GIRLS' BASKETBALL: Branford edges West Haven

WEST HAVEN — With half the season gone, time is running short for the West Haven girls’ basketball team. Needing five more wins to qualify for the state tournament, the Westies would like to get those victories sooner rather than later.

West Haven will have to wait three more days to attempt its next victory. Falling behind early and trailing by seven points at halftime, the Westies rallied but fell short in a 44-42 loss to Branford at West Haven High Tuesday night.

The loss dropped West Haven to 3-7 with 10 games remaining to pick up five victories.

“We are running out of time,” West Haven coach Jim Eagan said. “But, you can’t give up offensive rebounds and put backs, and you have to make your layups and foul shots. We did not do that.”

Eagan’s frustration came from the start of the third quarter as the Westies trailed by seven points to start the second half and held Branford on its opening possession for nearly 1 minute, 30 seconds. After Branford (5-4) finally got a shot off that missed the mark, the Hornets got the offensive rebound and Amber Markovitz turned the rebound into a basket for a 28-19 lead.

Amanda Martino hit a field goal for West Haven before the Hornets again needed time to get a shot off on their next possession. Again, a missed shot by the Hornets was turned into an offensive rebound and a basket by Tatiana Alvarado to get the lead back to nine.

“We missed three breakaway layups and we missed foul shots,” Eagan said. “In the first half alone, we missed six foul shots. We had a chance at the end but, we did not get it done.”

Branford, which won its second straight game, scored eight points in the third quarter off offensive rebounds and led 35-30 after three quarters.

Trailing 30-21, an offensive rebound and basket by Jayva Johnson, a jumper by Ava Gambardella and an offensive rebound and basket by Gambardella got the Westies within 32-27. Kial Watts closed the quarter with a 3-pointer, getting the Westies within 35-30.

The Westies got within a point to start the fourth quarter on a basket by Johnson and two free throws by Watts. Branford’s Hannah Zampano and Markovitz responded as Zampano answered with a bucket and Markovitz hit a pair of free throws for a 39-34 lead.

Johnson hit a pair of free throws and Martino hit a basket to cut the deficit to 39-38 before Gabriella Melgar extended Branford’s lead to 41-38.

The Westies failed to capitalize on their final chances as Branford’s Jenna Walsh sandwich three free throws around a Katy Hoyt basket to give the Hornets a 44-42 lead. West Haven had one final chance to tie or win the game but Maggie Borer’s 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.

“We are right there,” Eagan said. “We are 3-7 and you would think I am crazy. We could be 10-0 or anywhere in between. We lost our last three games by one, three and four points. Those could have been wins. We have been in every game.”

The Westies did not help matters from the free-throw line where West Haven shot only 53 percent (10-of-19). The missed free throws coupled with missed layups spelled a loss at the season’s halfway point.

“We missed a lot of free throws,” Eagan said. “That is unacceptable. We missed free throws and layups. That’s the difference in the game.”

Branford jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead to start the game on a basket by Markovitz and a 3-pointer by Robin Norko. A free throw and basket by Johnson got West Haven within two points before Ellery Riccio hit a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 8-3.

Trailing 11-4 after Walsh’s 3-pointer, West Haven bounced back with a 3-pointer by Watts. Led by four points by Zampano and two more by Melgar, Branford opened the second quarter on a 6-2 run to give Branford a 19-10 lead.

West Haven struggled throughout the game as the team played without point guard Mykelle Coleman, who was out sick. Missing Coleman’s leadership on the court, the Westies started slowly, which proved to be the difference in the end.

“Sometimes, you take Mykelle for granted,” Eagan said. “We could not run our offense. We struggled on offense without her.

“I am disappointed. We played them a lot better than we played them in the first game. We didn’t help with the missed free throws and layups.”

Markovitz and Walsh led Branford with nine points apiece. Johnson finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Watts had her best game as a Westie with 12 points and seven rebounds.