The Hand girls’ basketball squad has been climbing the SCC and state ranks by making some deep postseason runs in recent years. This year, the Tigers’ climb has led to them to earning the opportunity to play for the ultimate prize for the first time in nearly two decades.
On the heels of a 17-3 regular season and its third straight appearance in the SCC Tournament final, 2nd-seeded Hand dispatched No. 31 Law and No. 15 Windsor to reach the quarterfinals of the Class L State Tournament. Last week, the Tigers posted a 60-33 home win over No. 10 Woodstock Academy on March 7 to advance to the semifinal round, where Hand blew out 3rd-seeded Pomperaug 73-40 at Sheehan High School on March 11. The victory sealed the Tigers’ second trip to a state final and their first since 1999. Hand will face top-seeded Holy Cross (23-1) for the state crown at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on Sunday, March 19 at 3 p.m.
“All season long, we’ve talked about how good this team is capable of being. We don’t really like to look ahead because it distracts from the process. We always want to focus on what we’re doing right now. We always want to play present. Because these kids have been so good at that, it’s allowed us to be very successful,” said Head Coach Tim Tredwell, whose squad stands at 23-4 overall. “To be able to be one of the last teams standing, to be able to finish our season at Mohegan Sun is something I’m sure these kids will never forget. I know I certainly won’t.”
Senior Gabby Martin scored a game-high 25 points, including the 1,000th of her career on a foul shot in the second quarter, in Hand’s semifinal win over Pomperaug. Junior Emma Sullivan added 12 points and freshman Sara Wohlgemuth chipped in 11 points for the Tigers, who stormed out to an early lead and never looked back.
“We knew going in that this was going to be a challenge. Pomperaug starts four kids taller than anyone on our roster, so we were hoping if we spaced the floor and used our speed to push the pace, we could have some success,” said Tredwell. “Our kids were incredible all night. Gabby Martin was locked in. She was having one of those nights where it was clear she was not going to let us lose. Colleen, Kaitlyn Martin, and Halle Freund battled in the paint all night. Gabby Egidio and Hannah Martin did a fantastic job in the back of the zone, especially considering how much size they were giving up. Emma was hitting shots. Sara provided incredible energy off the bench. It was another game where everyone contributed to this win.”
In the Tigers’ prior victory versus Woodstock, Martin led all scorers with 22 points, and she also grabbed six rebounds, made six steals, and dished out seven assists. Sullivan added 11 points, four rebounds, four assists, and four steals. Senior Colleen Caruth scored nine points and added 10 rebounds for Hand, which forced Woodstock into 23 turnovers and held them to just 23-percent shooting.
Hand and Woodstock traded baskets early with neither team gaining any separation as the clubs sized up each other. A pair of three-pointers from the visiting Centaurs kept them within one as Hand held a 13-12 advantage after the first quarter. The Tigers looked to take control of the game behind a quick offensive spurt that gave them a five-point edge midway through the second. However, Woodstock hung around and hit two more from long range to keep it close. Gabby Martin converted a crucial steal into layup, and the Tigers took a two-point lead to the half.
The game started getting away from Woodstock in the third quarter as Hand opened the frame with a 9-0 run. The Centaurs didn’t score for the first 5:28 of the second half, allowing the Tigers to take a double-digit lead for the first time all game. Gabby Martin led the charge by ramping up the defensive intensity and scoring nine of her game-high 22 points in the period as Hand took a 44-30 lead into the final frame. The Centaurs looked to be out of gas in the last eight minutes, and Hand blitzed the visitors to the tune of a 16-3 differential in the fourth quarter on its way to the 27-point victory. The win sent the Tigers to the state semifinals for the first time since 1999.
“This was an opportunity for us to move to the semifinals for the first time in 18 years and the first time in the eight years I’ve been coaching here, so we were all excited for this game. We knew going in that Woodstock was going to be athletic and play with a ton of heart, so we were determined to not let them outwork us,” Coach Tredwell said. “The first half gave us cause for concern as they hit the boards hard and we couldn’t get any separation. But it in the second half, our ball pressure was just fantastic. I thought we did a great job really making them uncomfortable and forcing them into some bad decisions, which turned into run-outs for us. It helped that we were a little deeper than them, so we were able to keep putting fresh legs on the floor. I was never fully comfortable knowing they’re a team that doesn’t go away, but I’m still very impressed with the intensity and execution we showed in the second half.”
Tredwell concluded by stating that the Tigers’ finals bid is a win-win situation all around: the girls get to play on the game’s biggest stage, and he gets an extension on his time spent with a group that will reign in the Hand history books for years to come.
“They have worked so hard and done everything we’ve asked of them. They have earned the right to be in this position. Obviously, we want to finish this with a state title, but I’m just so pleased to be at this point, because it means I get another week with this team,” Treadwell said. “It is an incredibly special group. I will always consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach them.”
From the Sidelines
In its previous state final appearance, Hand won the Class L crown in 1999 with a 72-68 decision over Killingly. The Tigers were the No. 15 seed in that tournament.
During the regular season, the Tigers went 8-0 in the SCC Oronoque to claim the division crown. It’s the fourth straight year that Hand has won a division title.
Holy Cross knocked off three-time defending Class L state champion Capital Prep, 56-55, in its Class L semifinal on March 11.