HINCKLEY – For Newark High School coach Barb Scott and junior forward Alyssa Gittins, it was a special evening because both were celebrating their birthdays. However, the night soon got dramatically better for the pair and the Lady Norsemen basketball team in general.
Newark erased a three-point deficit with under a minute to play by scoring the final five points of the contest, the last of them a lay-in by freshman Madi Malone as time expired to give the Lady Norsemen a heart-pounding 50-48 Class 1A Sectional semifinal victory over Kewanee-Wethersfield on Tuesday here at Hinckley-Big Rock High School.
Malone (eight points, five rebounds) put in the biggest shot of her young career after Meggie Scott drained a huge three-pointer with 45 seconds to go to tie the game at 48. That shot was part of a huge night for Scott, Newark's sophomore point guard, who lit up the nets by recording a career-best and team-leading 19 points, including four other triples and 10 crucial fourth-quarter tallies that sparked the Lady Norsemen.
Newark also held Wethersfield junior all-state candidate Brittney Litton to a mere two points, far below her 19.5 points per game average coming into the contest.
The Lady Norsemen (23-6), ranked No. 10 in the final Associated Press 1A poll, will now take on No. 1-rated and defending 1A champion Annawan – 33-0 and winners of 54 consecutive ballgames – on Thursday evening for the H-BR sectional crown. Newark will be seeking its first sectional championship since its only title back in 2008.
"It was just an incredible sectional win for us and Madi was in the exact right spot and she put it in with the composure of a senior, not a freshman," coach Scott said. "She got a great pass from J.J. (Jocelyn Mitchell) and that capped off a great second half for us where we had a fantastic third quarter and then came back late for the huge victory. Our defensive focus was also outstanding, holding their best player (Litton) to only two points. That was the focal point where I thought we did an incredible job."
The Lady Norsemen (18-of-43 shooting, 42 percent) also received five points each from senior Alyssa Schofield and freshman Brooke Kala. Junior Evie Martin added four tallies and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Wethersfield (25-9) was led by the 19-point, eight-rebound effort of sophomore Lexi Nichols. Junior Tess Anderson chipped in 12, but the Flying Geese shot only 18-of-51 (34 percent) from the field and a paltry 8-of-18 (44 percent) at the free throw line. Without Litton connecting, it felt the sting of a tough loss.
"This one hurts for sure, but we just didn't get it done defensively tonight when we needed to against a very good Newark team," said WHS coach Shane Tucker. "Yeah, we would've liked to have Brittney get her normal points, but some of our other girls stepped up tonight, too. But credit Newark for that and they made the play at the end when they needed it."
Meggie Scott started off red-hot in the first quarter, nailing a trio of 3-balls at 5:25, 1:20 and from the key at the buzzer, though Wethersfield still owned a 16-14 advantage.
"I didn't shoot well in our regional championship against Aurora Christian, so I knew I had to come out with some confidence in my shot that I always have," Meggie Scott said. "Those first few 3-pointers really got me going tonight and I felt it the rest of the way."
The Flying Geese increased the lead to 26-20 at the half before Schofield scored the first five points of the third quarter with a deuce and a right-baseline triple at 6:45. That spurred a 12-5 Newark run in the quarter to eventually take a 32-31 lead entering the final frame.
There, Meggie Scott took over offensively with seven points that helped stake her team to a 43-40 lead with 2:50 remaining. The Flying Geese went on a 8-2 run that put them up 48-45 before Meggie Scott hit her final triple and Malone finished things out in style.
"Meggie passed it to J.J. and then she got it to me and I just put it in," Malone said. "Winning that for my team was amazing. We can't wait to play Annawan on Thursday."
Newark 50, Kewanee-Wethersfield 48
WETHERSFIELD (48) – Litton 1 0-0 2, Hager 0 0-0 0, Nichols 7 4-10 19, Anderson 4 4-7 12, Rashid 3 0-0 9, Perez 3 0-1 6. Totals 18-51 8-18 48.
NEWARK (50) – Kala 2 1-4 5, Schofield 2 0-0 5, Sweeney 1 0-0 2, Scott 6 2-2 19, Tomsa 3 0-0 7, Gittins 0 0-0 0, Mitchell 0 0-0 0, Malone 3 2-2 8, Martin 1 2-4 4. Totals 18-43 7-12 50.
Wethersfield (25-9) 16 10 5 17 – 48
Newark (23-6) 14 6 12 18 – 50
3-point goals – Wethersfield 4-15 (Rashid 3, Nichols); Newark 7-17 (Scott 5, Schofield, Tomsa). Rebounds – Wethersfield 26 (Nichols 8); Newark 30 (Martin 11, Malone 5). Turnovers – Wethersfield 12; Newark 19. Total fouls (fouled out) – Wethersfield 11; Newark 17 (Martin).