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Stonington girls get the little things right in 43-39 win over Montville in ECC Div. III

Montville — The game was over, a blood-sweat-and-tears-type 43-39 Stonington victory over divisional foe Montville, and 30-year Stonington girls' basketball coach Paulla Solar was telling a Sophia Fernholz story.

"Sophia came to me and said, 'Coach Solar, what can I do to help improve the team and how can I score more?'" Solar said. "I said, 'Well, we can work on that, Sophia; we can work on that. But I just want to tell you, you do a lot of little things that are so crucial.' She doesn't understand how important she is."

Fernholz's importance was on display in the last 20 seconds Monday with two game-changing rebounds and three game-clinching free throws.

Stonington had the ball and a 38-37 lead with 59 seconds left. Montville began fouling with 28.5 seconds left, sending Stonington to the foul line for a pair of one-and-ones that were off target. That's when Fernholz, in her first game back after what she said was a 14-day COVID quarantine, grabbed the offensive rebound of the night and was fouled with 18.1 seconds to play. She hit the first to give the Bears a 39-37 lead.

Following a Montville miss on the other end, Fernholz came through with a key defensive rebound, as well, fouled again and hitting both foul shots for the four-point cushion at 41-37. Montville's Jada Cheung and Stonington's Anne Drago exchanged free throws in the closing seconds for the final margin.

"The whole game could have flipped over with them getting the rebound vs. us," Solar said.

Drago had 20 points and nine rebounds for Stonington, 4-4 overall and 2-1 in Eastern Connecticut Conference Division III play. Fernholz finished with 10 rebounds off the bench after her long layoff and MacKenzie Pettegrow had five steals.

Montville (5-4, 1-2) got all its scoring from three players: freshman Jada Cheung (16 points), Maya Hillman (12) and Grace Sanford (11). Hillman added 15 rebounds, four steals and four blocked shots and Sanford seven rebounds and six steals.

"Always," Fernholz said of Solar's constant prodding for her team to rebound. "I hear her in my dreams.

" ... This was a must-win game for us if we want to win the division. We've had a few games this season that have come down to the last minute and unfortunately we've come out on the wrong side both times. I think it was all about focus, doing the little things, getting the rebound, making the foul shots. They ended up making a difference in the game."

Stonington led 22-18 at halftime behind 10 points from Drago, who was regularly out ahead on the fast break, converting a three-point play in the second quarter that gave the Bears a seven-point lead, and it was 28-27 after three quarters, still in Stonington's favor. Montville ended the quarter with seven straight points.

A relatively low-scoring game until that point, things became entertaining in the fourth quarter, as Cheung, the daughter of former Waterford and Coast Guard great Sam Cheung, drilled a 3-point field goal just as Montville broke Stonington's full-court pressure, tying the score at 30-all.

A jump shot from Cheung again tied it 34-34. Stonington's Gabby Dimock gave the Bears the lead for good at 36-34 with 2:20 remaining. Montville's Hillman hit one free throw, Dimock scored on a jump shot from the high post and Hillman responded with a drive that pulled Montville with 38-37.

Solar called a timeout with 59 seconds remaining and Montville was forced to foul to get the ball back. That's when Fernholz came up clutch.

Stonington fought through a 1-3 start, winning three of its last four games to get to .500. Solar took last season off to try to stay away from COVID before the vaccine was available, only to come back to another season affected by COVID.

"Just talking to other coaches, I think everybody's finding it super stressful," Solar said. "Every morning you wake up wondering who's in quarantine, who are you not going to have, who am I going to substitute? I think it just takes a toll not just on the coaches but the kids. It's a long season and then you add this."

Montville, meanwhile, adds Cheung to a team which already boasts a two-time Class M all-state selection and elite rebounder in Hillman.

"It's definitely a good combination we have, especially when our shots are falling," said Montville coach Becky Alfonso, whose team has also been affected by COVID. "We've had games this year where that hasn't happened, but it's coming together a little more consistently."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

Stonington’s Anne Drago is fouled by Montville’s Jada Cheung on a drive in ECC girls basketball action Monday, January 10, 2022.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Stonington’s Anne Drago is fouled by Montville’s Jada Cheung on a drive in ECC girls basketball action Monday, January 10, 2022. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Stonington Montville girls basketball photo gallery

For more photos from the Stonington Montville girls basketball game click here.

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