Youth serves Amity girls basketball team well in win over Hillhouse

NEW HAVEN >> Amity girls basketball coach Michelle Shoop enters this season with a young lineup to play with on the court. Through two games, that youth has not been fazed.

After posting a season-opening victory over Kolbe Cathedral, Amity took home its second straight contest to start the season with a 53-48 victory over Hillhouse at Hillhouse High Friday evening.

“We are just looking to the next game,” Shoop said after her team improved to 2-0. “We are looking at the game and seeing what we can learn from it.”

Trailing by five points to start the fourth quarter, a tenacious Spartans team poured in 25 points in the final eight minutes to pull out the victory. What made the victory even more impressive was the fact a sophomore, Hannah Iwaszkiewicz, scored four points in 19 seconds to give the Spartans a 49-46 lead with 53 seconds to go in the game.

A freshman, Jillian Martin, then iced the game with three free throws to increase the margin to 52-46 with under 30 seconds to go. In between was a saved loose ball by sophomore Tara Laugeni to keep possession in Amity’s hands.

“We lost so much to graduation,” Shoop said. “We are very young. But, I am really happy with the amount of good players we have. We have been playing as a team. They understand they have to work hard to get everything they want.”

Trailing 33-28 entering the final quarter, the Spartans went on an 8-0 run to take a 36-35 lead with 5:22 remaining, with the last two points coming on a pair of free throws by Laugeni.

The game then went back-and-forth before a 3-pointer by Hillhouse’s Kayla Jefferson followed by two more free throws from Jefferson gave the Academics a 44-40 lead with under three minutes to go.

“The fourth quarter hurt us,” Hillhouse coach Catrina Hawley-Stewart said after her team fell to 0-1. “We allowed 25 points. They won a lot of the 50-50 balls. They got their hands on those balls. We were not strong enough to secure the ball.”

Buckets by Amity’s Laugeni and Iwaszkiewicz evened the game at 44, before Hillhouse’s Tenaja London gave the Academics their last lead of the game at 46-44.

“In a game like this, five points is nothing,” Shoop said of her team’s deficit. “With such a quick pace, we knew points would come. They presented a lot of challenges for us. I am very happy with the way we played.”

From there, it was all Spartans as they went on another 8-0 run, closing the game with a 9-2 spurt. Sophomore Hayley Esparo started the run with a free throw, before Iwaszkiewicz followed with a basket, a steal, and another basket to give Amity a 49-46 lead.

“It is a pretty big deal for us to pull through at the end of the game like we did,” Iwaszkiewicz said. “We beat a team which is very athletic. We worked hard. We were relaxed at the end. We had so much support from the bench. We are all very good friends. We were all calm and collective at the end.”

Hillhouse led after each quarter, including holding leads of 13-7 after one quarter and 21-16 at the half. London led the Academics with six points in the opening quarter, while Tyree Allen, who gave the Academics a 19-7 lead in the second quarter, popped in four points in the quarter.

Amity clawed its way back into the game before the half as Emma Gehr knocked down a 3-pointer and Martin followed with another three to get the Spartans within 20-16.

Iwaszkiewicz led Amity with 12 points, while Martin and Amanda Granados each had 10 points, and Laugeni and Gehr each finished with nine.

Jefferson led the Academics with 17 points, while London finished with 12.