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Senior captain Gabby Lucertini and Branford girls’ hoops took a loss to Career last week, but came right back to get a victory against that same Panthers’ team in their regular-season finale. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Lauren Thompson (with ball) continued her excellent freshman season by scoring a combined 30 points between the Hornets’ two contests last week. Pictured on the left is senior captain Francesca Valletta. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
The Branford girls’ basketball team closed out its regular season by playing a two-game home-and-away series against Career last week. After losing the first game, the Hornets bounced back to notch a win in the rematch and take some momentum into the SCC Division II Tournament.
Branford hosted Career and dropped a 51-48 decision on March 11. Two days later, the Hornets traveled to New Haven to face Career for a road game and gained a measure of revenge by claiming a 43-37 victory. With the split, Branford finished the regular season with a record of 2-8.
In its first game versus Career, Branford trailed the Panthers 24-23 at halftime before outscoring them 15-10 in the third quarter to take a 38-34 lead into the fourth. However, Career rallied to outscore Branford 17-10 in the final period and come away with the three-point win.
“I thought we played pretty well. We were in control for a little bit of the game. But toward the end, the player’s experience kind of got to us. We weren’t used to really close games,” Head Coach Robert Manghnani said. “We started faltering and made some turnovers. They had 22 free throw attempts to our four. But I was pleased with their effort most of the game, and we came out firing, which gave us confidence going into our next game.”
Freshman Lauren Thompson made four 3-pointers on her way to scoring 19 points for Branford in the loss. Sophomore Lauren Kendrick hit three threes and scored 13 points in the game, while freshman Madigan Lawler had 12 points.
Thompson is having an excellent freshman campaign for Branford. Coach Manghnani was impressed with her performance against Career and has also been pleased with her overall growth throughout the season.
“Lauren has been unbelievable all year, especially as a freshman. She shoulders a lot of our offensive responsibility. When she gets going, she is very tough to defend,” said Manghnani. “She is a lot of the opposing team’s focus. They were in a 2-3 zone, and Lauren was able to work on passing, get to better angles, and make her shots. She might be a freshman, but we have come to expect it.”
When Branford faced Career for round two on March 13, the Hornets started the game hot by scoring 16 points in the first quarter. Led by 19 points from senior captain Gabby Lucertini on the night, the Hornets held on for a 43-37 victory over Career in their regular-season finale.
“We knew it was our last regular-season game. We knew we let that last one slip, and we wanted to play to win and not to not lose,” Manghnani said. “We stuck with that and talked about how to be consistent from the first quarter to the end. We came out of the gates firing and didn’t take our foot off the gas. The kids were focused. They really wanted to get the W.”
In addition to Lucertini’s big game, Thompson scored 11 points, and Kendrick had six points for the Hornets. Freshman Reanna Sachs added five points in the victory.
Lucertini is serving as one of Branford’s captains alongside fellow senior Francesca Valletta this season. Coach Manghnani said that Lucertini is an integral member of the Hornets both on and off the court.
“Gabby has really been the catalyst for our team in a variety of different ways. From defense to offense to huddling the girls up, she is like the den mother for a lot of these kids,” said Manghnani said. “When it comes time for tough situations, she steps up. She does all the little things that don’t show up in the box score. It has become contagious for our young kids.”
Of the 11 players on the Hornets’ roster, eight of them are freshmen. As Branford enters the SCC Tournament, Coach Manghnani is hoping that his underclass athletes will learn from their experience this season and come back to the team that much better next year as a result.
“It’s huge. It’s monumental, even having this shortened season. It was really difficult in the beginning of the year, as we didn’t really have any practices. There was limited time to get these kids used to playing at the high school level,” said Manghnani. “They have improved individually and as a group. There’s more work to do, but we’re really proud of these kids.”
Branford was scheduled to play a first-round game in the SCC Division II Tournament on March 17 (after press time). Coach Manghnani wants to see his team compete its hardest on every possession to try and get a playoff victory.
“It’s just one point at a time. We can’t really look too far ahead. In the past, we were scouting every opponent, focusing on every little thing. Now, we’re just trying to keep it simple,” Manghnani said. “We’re looking to continue getting better and try and win every single possession. Everything else will take care of itself.”