Late run sparks Flash women

By Nate Ritchey

nritchey@altoonamirror.com

LORETTO — At 5:17 of the third quarter, Central Connecticut State held a one-point lead — it was the last time it would be ahead.

At that point, the game had seven lead changes and four ties but things soon changed in Saint Francis’ favor for good.

SFU’s Jess Kovatch, who finished with a game-high 29 points, buried a 30-foot 3-pointer from the top to kick-start an 11-0 spurt that put the Red Flash in front for good in an 83-68 Northeast Conference win over the Blue Devils on Saturday afternoon at DeGol Arena.

“Anytime anyone makes a tough shot or anything, we all get momentum and we kind of feed off of that,” Kovatch said. “Coming into the second half, we knew we had to play tougher defense and let the offense come. We wanted to push the ball more … I think we needed to do that more in the second half and we did. Once we got our momentum going, everyone was more comfortable and everyone was getting shots off.”

Before the game began, as part of the university honoring the 50 years of women’s sports, Saint Francis retired the jersey of one of its all-time greats in Jess Zinobile, who until Kovatch broke the record earlier, held both the program and NEC’s scoring record with 2,338 points.

While it took a little bit to get going, once it did, SFU was able to improve to 10-12 overall and 7-3 in the NEC, while CCSU fell to 6-14 and 3-7.

“Defensively, we didn’t get it done in the second half,” Central Connecticut State coach Beryl Piper said. “We gave up way too many points, they (Saint Francis) shot a real high percentage … You can’t do that, not against them because they want to score — we let them score 83 points. You can’t let them get in the 80s if you’re going to beat them.”

Following a Central Connecticut turnover, Kovatch was fouled shooting a 3-pointer, went to the line and sank all three of her attempts.

Phee Allen, who came off the bench to lead Saint Francis with six assists, converted a driving layup, and Kovatch missed a trifecta in transition but, knowing her shot was going to miss, followed up and got her own rebound for the putback.

“In transition if I get the 2-on-1, my teammates know I’m probably going to pull up for the 3,” Kovatch said. “On that one, I felt it was off, so I had to crash the boards. Luckily, I got the rebound and put it back up.”

Haley Thomas went to the line and made the second of two free throws before Ashley Forker ended the SFU run with a layup at the 2:15 mark to make the score 50-42.

Central Connecticut State got as close as seven (52-45) when Andi Lydon, who recorded a team-high 17 points, completed a 3-point play with 1:06 remaining in the third.

The Flash struggled to fight off the pesky Blue Devils, who held an 8-0 lead to open the game, which included a series where Saint Francis could not get a defensive rebound for over a minute.

“I thought we were a little lethargic, if I want to say, on offense in the first half,” Saint Francis coach Susan Robinson-Fruchtl said. “We came out in the second half, I thought we executed much better offensively. We got balanced scoring today as we had four players in double figures. I thought we got some key contributions off the bench.”

SFU held a slight 30-27 advantage at halftime, then came up and shot just over 56-percent from the field in the second half.

Courtney Zezza, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, proved big on the defensive end as well — clogging the middle with three blocks and many other CCSU shots that were changed due to her presence.

“We only gave up 27 points in the first half, which is, honestly, right in the wheelhouse where we kind of want to be in terms of goal-wise,” Robinson-Fruchtl said.

The Saint Francis defense never allowed the Blue Devils to get back to within single digits in the final stanza. The home team owned the boards, which led to run-outs that put even more pressure on Central Connecticut State to try and come back.

Thomas and Karson Swogger also hit double figures with 10 points each as the Red Flash once again got a balanced scoring effort.

“Obviously, Jess is going to make some crazy shots, and they’re going to go in and you’re going to defend it pretty good and it’s going to go in,” Piper said. “But, we let four kids score in double figures … It’s just too much … We’re usually a better defensive team.”

Saint Francis had to overcome a quick 8-0 burst by Central Connecticut State to open the game.

Once SFU settled in, it began to hit its stride by earning its largest lead of the opening half when Aunesha Williams made a layup to put her team up 23-16 with 5:25 to go in the second quarter.

“I think it was definitely a little frustrating at first, but then I feel we definitely locked in those last six minutes of the quarter,” Zezza said.

CCSU, which won the previous meeting, wasn’t about to the left Red Flash take control as it reeled off a 9-1 run to tie the contest when Kiana Patterson, who tallied 15 points, buried a 3-pointer from the top to make the score 25-25.

A follow-up layup from Tiffany Slicklein gave the Blue Devils the lead back. However, the edge was short-lived as A.J. Timbers knocked down a trey from the left side before Swogger closed out the first half scoring with a transition layup with 20 ticks to go.

Saint Francis will host Bryant on Monday at 6 p.m.

CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE (68): Lydon 6-17 4-4 17, Forker 2-7 0-0 4, Slicklein 3-5 1-2 7, Patterson 5-11 0-0 15, Vila Artigues 1-3 0-0 2, McCamus 1-4 0-0 2, Chin 3-4 0-0 6, Berube 3-6 1-2 7, Hines 3-5 0-0 8, Delano 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 27-62 6-8 68.

SAINT FRANCIS (83): Zezza 5-7 6-6 16, Swogger 4-9 0-0 10, Sabino 2-6 0-0 5, Thomas 3-6 3-4 10, Kovatch 9-20 6-7 29, Carroll 1-2 0-0 2, Timbers 1-3 0-0 3, Williams 2-5 0-1 4, Allen 1-3 0-0 2, Pollard 0-1 2-2 2, Dapaa 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 28-62 17-20 83.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Central Connecticut State 13 14 20 21 — 68

Saint Francis 14 16 27 26 — 83

3-point field goals: Central Connecticut State 8-22 (Patterson 5-9, Hines 2-4, Lydon 1-6, Forker 0-1, Vila Artigues 0-1, McCamus 0-1); Saint Francis 10-32 (Kovatch 5-13, Swogger 2-4, Thomas 1-1, Timbers 1-3, Sabino 1-5, Carroll 0-1, Williams 0-1, Allen 0-1, Pollard 0-1, Zezza 0-2). Rebounds: Central Connecticut State 29 (Lydon, Forker 7 each); Saint Francis 38 (Zezza 11). Assists: Central Connecticut State 21 (Forker 7); Saint Francis 16 (Allen 6).

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