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02/27/2022 11:00 PM

Valley Takes Loss to East Hampton in Shoreline Final

Junior Lily Grow and the Valley girls’ basketball squad took a 44-28 loss against East Hampton in the Shoreline Conference Tournament final at Morgan on Feb. 26. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier

The Valley Regional girls’ basketball team entered the Shoreline Conference Tournament as the No. 3 seed after posting a record of 17-3 during the regular season. While Head Coach Jaimie Bickelhaupt had high expectations for the Warriors entering Shorelines, she knew that it would be a tough task for them to come away with the title.

Valley advanced all the way to the final of the Shoreline Conference Tournament before taking a 44-28 loss against East Hampton in the championship game at The Morgan School on Feb. 26. The Warriors have an overall record of 19-4 as they open play in the Class M State Tournament this week.

“I wasn’t too happy with how we performed against East Hampton. When we hit adversity, we turned inward, instead of leaning on and using each other,” Coach Bickelhaupt said. “We got every shot we wanted. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”

Valley Regional and East Hampton had split their two games during the regular season with each team earning its respective victory by a 41-28 score. In the Shoreline final, top-seeded East Hampton outscored Valley in every quarter and held a 19-8 lead at halftime. The Bellringers went on to outscore the Warriors 25-18 in the second half to win the game and claim the Shoreline crown.

Junior captain Abby Bradbury and sophomore Olivia Cunningham both scored 7 points for Valley Regional. Senior captain Ava Cunningham had 6 points in the game.

“We let the moment get to us. We weren’t mentally tough enough to push through our mistakes, and we missed shots,” said Bickelhaupt. “Heading into states, we need to have better spacing on the floor and be able to read the defense. We need to make sure we’re boxing out consistently.”

The Warriors had opened the Shoreline Conference Tournament by claiming a 59-25 home win versus No. 6 seed Old Lyme in the quarterfinals on Feb. 19. Valley had an 18-7 lead after the first quarter and 27-17 halftime advantage against the Wildcats. The Warriors went on to win both the third (16-3) and fourth (16-5) quarters to pull way for the 34-point victory.

Bradbury scored 21 points to go with 5 assists and 3 rebounds in the win. Junior Lily Grow scored 14 points, and fellow junior Elizabeth Allen had 11 points for Coach Bickelhaupt’s squad.

“We played hard defensively,” Bickelhaupt said. “We didn’t necessarily finish the basketball too well, but we had some spark from our bench players, which we needed.”

In the semifinals, Valley hit the road to face No. 2 seed Cromwell, another team with which it had split its regular-season series. In round three, the Warriors claimed a 50-40 victory over the Panthers on Feb. 22 to advance to the Shoreline final. Coach Bickelhaupt described Valley Regional’s performance as one of the best that she’s seen from her team this season.

“The semis versus Cromwell was one of the best games we’ve been a part of all year. We did all the little things and controlled the tempo of the game for much of the game,” Bickelhaupt said. “The difference maker, though, was that we stayed even through the lead changes and kept working hard on the defensive end.”

Bradbury netted 23 points in the victory, hitting five 3-pointers, to go with 7 rebounds on the night. Olivia Cunningham had 8 rebounds, while Ava Cunningham dished out 5 assists.

“Liz Allen and Olivia Cunningham had huge games against Old Lyme and Cromwell. They hit big shots when we needed them most, as well as Abby Bradbury. She stayed consistent and kept our team going,” said Bickelhaupt. “Ava Cunningham was also great. Her defense is tenacious. She was all over the ball when we needed her most.”

While her team was unable to take the Shoreline title, Coach Bickelhaupt feels proud about the effort that her team put forth throughout the tournament. Now, Bickelhaupt is looking forward to seeing what the Warriors can achieve in states.

“Although we didn’t come away with a championship, I’m incredibly proud of these girls and what they’re accomplishing. For the first time in decades, they put themselves in an opportunity to win it all, and that speaks volumes to the dedication and time they’ve put into this sport and this team,” said Bickelhaupt. “This might be the first, but most definitely not the last time we will be playing in a championship game. Next time, we will come away with it.”

No. 5 seed Valley Regional begins its quest for a state title by hosting No. 28 Haddam-Killingworth in the first round of the Class M State Tournament on Tuesday, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. If the Warriors win, they will host the winner of No. 12 North Branford and No. 21 Ansonia for a second-round matchup on Friday, March 4 at 6:30 p.m. The Class M quarterfinals are on Tuesday, March 8; the semifinals take place on Monday, March 14; and the Class M final will be held at Mohegan Sun Arena on either Saturday, March 19 or Sunday, March 20.

“The expectation is that we bounce back and go win a state championship. We have the personnel, we have the ability, we have the drive,” Coach Bickelhaupt said. “The girls need to realize it’s not over, and we have to continue to get better to put ourselves in a good spot to win it all.”

Senior captain Ava Cunningham (No. 1) and the Warriors are taking an overall record of 19-4 into the Class M State Tournament this week. Also pictured for Valley are sophomore Olivia Cunningham (22) and junior Elizabeth Allen (No. 23). Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier