Bonilla, Stoddard help Waterford girls' hoop keep state tourney hopes alive

Groton — It was Senior Night for the Fitch girls’ basketball team on Wednesday night, funny given that the Falcons and opponent Waterford have so few on their rosters.

“It’s kind of ironic,” Waterford head coach Brian Fleming said. “Midway through the fourth quarter, I turned to my two seniors (Julianna Bonilla and Lili Stoddard) and I said, ‘I need you to play like seniors.’ And they did. They made some plays down the stretch.”

Bonilla and Stoddard scored all but two of their team’s points in the fourth quarter to help the Lancers pull away for a 43-31 win in an Eastern Connecticut Conference Division II game.

It’s the first two-game winning streak of the season for Waterford (7-12, 3-4) and kept its CIAC Class L tournament hopes alive.

Bonilla scored 12 of her game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter. She also had 14 rebounds and two steals. Stoddard had nine points and six rebounds. She and Bonilla scored 16 of the Lancers' 18 in the fourth.

Sophomore Alyssa Virtue had 11 points and five rebounds for the Falcons (8-12, 1-7), who finished their regular season. Junior Nyseanah Ishmael had eight points and four steals for Fitch and sophomore Charlotte Carney added 12 rebounds.

It’s been a challenging season for the young Lancers, last season’s ECC Division II tournament champion. Jessica Nadeau is their only other senior.

“We had a rough start but were just working hard and getting better every day,” Bonilla said. “It’s been a really interesting season compared to last year. We lost a lot of seniors. Becky Sanders is over at Avery Point and is doing a great job for them.”

Fleming said, “There is a learning curve still in progress; just finding that consistent effort on a night-in and night-out basis. We’ve been inconsistent all year, and I think that’s due to our youth.”

Waterford will automatically qualify for the Class L tournament if it wins on its Senior Night on Monday against Ledyard. Waterford won the first meeting, 40-28, on Jan. 22.

Teams may qualify for states by either winning 40 percent of their games, or by being one of the top 32 teams in their divisions. The Lancers began the night ranked 28th in Class L.

Fitch won at Putnam on Monday, 38-30, to qualify in Class L. It won just three regular-season games the previous two seasons and was moved down to ECC Division II this season.

The Falcons have two seniors — Mikayla Charles-Haley and Nicole Cabusao. Ishmael is the only Falcon who played varsity last season.

“They’re all in the same age bracket for the most part,” Fitch head coach DJ Berger said, “so I was actually surprised when the season started how close they all were because they’ve grown up playing together. There’s no senior-freshman divide. They’re a close unit.

“I think the biggest thing that shows just how far they’ve come is they weren’t satisfied with eight wins. We used to be just satisfied staying in the game. ‘Oh, we only lost by 15. We played great tonight!’ Now, they’re extremely upset (after a loss). There was a somber mood tonight.”

Waterford led 25-24 after three quarters. Stoddard opened the fourth with a putback. Bonilla followed with a 3-pointer, and Stoddard’s layup pushed Waterford ahead, 32-24, with over four minutes left.

“(Bonilla) hit some big shots for us,” Fleming said. “Lily Stoddard does a lot of lunch-pail stuff, keeping balls alive.

“I think we’re starting to play well; starting to figure some things out. … I feel like we haven’t played our best basketball yet.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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