Simsbury girls beat ranked NY team hours after losing top player Lauren Sabia

Six basketballs seat in a rack.

Six basketballs seat in a rack.

Matt Brown / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Simsbury girls basketball coach Sam Zullo grew up playing high school basketball in the Albany, NY area and has always wanted to take his team to go compete against some of New York’s best teams.

Zullo, who played at Broadalbin-Perth where he owns the school scoring record with 1,674 points, did not know he would be doing so without Simsbury’s best player or how his team would respond to her absence.

Prior to this season, Zullo finally felt his Simsbury team was good enough to compete against some of New York’s best and scheduled two games over the December holiday break and two more this past weekend.

The hope was playing challenging teams on the road would better prepare Simsbury (11-2) for postseason play.

“We were 18-2 last season but it was as easy of an 18-2 as it could be,” Zullo said. “We weren’t ready for East Hartford in the CCC semis and, although we played well, the kids were not ready for Notre Dame in the state tournament. This season, I wanted to put us in every challenging situation I could and have the kids battle-tested come February and March.”

The December games went well with Simsbury defeating Shaker 38-31 and Bethlehem 63-58. Bethlehem is currently 12-1 and ranked No. 15 in NYS Class AA with its only loss coming to Simsbury.

Simsbury has dropped one game in the CCC this season, losing to Enfield 50-45 Dec. 21.

Heading into the weekend series at Averill Park Central, Simsbury had won eight straight and was on the way to beating CCC rival Conard 44-29 Friday afternoon when things took a terrible turn in the fourth quarter.

The Trojans leader, All-CCC and CSHCA All-State guard Lauren Sabia, went down with a knee injury and would not play in the New York games.

Sabia’s status for the rest of the season is unknown.

It was not ideal hours ahead of the second trip to New York but the Trojans had no other option than to go anyway.

Simsbury beat the No. 10 ranked team in New York, Shenendehowa, 53-52 in overtime Saturday behind juniors Amanda Gallagher (15 points, 4 steals) and Olivia Jarvis (18 points, 4 blocks, 15 rebounds).

In overtime, Simsbury rallied after being down by five, winning it on a Faye Kaplinksi put back with one second on the clock.

Kaplinski finished the game with 10 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. 

It was Shenendehowa’s second loss of the season

“The two juniors really stepped up on offense and defense and we beat a really good team Saturday,” Zullo said. “With Lauren out, Gallagher was really our only ballhandler and she handled the pressure Shen put on us really well. Shen runs and jumps and plays 11 kids and they pressure the ball. We had no practices to prepare to face them without our best player and the kids did an amazing job.”

Sunday, playing its third game in as many days, Simsbury only trailed by five at halftime but ultimately lost 59-31 to No. 3 ranked Averill Park, the defending Class A New York State champions.

Zullo said while Sabia’s status for the rest of the season is unclear and her absence would obviously hurt, he has a lot of confidence the players on the court can still meet the team’s goals of CCC and CIAC Class L titles.

“We don’t know about Lauren but with her we felt we had a shot to win everything. Without her, now we still know we can compete,” Zullo said. “If we end up playing without Lauren, we have seen that we can play against teams as good as we just played. The team we played Sunday would win our state championship.”

Simsbury has no time to rest, facing  E.O. Smith (10-2) Tuesday, then not playing a team with a losing record the rest of the regular season, all with Sabia possibly not on the court.