Hand girls basketball downs E.O. Smith to continue strong start to season

MADISON — Hand girls’ basketball coach Tim Tredwell sees the December schedule as a way of assessing where his team stands and what they need to do to get better during the Southern Connecticut Conference schedule.

So far, he can’t help but smile.

Except for one blip Monday against New London (a 50-48 loss at the Notre Dame-Fairfield holiday tournament), the sixth-ranked Tigers have navigated a difficult early season schedule with three wins in four games. The latest came Thursday afternoon when Hand led wire-to-wire to beat E.O. Smith 44-31 in an inter-conference battle between two perennial state powers.

“We knew we were going to find out some things about our team during the break with three games in four days,” Tredwell said. “We found out we’re tough.”

Hand’s top scorer Sophia Coppola (12 points) agreed that it will help the Tigers prepare for down the road.

“It’s a really good win,” she said. “It will prepare us for the SCCs and states.”

Hand raced out to a quick 9-3 lead less than two and a half minutes into the game, but only led 13-9 after one quarter thanks to four points by Madison Hughes (11 points) and three from Claire Greene (seven points) of E.O. Smith.

A pair of free throws by Hughes pulled the Panthers as close as they would get for the rest of the game.

Then came the key two minutes right before halftime when Hughes came out of the game for a rest.

“Clearly their focus was getting the ball to her at the high post and let her make plays,” Tredwell said. “She’s big, strong and can score from multiple angles. Without her, they were looking for someone to take over.”

It turned out to be huge. Hand went on an 11-0 run, most of it with Hughes on the bench to close out the first half as the Panthers couldn’t get the ball inside at all.

“We have a rotation that we want to give our kids a blow and that kid plays her heart out as long as she’s in there,” E.O. Smith coach Mary Roickle said. “I thought it was a good time to give her the blow and it didn’t work out.”

Along with a trey by Natalie Lucas (11 points), Hand’s Broke Salutari (10 points) canned both of her 3-pointers in the final six minutes of the first half.

“That’s huge,” Tredwell said. “When Brooke is hitting shots, everyone gets a little more bounce in their step,” Tredwell said. “She can still create, give a little nod fake and get the ball to someone else.”

After Kate McAvoy opened the second half with a three-pointer to pull the Panthers within 13 points, 29-16, Hand went on an 8-3 run to close out the third quarter, but Tredwell knew the Tigers weren’t home free just yet.

“With this team I wasn’t going to feel good until the final buzzer,” Tredwell said. “I looked up when we were up 18 in the third and I didn’t feel good about this at all. I wanted to see zeroes on the clock.”

And he had good reason as E.O. Smith scored the first nine points of the quarter to cut the deficit to 37-28., but Salutari ended that spurt with a baseline drive for a bucket that pushed the Tigers’ lead back into double figures, 39-28, edge with 4:36 to go.

E.O. Smith (4-2) only scored three points in the final 4:56 of the game.

“Our difficulty was getting inside outside looks,” Roickle said. “They widened that zone really well and it was hard for us to get good ball reversal. Instead of looking middle, look inside, then make that quick pass, we were just zipping the ball instead of looking. And we missed a lot of layups.”