No. 15 Wildcats go down fighting against Newington in Class LL quarters

Mar. 4—NEWINGTON — Nevaeh Yorke took a seat on the bench, having picked up her fifth foul late Monday night, and received a standing ovation from the Norwich Free Academy fans who have watched her for the last four years.

Yorke fouled out trying to pick up a steal. Before that, despite NFA's 15-point deficit at halftime, Yorke came out in the second half and drilled a 3-point field goal, then, ahead on the break, sent a floater with a soft touch to the basket for two more.

She crashed her way into the paint in the fourth quarter and let the ball fly, missing but allowing teammate Emily Orcutt to get the rebound for a three-point play.

And though 15th-seeded NFA fell to No. 7 Newington 58-40 in the Class LL state tournament quarterfinals, that's how Yorke ended her career with the Wildcats. Trying to come up with one final steal. Having earned two memorable wins to get to the quarters in the first place.

NFA coach Courtney Gomez gave her team a rallying speech at halftime.

"I said to them, 'It's 30-15. It's March Madness, right? Like crazier things have happened. You've seen teams come back from 15-point deficits and win games,'" Gomez said.

"I go, 'If you're gonna go down, you go down with everything that you have. Fight for every possession. Get the 50-50 balls. And if they beat us and we give everything we have, then they earned it. You walk off the floor, you're proud.'"

Orcutt led NFA (14-10) with 12 points and Brooke Stringer and SeSe Atchinson had nine each. Brooke Bolles, Amanda Brink and Willow Ludlow joined Yorke in playing their final game for the Wildcats.

Newington started out with a 7-0 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by Kendall Miller and Haylie Sanchez and a free throw by Bela Cucuta. NFA pulled within 7-4 on a 3 by Atchinson and the Wildcats trailed 11-8 on a basket by Orcutt with 2 minutes, 22 seconds to play in the quarter.

But Newington's lead ballooned to 20-8 on a 3 by Cucuta midway through the second quarter and the Nor'Easters were firing on all cylinders, much like NFA did in winning its second-round game Friday over No. 2 St. Joseph, 59-28.

Cucuta had 18 points, Miller 17 and Sanchez 13 for Newington, which reached its third straight semifinal, one in Class L and the last two in LL. Newington will take on No. 3 Hamden in the semis on Friday.

NFA lost to Newington during the regular season 44-32 on Feb. 1.

"We're typically not built for a 15-point deficit," Gomez said. "I was hoping that we started off a little bit better defensively. I think that (Sanchez) hitting that 3 in the beginning was kind of a downer.

"We stayed resilient through the first quarter, but we couldn't get into a flow offensively. That's kind of how they played us last time, in a sagging sort of 2-3 zone to really take away our post play."

Gomez called the win over St. Joseph the best in her five years as head coach — "it was nice to see them play with that confidence and that joy," Gomez said of the second-round win.

Orcutt earned Eastern Connecticut Conference All-Division I honors this season and Yorke, the point guard, was honorable mention.

Gomez said reaching the Class LL quarterfinals was a sign that the seniors left the program better than when they started and called it a starting point for next year's team.

"I'm proud of them," Gomez said. "Everyone wants to prepare for the joyful moment,, the joy of winning. You don't necessarily prepare for the heartbreak at the end of the season. ... This is the longest we've gone, this is the longest they've played into March and I think they didn't really want to see it end."

"I try to do what I can do to help our team; it just wasn't enough," Yorke said. "We do what we can do. We made a good run."