Norwalk’s ability to curb the momentum after Hillhouse went on a 15-0 run to go ahead by 15 points midway through the second quarter on Thursday was impressive.
The fact that Norwalk was able to regain the lead late in the third quarter against the three-time defending state champions in a hostile environment was remarkable.
Despite all the ups and downs this season, the 12th-seeded Bears played inspired and proved they belonged, before falling 64-57 to Hillhouse in the second round of the Class LL state tournament. The Bears did a little, but fifth-seeded Hillhouse did more with help from All-American guard Bria Holmes, who led all scorers with 33 points.
“We played well. We didn’t execute as much, we had a lot of turnovers and we didn’t finish on a lot of layups,” Norwalk guard Katie Schmidt said. “Foul shots were a big factor.”
The Bears could’ve easily cracked after falling down by eight points late in the fourth quarter but they showed incredible moxie, and rallied to within 60-57 on a 3-pointer by Schmidt with under a minute left.
“That’s usually the hardest time to play together, in the end,” said Schmidt, who scored 10 points. “We did it well but it just didn’t translate all the way.”
Holmes, who’s headed to play at West Virginia next season, did damage all over the court, especially late. She scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and hit five pivotal free throws down the stretch. You got the feeling that Holmes wasn’t going to let Hillhouse fall short, no matter what.
“We just had to play Hillhouse basketball and that’s what we did. We came out with the W,” Holmes said. “That’s all that mattered.”
Holmes was a constant matchup nightmare for Norwalk. She scored from the perimeter, hitting four 3-pointers, she scored inside, off offensive rebounds and drives to the basket.
“She was definitely tough for us to guard,” Norwalk center Emma Oyomba said. ”She had all the assets of an ideal basketball player. She was really fast, she could dribble and could jump really high. You just had to stick with her.”
“If she wants to go to the basket, no one in the state, maybe besides the girls at Career High School, can stop her,” Norwalk head coach Rick Fuller said.
Of course it’s fourth-seeded Career (20-2), the SCC champions, who Hillhouse will be matched up against in the state quarterfinals, on Monday at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven.
Norwalk, which hadn’t reached the second round of the state tournament since 2002, ended the season 16-7 overall. The Bears were a difficult team to gauge this season as they were streaky. They answered an 0-3 start to the year with eight straight wins, and put together a seven-game winning streak later in the season.
The Bears showed flashes of being a contender against Hillhouse, making timely runs, but the three-time defending Class L state champs were just too much to handle.
Hillhouse (20-2) went into scoring slumps at times, but sprinkled in runs of 15-0, 8-0 and 8-0.
“I’m proud of all my girls on the team,” Fuller said. “This is not easy to do, to start in November and go all the way to March and play basketball. I’m just happy we’re one of the last teams standing in the state.”