No. 1 Capital ousts No. 4 Ledyard in Class L semis
Colchester - To properly frame things, know that Tuesday night's opponent, Hartford Capital, has one player being recruited by more than 20 Division I women's basketball programs, including Tennessee.
Kiah Gillespie, a 6-foot-2 junior, is ranked as the ninth best forward in the country, according to ESPN.com, and the 42nd best recruit in the nation.
Sophomore Desiree Elmore is being recruited by Marquette, Syracuse, St. John's and Georgia Tech.
The Trailblazers (26-0) are ranked first in the state and are the top-seeded team in the Class L state tournament.
Having said that, the fourth-seeded Ledyard High School girls' basketball team was angry it couldn't win the semifinal game against Capital, played at Bacon Academy.
Capital won 80-61, advancing to the championship game against No. 3 Weaver to be played this weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Trailblazers are last year's Class S champions, bumped this season to Class L.
But the game wasn't without its entertainment value, as Ledyard (22-4) was outscored by Capital by just one in the second half, 36-35, pulling within 12 five times in the second half but unable to get over that sticking point.
The Colonels were only the third team to break 60 against the Trailblazers this year and the only team in Connecticut. The other two were Capitol Christian Academy of Maryland (66) and Murry Bergtraum of New York (70).
"I knew when we walked in, I thought I was going to see 10 6-5 girls who were going to be shooting at halfcourt," Ledyard senior Ari Fustini said. "But they were like us. We're mad because we know we had a chance.
"I think when we were coming out of halftime (down 44-26), we thought, you know, 'We're not going to get that back.' But until he put the subs in, everyone did everything they could to help us get it back."
Capital's offense continued to pour it on, greatly affecting Ledyard's ability to overcome the 12-point barrier. Elmore finished with 27 points, 14 in the third quarter, and Gillespie had 19. Freshman Angelique Rodriguez added 16 points, hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute before halftime to put the Trailblazers up 18.
But Ledyard made Capital work, too, with the front line of 6-3 Michelle Klinikowski (21 points) and 6-4 Hannah Hutchins (17 points) leading the way.
"In practice, all the coaches stressed the pump fake," Capital's Elmore said. "I didn't think it was going to work. I had to learn the hard way. They were blocking all my shots."
Ledyard pulled to within 14 at the end of the third quarter on an offensive rebound at the buzzer by Klinikowski and got it to 12 on the first play of the fourth quarter on a drive by Fustini.
The Colonels trailed by 12 for the final time with under two minutes remaining, 73-61, on a basket by Klinikowski, which was followed immediately by a 3 from Rodriguez.
Said Ledyard coach Adam Baber: "I'm very proud of our girls. We didn't want to dig ourselves an 18-point grave, which we did. We made Capital Prep work and they responded."
Baber was asked what gave his team the belief it could win against Capital and the hype surrounding the Trailblazers.
"We've been winning the last four years," Baber said. "We just had to put it all together. ... Competing? Yeah it was fun. It was fun. They busted their humps today. That's for sure."
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