Simsbury defense stifles Windsor, sends Trojans to the Class L girls basketball semifinal

SIMSBURY – In the second quarter of the Class L quarterfinal game, Amanda Gallagher scored Simsbury’s first basket of the quarter with a little over a minute left before halftime.

That kind of scoring drought would have flustered the Trojans in the past and Tuesday night, they were playing Windsor, the CCC tournament champion, winner of 12 straight games, one of the hottest teams in the state.

But it didn’t. Simsbury kept playing its defense like it practiced this week, with senior Olivia Jarvis on Rhode Island-bound Ayanna Franks, Windsor’s 2,000-point scorer, and Gallagher on transfer sophomore Kamaria Bowens.

Eventually, Simsbury’s shots fell. And after getting knocked out of the state tournament last year by Windsor, Simsbury beat the 10th-seeded Warriors 37-31 to advance to the Class L semifinal game.

No. 2 Simsbury (21-4) will face No. 3 New Milford, a 57-36 winner over Masuk Tuesday night, on Saturday at 7 p.m. at New Britain High.

“We’d like to make as many baskets as we can, but defense is what we built this program on; it’s what we pride ourselves on,” Simsbury coach Sam Zullo said.

“Amanda’s guarded (Franks) for the last three years but with Bowens coming in, we felt this was the right matchup for us. OJ and Amanda did a great job on those two kids, but you have to look at what everybody else did out there as well. Our gap help was really good. It was really disciplined and when it wasn’t, (Windsor) took advantage of it.”

Windsor’s last loss came on Jan. 24 to Simsbury, 46-39. Bowens, who transferred from Morris Catholic (N.J.), played in the next game against Newington and Windsor started winning and didn’t stop until Tuesday.

“They’re a good defensive team,” Windsor coach Brittany Huggins said of Simsbury. “They do a great job on help defense. We just needed to find the open player; I think we did at times, but we did not make shots today. We had opportunities to hit wide open shots. Tonight wasn’t our night.

“This is tough. I feel bad for our seniors.”

Gallagher led Simsbury with 26 points, with 15 coming in the fourth quarter when the Trojans broke open the game. Simsbury held Franks to 10 points, with a lone 3-pointer in the second half, and Bowens to nine.

“We came into this week knowing who we were going against two D1 players and a couple good other shooters,” Jarvis said. “We practiced this weekend against the boys varsity team. Then we brought in a couple of guys who play in the men’s league so we could highlight what kind of things they do. We were ready. We had a plan and we stuck to it.

“I’ve guarded players like (Franks), but she’s on a completely different level of athleticism. She’s an insane baller. I knew I was up for the challenge. I wasn’t going to get into foul trouble. I always used to jump when the players shot it, and they would fall and I would get a foul. I really worked on that last practice because she does that, she draws fouls really well. I tried not to do that. The help defense was amazing.”

Simsbury led 10-3 after the first quarter, then Windsor crept back in to take a 15-14 lead on a Bowens basket 20 seconds before halftime. But Jarvis hit a short jumper off an inbounds play to give Simsbury a 16-15 lead going into the locker room.

There was not a lot of scoring in the third quarter. Windsor was also playing tough defense and shots weren’t falling for either team. The Warriors led 20-18 after three.

Gallagher and Jarvis scored all of Simsbury’s points in the fourth. Gallagher hit a big 3 at the 6:11 mark to give Simsbury a 23-22 lead and Jarvis had a shot to give the Trojans a 29-26 lead with 1:32 to go. Gallagher made her free throws down the stretch.

“That’s how it’s been our entire season,” Jarvis said. “If we don’t make shots, usually we lost. The first three quarters were a little rough, none of the shots were falling, but fourth quarter, we came out, we kind of had a feeling, ‘Let’s get this job done.’ We were composed. We could’ve collapsed but we kept our composure, and it was great.”