.

Coginchaug Holds Off Portland to Win Shoreline Title

Highlanders' comeback comes up just short

In front of a standing room only crowd Friday night, the Coginchaug Blue Devils hung on to defeat the Portland Lady Highlanders 42-41 in Durham to win the Shoreline Conference championship.

Leading most of the game and by as many as 13 points, the Blue Devils had to hold their breath in the closing seconds until Alyssa Unikewicz's attempt at a game-winning shot missed its mark.

Coginchaug's victory snapped a personal five-game skid against the Lady Highlanders and put an end to Portlands 14-game winning streak.

The Blue Devils sent an early message to Portland when junior Audrey Biesak blocked Shoreline Conference MVP Kelly Coleman's first shot attempt of the night. It was clear Coginchaug was going to make it difficult for Portland's senior to get any good looks at the basket.

Amanda Boyle (four points) got Coginchaug on the board first with a strong drive to the basket coming off a high screen set by Samantha Mancinelli.

The Blue Devils found themselves up 6-0 after getting some good interior passing from Biesak and Lauren Esposito leading to baskets by Kim Romonoff and Boyle.

After being out of synch the first half-dozen possessions, Portland (19-4) found Lindsey Dionne open on the left side of the key where she drained a three-pointer for Portland's first points of the game.  Dionne (19 points) heated up quickly and came right back with two more threes and at the 3:00 mark Portland was only trailing, 11-9.

Coleman (11 points) tied the score at 11, converting down low off an entry pass by Meaghan Rodgers.  The momentum had begun to swing in Portland's direction, at least momentarily. That was until Biesak hit a three and Mancinelli (19 points) went end to end for a lay up putting the Blue Devils up, 16-11.  Dionne finished the first quarter scoring with a nifty move of her own as she zigged and zagged her way to the basket for a lay up.

Dionne had eleven first-quarter points and continued her hot shooting by connecting on her fourth three of the game, tying the score at 16 early in the second quarter.

Coginchaug (20-3) regained its composure on offense and began to set better screens and showed better floor spacing, opening up lanes for Mancinelli, Biesak and Esposito as they cut and slashed to the hoop scoring almost at will as they opened up a 26-16 lead.

You just knew in a title game Portland would find a way to fight back and the answer was to stay with what got you here. After a Sarah Bierly field goal and a Coleman three-pointer, the Lady Highlands had cut the lead in half to 26-21 with 1:03 remaining in the half.

Then Coginchaug freshman Kim Romonoff scored two key baskets in the final minute to put the Blue Devils up at halftime, 30-21.

"With all the fans here I was pretty nervous, but it wore off after the game started," Romanoff said. "We've been talking about how we want to get four years ... up on that banner, we're just starting now."

There were times this season that Portland would barely allow 30 points in a game never mind a half, but as coach Nick Chaconis has always said, "Our offense will come off of our defense, and I told the team to keep fighting the way you are and clamp down on defense and our points will come."

With a half left to play in a title game, on your opponent's home court and having to overcome a nine-point margin to a quality team such as Coginchaug is certainly a tall order.  But nobody better than Chaconis' Lady Highlanders to take on the challenge.

Portland's halftime adjustments worked as the Highlanders held the Blue Devils to 12 second-half points, eight in the third quarter and four in the fourth.

Biesak, hampered by a sore thumb, came right out of the block in the third quarter ready to fire and hit the first shot of the half to put the Blue Devils up, 32-21.

Despite the injury, she still managed seven points, but Biesak wasn't near the player who hit 10 threes and scored 45 points in the two previous tournament games.

"Audrey hurt her thumb and had to come out, she carries us on offense so we had to come up with another plan and we just didn't have one," Coginchaug coach Rett Mancinelli said.

Portland remained patient on offense and let the game come to them, but Coginchaug was relentless in their pursuit of Coleman, denying her entry pass after entry pass. When she did get her hands on it, Jessica Solomon, Morgan Kuehnle or Boyle converged. 

"We had a pretty specific plan on how to deal with [Coleman] and Amanda Boyle, Jessica Solomon and Morgan Kyenhle did a heck of a job on her," Mancinelli said.

By this point, and with the officials  letting the teams play a very physical game, there were times when the players got a little chippy as the pressure of holding onto the lead or trying to overcome a deficit began to take center stage.

Sam Mancinelli did her best to make sure Portland didn't get too close when her basket with 1:00 left in the third gave Coginchaug a 38-25 lead. 

"I think we showed a lot of character tonight, when we got down 12 or 13 in the second half we fought back and showed no signs of quit," Chaconis said.  "Lindsey Dionne played a great game keeping us in it early and her senior leadership really came through tonight.  

"Sometimes it just isn't your night.  Give them credit." 

Rodgers came up with two very big three-pointers in the final minute to keep Portland within striking distance as she cut the lead to 38-31 entering the final quarter.

Romonoff got a quick basket on a fine drive down the lane early in the quarter and Coginchaug would score their final basket of the game with more than 5:00 left when Mancinelli took it to the basket off an assist from Biesak.

With the score 42-33, Portland continued to chip away at the lead and got it to four when from out of nowhere Coleman came streaking down the lane for an offensive rebound and put back of miss by Bierly. 

Portland was pumped and its defense created a five-second violation. Coleman eventually went to the free-throw line and hit both to inch Portland closer, 42-39, with 3:29 still left to play.  Coginchaug called timeout and coach Mancinelli reinforced what his team needed to do on both ends of the floor.

Defensive pressure, denying the ball inside to Coleman and covering Portland's three-point shooting attack worked as the Lady Highlanders could only squeeze out two more points on a Dionne basket off a Rodgers' assist.

Coginchaug, winners of 11 in a row, took the title in a game that turned out to be a real classic. One where either team could have won.

Portland and Coginchaug now move onto the Class S state tournament that begins next week, and who knows, maybe these two teams will meet again.

"It looks pretty good," Romanoff said of the Blue Devils' chances of going far if not winning it all. "I hope Audrey [Biesak] gets better so we have the shooting from the outside, but other than that, I think we are ready."

 

Portland (41)

 

Coginchaug (42)

 

FG

FTA

FTM

Pts

 

 

FG

FTA

FTM

Pts

Dionne

6

4

3

19

 

Boyle

2

0

0

4

Rodgers

3

0

0

8

 

Solomon

0

0

0

0

Unikewicz

0

0

0

0

 

Esposito

2

1

0

4

Ke.Coleman

3

4

4

11

 

Biesak

3

0

0

7

Bierly

1

2

1

3

 

Mancinelli

9

6

1

19

Ka.Coleman

0

0

0

0

 

Romanoff

4

0

0

8

Reimondo

0

0

0

0

 

Kuehnle

0

0

0

0

Totals

13

10

8

41

 

Totals

20

7

1

42

Halftime: Coginchaug 30, Portland 21. Personal fouls: Portland 12, Coginchaug 12. Fouled out: Rodgers. Three-pointers: Portland: Dionne (4), Rodgers (2), Coleman. Coginchaug: Biesak.

monocle February 26, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Kudos to both teams on a terrific game. CRHS's game plan re Coleman was outstanding: Holding her well under her PPG average was key. It looked to me like Biesak might've broken her thumb. Here's hoping that's not the case.

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