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Varela sparks No. 1 NFA girls to 64-34 win over No. 7 Bacon

Norwich — Jenissa Varela isn't a shooter. Norwich Free Academy's senior point guard gets her points driving to the rim and will pass before taking a jumper.

The Wildcats were listless in the second quarter of Saturday's game against Bacon Academy when Varela decided to let it rip. She made successive 3-pointers in the final two minutes to give NFA the kick in the butt it needed to run away with a 64-34 win in an Eastern Connecticut Conference South Division game at Alumni Gym.

"We've been yelling at her to shoot, so I think she just got annoyed with us and started shooting, which is good," Wildcats senior Sarah Ericson said. "She definitely needs to shoot more, and she did a great job."

Varela had 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists and six steals for NFA (7-0), ranked first in the GameTimeCT state poll. Ericson added 21 points, seven rebounds and four steals and senior Anajah Ingram scored 17.

Sophomore Marissa Nudd had 12 points and 10 rebounds and junior Valerie Luizzi scored 11 for the seventh-ranked Bobcats (2-1). It was their first game since Feb. 16 as they had been in quarantine. They returned to practice on Thursday.

"(NFA's) speed, our lack of patience and conditioning came in (to play)," Bacon head coach John Shea said. "We've had two practices in 12 days. They're a much deeper team than us, but we are a little bit bitter than what we showed today."

Junior Ashley Lizotte made a 3-pointer and Nudd put back her own miss to put the Bobcats ahead, 15-14, with 3 minutes, 9 seconds left in the quarter.

The Wildcats had missed 12 of 13 shots and scored just scored four points in the second quarter with 1:35 left in the half.

Varela proceeded to make back-to-back threes, the second in transition, to put the Wildcats ahead to stay, 20-15, with 1:06 left in the half.

Ericson hit a three of her own on NFA's next possession for a 23-18 halftime lead.

"My coach has told me to shoot the ball a lot more," Varela said. "We knew that (Bacon's) defense inside, weak-side and help were going to be really packed."

Ericson said, "Everyone on the team knows (Varela) can make them."

The Wildcats stole the ball on Bacon's first three possessions of the third quarter, the start of a 23-6 run that put the game out reach.

"I think our energy was really low in the first quarter and I think we were very slow on defense as well," Varela said. "I think (my) two (threes) gave us the energy we needed."

Ingram tipped the ball loose seconds after the Bobcats inbounded the ball to start the second half. Varela grabbed the ball and passed it to Ericson for a 3-pointer just 14 seconds into the third quarter.

Varela's second steal led to two Ericson free throws to push NFA's lead to 28-18.

Ericson kept going. She made a transition layup and turned a steal into a three-point play to give the Wildcats' a 34-21 edge with 5:16 left in the third. They led by double digits for the rest of the game.

NFA had seven steals in the third quarter. Bacon finished with 22 turnovers.

"We threw the ball away too much," Shea said. "You've got to give them credit for their defense and making us turn it over. We didn't have patience against their zone."

Varela said, "We do best in transition. ... Anajah gets down (court) fast really well, and so does Sarah. Everybody does, and they know that as long as they run, I'll get them the ball."

n.griffen@theday.com


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