RHAM Advances to First State Title Game By Defeating Hand

By Danny Atkinson

COLCHESTER-Top-seeded RHAM entered Monday night’s Class L Tournament semifinal game against No. 4 Daniel Hand at Bacon Academy with the opportunity to accomplish a goal the girls program had never reached in its history: Advance to a state tournament championship game. This was especially important to the seven seniors, which experienced losing in the quarterfinals of the past two L tournaments as a high seed, as well as falling in the CCC Tournament as a No. 1 seed two weeks ago. For them, defeating Hand, the 2017 L champion, would finally give them a finals berth and move RHAM one step closer to the ultimate dream of being state champions. To get there, the seniors, alongside the underclassmen, would have to shut down a red-hot Tigers squad with a great offense.

Daniel Hand reached the semifinal having won 13 of its past 14 games and beating No. 12 Jonathan Law 84-53 in Friday’s quarters. That high point total was nothing new for the Tigers, which regularly scored over 60 points. In RHAM, however, they were encountering a defense which had all the skills and discipline needed to make Hand’s offensive leaders struggle. All season long, RHAM made quality offenses look aimless. In Monday’s battle, they frequently did the same to Daniel Hand, securing an unforgettable win.

With its seniors leading the way, No. 1 RHAM (26-2) defeated No. 4 DanielHand (22-5) 59-40 in the L semifinals. The Sachems led the entire game and limited the Tigers to 10 points in each quarter. They steadily increased their lead in the second half.

While RHAM’s defense limited ball movement and open shots, the offense passed the ball and spaced the floor very efficiently, making open shots from everywhere. It ended the game with over 20 assists. From start to finish the Sachems, led by senior center Anna Barry, did an outstanding job of rebounding the ball, successfully limiting Hand to one shot and generating points off of offensive rebounds.

RHAM was led on offense by senior guard Gretchen Kron, who scored 19 points. Junior guard Jacklyn Santella was an ideal sidekick in the backcourt, helping to smoothly run the offense while adding 10 points. Barry and fellow senior center Katie Shea were their typical forces of nature on defense, forcing poor shots and passes and earning challenging rebounds. Barry finished with 12 rebounds and five blocked shots. Sophomore center Marisa Lee came off the bench to score eight.

RHAM will compete in its first state finals against No. 3 Farmington (17-4) Saturday or Sunday at a time to be determined at Mohegan Sun Arena. FHS defeated Wethersfield 45-40 in the other semifinal. The Sachems are familiar and defeated it earlier this season, 54-37.

“It started with the seniors,” RHAM head coach Keith Moyer said. “They were undefeated in eighth grade…and just coming along and growing and growing. I’m just thrilled with the way they played. I’m truly blessed with this group of girls.”

Moyer, who said he expected the Sachems to go on a tournament run from the start of the season, discussed the confidence and focus his team demonstrated entering the semifinal.

“I knew something was up yesterday when I entered the room and every kid was focused on what I was saying and it was all business,” Moyer said. “The girls made a point of being here early so they could be warming up when Hand walked in. They thought it would intimidate their players.”

“We decided we weren’t going to change anything for this game and play to their level or let them intimidate us,” Santella said. “We just went out there and executed. In our cohesiveness, it was probably the best game of the season for everyone all around.”

The opening minutes of the game were very fast-paced, with RHAM holding a 10-8 lead midway through the first quarter. In its second portion, however, the Sachems went on their first significant run of the game, outscoring Daniel Hand 8-2. Kron and her teammates displayed their ball-handling and passing skills, with Kron and Santella each scoring on fast break layups and Kron knocking down a three from the top of the key.

RHAM’s defense began to display its abilities as well. The perimeter defense locked down and made it difficult for the Tigers guards to penetrate and set quality shots. The Sachems forced turnovers, including multiple steals, and these along with strong rebounding set up fast break baskets.

After RHAM took its first double-digit lead in the opening possessions of the second, Daniel Hand improved its defense and outplayed the Sachems for a short period of time. The defense became more aggressive, particularly with its hands, and helped cause RHAM to take difficult shots and handle the ball poorly, resulting in multiple turnovers. Its offense was able to obtain a couple of baskets close to the rim and reach the line. Two free throws by guard Sara Wohlgemuth cut the Sachems lead to 25-20 with 3:17 remaining in the first half.

They did not get rattled however. RHAM reestablished momentum by scoring the final six points of the half, taking a 31-25 lead into the locker room. The offensive spurt was helped by the return of Krom, who had two fouls, with roughly two minutes remaining. Four points were scored on layups by Lee off pinpoint passes from her, with the second occurring right before the buzzer. Hand went cold from the field in these final three minutes, missing a handful of makeable shots, and continued to be limited to one shot per possession. This allowed the offense to obtain open shots quickly.

In the third, RHAM continued to maintain control on both ends and steadily grew its lead while slowing the game down, ending the period leading 45-30. The defense continued to fire on all cylinders, holding the Tigers scoreless for over the first three minutes. Hand was rarely able to penetrate the paint in the quarter, and defenders were almost constantly pressuring Tigers on the perimeter. When Daniel Hand did attempt an outside shot, it was frequently off-angle and in poor form. At the rare times the Tigers did reach the rim, they risked their shots being altered by Barry, Shea, and occasionally others. The RHAM bigs continued to dominate the boards in the third. All in all, it was visibly clear to fans that Hand’s players were frustrated and tired. Stars Wohlgemuth and guard Gabby Egidio scored just a combined three points in the quarter and 21 for the game.

“Entering the game, we wanted everyone else (besides the bigs) to rotate back on defense because we knew Egidio] and [Wohlgemuth] were tough going to the hole,” Moyer said. “We stopped them down pretty good. Jackie Santella had her second best defensive game of the year on [Wohlgemuth]. She kept her from penetrating. We had weakside help coming all the time, and they threw the ball away a couple times and we drew charges.”

“We just went out there and executed our zone and presses like we planned and needed to, and I think we did a great job,” Santella said.

On offense in the third, the Sachems generally spread the ball around the key before penetrating the paint or took shots around the rim off of defensive rebounds. Santella led the way, scoring six points.

In the final quarter, the Tigers made one last effort to rally before Krom squashed it. They scored six of the first eight points, but Krom sealed the win by scoring 10 consecutive points midway through the fourth. This run consisted of four field goals and displayed Kron’s athleticism and court awareness.

Moyer discussed how essential the Sachem’s rebounding was on Monday and to the team’s identity as a whole.

“The rebounding was huge, especially on the defensive end. When Gretchen Kron and (senior guard) Lia Baroncini rebound along with our bigs, we’re tough to stop. “

“We came out so hard and that helped us. Every quarter we said, it’s scoreless and we need to come out strong,” Kron said. “The defense gave a lot of momentum, we were always denying the ball and that got a couple of steals. This gave us (the offense) a lot of motivation.”

Moyer is confident the RHAM players will be prepared for Farmington and the Mohegan Sun Arena Stage in the L championship game.

“I know they will work hard in practice this week and be confident going in. The girls are experienced and have a lot of leadership, and they’ve been waiting for this opportunity,” he said.

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