TRUMBULL — The plan for Steve Tobisch’s Trumbull girls basketball team was two-fold in tonight’s Class LL quarterfinal against Greenwich: One was to keep Cardinal freshman sensation Mackenzie Nelson in check. Two was to take care of the basketball.
The Eagles went 0 for 2.
You can guess the rest.
With Nelson scoring 23 of her team’s 41 points, Greenwich pulled off the mild upset with a 41-33 victory that lifted the No. 13 Cardinals into Friday’s semifinals.
“Mackenzie was awesome,” said Greenwich coach Chrys Hernandez, whose team will face No. 1 Staples in the semifinals. “You don’t find many like (Nelson). Trumbull built their game plan around her but we showed we have other weapons.”
While Nelson scored 56 percent of the points for the Cardinals, it was three 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter by freshman Ava Sollenne (two) and sophomore Kristin Riggs that catapulted the Cards past the Eagles in the fourth quarter.
Well, it was those big shots along with too many Eagle turnovers.
Even with Nelson dominating on the offensive end for Greenwich (18-7), and Sollenne (eight points) and Riggs draining clutch shots, Trumbull might have been able to withstand and survive had it just avoided turnovers. The No. 5-seeded Eagles (19-6) had 14 second-half turnovers, including five on their first five possessions of the pivotal fourth quarter as their bid for the school’s first state championship since 1974 slipped away.
“Greenwich was a little more aggressive in the fourth quarter and we didn’t protect the ball, and that was the difference,” Tobitsch said. “This is a young group so maybe it was to be expected. But it’s an empty feeling.”
Trumbull has one senior — defensive specialist Maeve Hampford — on the roster.
The turnovers were indeed critical. Trumbull saw a 25-22 lead after three quarters disappear as the Cardinals started the final eight minutes on a 12-2 run and then made eight of 10 free throws to seal it. The Cards scored 22 points through three quarters and 19 in the final eight minutes.
Nelson, who had 12 of the Cardinals’ 16 first-half points, had just two second-half field goals, but was 7-for-7 from the foul line in the final five minutes.
“I knew they would be focused on me,” Nelson said. “But I was able to beat them off the dribble and if I was missing my shots I tried to assist others and rebound. But everybody contributed and that’s why we won.”
The Greenwich defense held Trumbull to five second-half field goals and just 14 second-half points.
“We were not strong with the ball at all in the fourth quarter,” Trumbull’s top player and leading scorer, Cassi Barbato, said. Barbato, along with the rest of the Trumbull shooters, had a tough time against Greenwich’s 2-3 zone. She finished with just seven points as the Eagles made 14 of 44 field-goal attempts.
“They pushed out their zone (in the final quarter) and the (turnovers) really changed the game,” Barbato said.
“The turnovers were big, and Nelson started taking it to the hoop,” Tobitsch added. “We were a little timid, maybe a little tight, in the fourth quarter but give a lot of credit to Greenwich.”
Sophomore Emi Roberto led Trumbull with 11 points. Aside from Barbato, who added six rebounds, no Eagle had more than five points. Grace Lesko, Roberto and sophomore Sarah Stolze each had six rebounds for Trumbull.
Sophomore Kelly Martyanov had six rebounds and Nelson had five boards for Greenwich.
The game was a defensive battle from the start. The score was 6-6 after one quarter and Trumbull had a 19-16 lead at halftime. But Trumbull has shooters and it felt like it was just a matter of time before the shots started falling.
“We knew we could not relax because Trumbull has so many offensive weapons,” said Hernandez, whose team is now two wins away from Greenwich’s first state championship. “I think it might have been nerves early on but then we settled down. Our offense always stems from our defensive intensity.”
Roberto’s big 3-pointer late in the third quarter gave Trumbull a 25-22 lead heading in the final period but the Eagles could not sustain the momentum.
So now Trumbull will plan for next year when the Eagles have all but one player back while Greenwich gets to play on.
“We’ve lost twice to Staples so far (60-44 on Jan 24, and 52-49 in the FCIAC semifinals on Feb. 25), Hernandez said. The Cardinals also lost their only meeting with Trumbull, 56-50 on Feb. 19, so the revenge tour is underway. “We’re looking forward to getting to play them again.”