Career Magnet closed out the third quarter with a 6-0 run to take a 29-26 lead, and held off the Weston High girls basketball team in the fourth quarter for a 39-34 win in Saturday’s Class M state semifinals at Bunnell High School in Stratford.
The ninth-seeded Trojans, looking to reach the state finals for the first time in more than 40 years, finished the season at 18-7.
“I’m just very proud of our kids. How could you not be? They didn’t give up,” said Weston head coach Dan Rosen. “They battled. We got behind. We came back. We got the lead. A couple of shots that usually fall didn’t fall tonight, and we had a little trouble on the boards.
“That’s a good team,” he said, pointing to Career.
The game was low-scoring and tight the whole way, with 20th-seeded Career leading 16-13 at the half on a late 3-pointer by Kayla Franklin.
Weston took a 19-17 lead early in the third quarter on the nice baseline drive and reverse layup by Kate Joyce. A pull-up jumper by Katie Orefice and inside basket by Grace Toner capped off a 10-3 run to open the period, giving the Trojans their biggest lead, 23-19, midway through the quarter.
Four straight points by Career’s Ky’Jae Hargrove tied the game at 23-23. Orefice’s step-back 3-pointer from the top of the key put Weston back up 26-23 with two minutes left in the period. Career scored the next six points, taking the lead, 27-26, on a fast-break basket by Hargrove. After a scramble for a loose ball in the lane, Yariliz Santiago banked in a shot at the buzzer to make it 29-26 Career after three.
A free throw by Joyce cut the gap to 29-27 early in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers pulled the ball out and slowed things down, forcing Weston to come out of its zone defense. When the Trojans did come out, Hargrove took advantage, driving to the hoop to score a bucket and then driving and dishing off to Santiago for a basket, making it 33-27 with 3:30 left.
A putback by Toner cut the lead to 33-29. After that, Weston was forced to foul and send Career to the foul line. The Panthers did miss two free throws, but came up with the offensive rebound both times. Finally, Hargrove hit both ends of a one-and-one to up the lead to 36-29 with about a minute left, and a free throw by Carmen Rosemond gave Career the biggest lead by either team, 37-29.
Career Magnet (18-9) will play East Haven in the Class M finals next weekend.
Orefice led Weston with 14 points and also had five rebounds and one assist. Joyce finished with nine points, five rebounds and two assists. Toner also hit for nine points and had four rebounds. Georgia Burkard added two points and had three rebounds and two blocked shots. Jen Welsh contributed two rebounds and an assist, and Bridget Angus had three rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot.
Hargrove led the Panthers with 21 points, 14 of them coming in the second half. Santiago had nine points and six rebounds, and Rosemond had four points and seven rebounds. Franklin added three points and had five rebounds. Ciara Little also had three points and five rebounds.
Career finished with a 28-21 edge in rebounds, and pulled down 17 offensive rebounds.
Rosen said the loss didn’t take anything away from what the Trojans accomplished this season.
“I think we really matured. We played like a veteran team throughout the postseason, even right down to the last play that we ran perfectly to get Grace Toner a three in the corner. To do that when you’re kind of out of the game, that just shows the kind of pride and maturity that the kids have right now,” he said. “We hoped we would make a deep playoff run. We knew we could. I’m thrilled with the overall season and where we are, and I’m just very proud of the kids and my coaching staff. I think it’s the best coaching staff in the state. It’s a hard-working group and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Rosen also praised the team’s three seniors, Toner, Burkard and Grace DiMarco for helping turn the program around over their four years. The season before those three came to Weston High, the Trojans had gone 0-20. Every year since that has seen marked improvement.
“They took our program to new heights. We’re going to miss them but they leave us in better shape for the future. They leave a legacy behind.”
Career Magnet 39, Weston 34
Ky’Jae Hargrove 7 6-8 21; Yariliz Santiago 4 0-0 9; Kayla Franklin 1 0-0 3; Ciara Little 1 1-2 3; Carmen Rosemond 0 4-7 4; Arkaysee Booker 0 0-0 0; Kayla Emery 0 0-0 0; TOTAL – 13 11-17 39.
Katie Orefice 6 1-3 14; Georgia Burkard 1 0-0 2; Grace Toner 4 0-0 9; Jen Welsh 0 0-0 0; Kate Joyce 3 3-6 9; Bridget Angus 0 0-0 0; Claire DiMarco 0 0-0 0; TOTAL – 14 4-9 34.
Career 10 6 13 10 39
Weston 8 5 13 8 34
3-pointers: Career – Franklin, Santiago; Weston – Orefice, Toner.