Ledyard - A conversation with Ledyard coach Adam Baber after Thursday night's game went something like this:
Question: "So, you guys set the tone right away in the first half?"
Baber: "It wasn't me. It was all her (pointing across the hall to 6-foot-1 sophomore Michelle Klinikowski). She handled it. It was very impressive."
Klinikowski, in fact, finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds for the Colonels in the second round of the Class L state tournament for girls' basketball, with No. 8 Ledyard beating No. 9 Torrington 50-35 at Standish Gym.
Ledyard (20-4) advanced to Monday's quarterfinals to face top-ranked Bacon Academy, the defending Class L champion. Bacon Academy topped No. 17 Brookfield 57-42, also Thursday.
Klinikowski scored 17 points in the first half to give Ledyard a 24-16 lead, including accounting for Ledyard's first four baskets on offensive rebounds. She secured another offensive rebound which gave teammate Olivia DelGrosso the opportunity to hit a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 20 seconds in the first quarter that gave Ledyard an 11-2 lead.
Baber said the coaching staff, which often sets goals for the Ledyard players prior to games, picked Klinikowski to challenge against Torrington.
"In front of the team we challenged Michelle. We said 'Michelle, 10 rebounds tonight.' And the team supported her," Baber said. "She was an animal."
Bianca Matira added 10 points, including two 3-pointers, for Ledyard, DelGrosso had nine points and Kylie Fustini had eight points and seven rebounds. Point guard Ari Fustini added 10 assists.
The Colonels also played with a lot of patience, something they don't always do against a zone defense. Baber said he expected Torrington to play at least some man-to-man, according to his scouting reports, and the Red Raiders sat in a zone the entire game.
Torrington slowed the game down after Ledyard's torrid start, holding the ball for the final minute and a half of the first quarter to take the final shot. The Red Raiders got within two in the second quarter, 16-14 on a basket by Mia Barbieri, but Klinikowski went on another scoring spree to end the half, scoring the team's final seven points.
"We out-patienced them," Baber said. "I don't know if that's a word, but that's what we did. We didn't take any quick shots like we've done in the past. For the most part, we handled it well."
"They always like to have a little challenge," Klinikowski said of her part in the win. "I thought, 'It sounds good to me; it makes me have to reach.' The whole team does a great job keeping me pumped up because they're all doing their part, too."
Bacon Academy defeated Ledyard during the regular season in overtime, 68-63 on Dec. 21, accounting for Ledyard's first loss of the year. Bacon was ranked fourth in the state at the time.
Kylie Fustini had 22 points and 14 rebounds in that game, Klinikowski 15 points and DelGrosso 14 for Ledyard. Taylor McLaughlin finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds for Bacon, which went 8-for-9 from the free throw line in overtime.
"We know Bacon's going to be tough," Baber said. "It's going to be a different atmosphere at Bacon. We're going to have to match their intensity."
"It's a really big win, a really big step for the team," Klinikowski said. "We did a good job playing together."