 Class M Girls Basketball
First Round
No. 1 Holy Cross 54, No. 16 Wilcox Tech 23
No. 16 Wolcott 61, No. 17 Ellington 48
No. 8 Kolbe Cathedral 71, Kaynor Tech 18
No. 9 Tolland 53, No. 24 Windsor Locks 31
No. 4 Bullard Havens 59, No. 29 Windham 47
No. 20 East Catholic 33, No. 13 Northwestern 31
No. 5 New London 52, No. 28 Montville 36
No. 12 Coginchaug 63, No. 21 Plainfield 45
No. 2 Cromwell 62, No. 31 Enfield 29
No. 18 Stonington 54, No. 15 Plainville 48
No. 7 Lewis Mills 56, No. 26 Waterford 42
No. 23 Old Saybrook 52, No. 10 Haddam-Killingworth 49
No. 30 Granby 44, No. 3 Prince Tech 31
No. 14 St. Joseph 45, No. 19 East Hampton 28
No. 6 Morgan 75, No. 27 Cheney Tech 26
No. 22 Rocky Hill 43, No. 11 Suffield 34

from the Ivan Wood Gymnasium, Plainville
Stonington (14-7)       7  17  11 19 – 54
Plainville (14-7)               11  12  9  16 – 48
STONINGTON (54): Megan Sartor 1-0-3, Tia Lafrance-Boyce 1-1-4, Taty Lafrance-Boyce 8-8-25, Margot Calmar 7-6-20, Annie Knizeski 0-0-0, Samantha Shroyer 0-0-0, Cameron Dreher 1-0-2. Totals: 18-15-54.
PLAINVILLE (48): Deja Nolan 4-2-10, Taleah McCrorey 0-0-0, Nicole Davis 0-0-0, Steph Martino 2-4-9, Lauren Tanner 0-0-0, Kelsey Clemens 7-9-25, Rachel Lancaster 1-2-4, Emma Andy 0-0-0, Jess Masco 0-0-0. Totals 14-17-48.
Three-point goals: Tia Lafrance-Boyce (S), Taty Lafrance-Boyce (S), Kelsey (P) 2, Martino (P).
Records: Stonington 14-7; Plainville 14-7