The Manchester Central girls basketball team has pretty much everybody back from last year's squad and have had the same head coach in place (Michael Wenners) for awhile and it shows. Their players are in sync, they all know the system, the plays and are comfortable running them. Player's roles are defined. They moved the ball well, didn't force anything and played disciplined team basketball. They have a bunch of girls who can shoot it from the outside and a pair of tough, physical bigs inside in Natasha Velez and Mary Soares.
Trinity meanwhile is still finding its identity. They have a new head coach (Kevin Gibbs) with a new system, their best player left for prep school (Amanda Torres) and their second best player graduated (Lizzy Meehan).
As a result, Central defeated Trinity 56-41 on Saturday night in the semi-finals of the girls Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament (QCIBT).
Trinity sophomore wing Hannah Fabiano got Trinity started on the right foot with a strong take, hitting a runner across the lane. Then Fabiano (team-high 11 points) grabbed an offensive board, went up strong with the put-back attempt, drawing a foul. Sophomore guard Jenna Chrabalowski (9 points) answered with a 3-pointer. Chrabalowski, Caitlyn Vincent, Amanda Gaudreault and Sydney Richard all hit 3's in the win for the Little Green. They have lots of kids who can shoot it as well as bigs who can finish inside.
For Trinity, senior forward Hope Willard continues to show why she's one of the best defenders in the state. She had a steal on one possession and and on the next one she tied up a Central player who was about to score for a jump ball. She is tough as nails and also rebounds very well, especially considering she's usually matched up with girls at least 2-3 inches taller.
Chrabalowski hit a long 2 and then Gaudreault (game-high 14 points) hit a 3 from the top of the key. Then Gaudreault finished 2 quick layups, with a blocked shot by 6-foot freshman forward Angelique Ngalakulondi which started a fast break sandwiched in between. Vincent drilled a 3-pointer and it was 16-6 Central after 1 quarter.
At the end of the 1st quarter when Central went on that run, Fabiano and Eireann Kolden, key players for Trinity were on the bench with 2 fouls. Fabiano picked up her 3rd foul with 4:24 left in the 2nd quarter with Central leading 21-11. Stepping up for Trinity though was Shannon Roberge who made a nice move inside for 2. The Little Green increased their lead to 25-13 though at halftime after a layup by Gaudreault.
The pace of the game and the scoring picked up in the 3rd quarter, as Central scored 17 and Trinity scored 16 in the 3rd frame. Central got the ball to Soares (9 points) in the post, who bulled her way to the bucket for 2. Then Soares finished an and-1 put-back, followed quickly by a Central steal and another layup by Soares. The Little Green now held a commanding 31-13 lead with 6:42 left in the 3rd quarter.
Fabiano took it strong to the rim again, this time banking in a runner for an and-1. On the next trip down Fabiano banked in another runner. Roberge hit a baseline jumper to cap an 8-2 run for Trinity, who now trailed 33-21 with 2:58 left in the 3rd. The Pioneers were also picking up their defensive intensity, using a full court press to force a 10 second violation on Central. Then Willard hit a 3-pointer to cut the Central lead to 33-25.
Chrabalowski answered with a long 2, and then Gaudreault drew a charge on Fabiano (her 4th foul). Richard hit a pull-up 3, and then Central got a quick steal and easy layup for Devin Lacroix right before the buzzer. It was 42-29 Central after 3 quarters.
Vincent hit another 3, this one from the left wing off the catch and the Little Green lead increased to 45-29. After a layup by Velez Central was up 49-30 (their largest lead of the game). Trinity was playing hard and hustling to stay in it. Fabiano hit an 18-footer to cut the Central lead to 53-41 and cap an 11-4 Pioneers run. Central hangs on for the 56-41 win.
Central advances to the QCIBT title game where they will take on Bedford on Sunday.