Victoria girls pick up road win
By CONOR NICHOLL
PLAINVILLE -- The Victoria High School girls' basketball team lost just two key players and returned its two leading scorers from last season's 16-7 team. The squad reached the Class 1A Division II state tournament, the first Knights' team in 20 years to accomplish the feat.
This winter, Victoria started 7-7 and entered Tuesday's contest at Plainville with five losses in its last seven games. Before the game, coach Anne Dinkel emphasized the Knights needing to start a winning streak before the final month of the regular season.
Victoria, which had struggled in close games all year, came back in the fourth quarter, and helped by a rare baseball pass with 7.3 seconds left, earned a 47-46 road victory.
"It was great to finish strong there at the end," Dinkel said. "That has been our motto all year, and I told the girls, 'The little ones will add up, and the big ones will make a difference.' This is one that really counted for us."
With the game tied at 46, Victoria inbounded the ball underneath its own basket. Junior Kristin Huser, one of the area's top players, recognized the Plainville defense. In the huddle, she diagramed a play Victoria hadn't ran before. Senior Ashley Dome inbounded the ball to Huser, who quickly threw a baseball pass down the court to junior Audra Nowak.
"I set that up," Huser said. "Before they called the timeout, I noticed that they were playing us on our post up there, and Audra would have an easy backdoor, so I knew the baseball pass all the way from the baseline might be a little difficult.
"Maybe passing it in and then making that shorter baseball pass was easier. I guess it worked," she added with a smile.
Nowak hauled in the perfect pass and drew a foul from Plainville senior Shelby Pywell.
"She is a good ballplayer," Plainville coach Ron Wolf said of Huser. "In my mind, there is about one girl on that team who makes that pass. She made a good play, and beat us to the bucket. A one-point game like this, you have got to make plays. They executed at the end of the game a little better than we did."
A 73 percent free throw shooter, she missed the first free throw before the Cardinals called timeout. Then, Nowak (game-high 19 points) made the second. Plainville never had a good look at the basket and dropped to 8-6, already a big change from last winter's 3-18 team. Senior point guard Hannah Friend led Plainville with 18 points.
"We knew Audra would get it," Dinkel said. "We just have that much confidence in her. We just kind of played off, 'When we make this free throw, let's come out and play the good defense, and there is no way they are going to get a shot off.' That's what we did."
Victoria had been 1-4 in games decided by four points or fewer. Three of those losses came since Jan. 8 and has helped knock the Knights out of the state rankings. Victoria was No. 9 in Class 1A Division I to start the year and rose to No. 7 in the Jan. 7 poll.
Paced by Huser and Nowak, the squad's top two scorers in each of the past two years, Victoria came back from a 41-38 deficit in the final four and half minutes.
"It's just a big step forward, because we have had so many close ones," said Nowak, who led Victoria with 19 points. "It gets our hopes back forward that we can win the close ones."
Huser, who finished with 14 points, six steals and four assists, gave Victoria a 46-44 lead with 56 seconds left on a backcourt steal. Plainville forward Kim Junkmeier handled the ball in the backcourt and tried to pass over Huser. Instead, she threw it right to Huser, who took it in and scored. Plainville tied the game on two free throws, setting the stage for the baseball pass and a much-needed victory.
"We have an opportunity to get some wins in a row," Dinkel said.
"We need to come out and play hard and get that winning streak and feel good about things going into the end of February."