girls basketball Bethel surprises ND-Fairfield
FAIRFIELD — Late in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s SWC girls basketball semifinal, Bethel’s Maranda Nyborg tumbled to the floor of Notre Dame-Fairfield’s Rielly Auditorium. After teammates helped Nyborg back to her feet, the 6-foot-2 junior gave double thumbs up toward the Wildcats bench.
There wasn’t any way Nyborg was about to leave this game, not with her team in the midst of an extraordinary second-half run which helped No. 4 Bethel rally past top-seeded Notre Dame 45-31.
“We knew that no one but us thought we could do this,” said Nyborg, who scored 12 points. “We had confidence in ourselves because we have great coaching.”
Bethel will now face No. 2 Newtown in Wednesday’s SWC final at Pomperaug.
Notre Dame (20-2) rolled through SWC play undefeated and appeared well on its way to Wednesday night’s final. With three minutes left in the third quarter the Lancers led 26-16. More than that, Notre Dame’s swarming, half-court defense had kept Bethel firmly at arm’s length.
Out of a Bethel timeout, Vicky Gracy sunk what could have been an innocuous 3-pointer in the corner, but seconds later Gabriella Mendonca sunk a 3 of her own, cutting the Lancers’ lead to 26-22 and putting the Wildcats’ comeback attempt into full gear.
Mendonca led Bethel with 16 points.
“It was a momentum changer,” Nyborg said of the 3-pointers. “We definitely got hyped and got back into the game.”
The game then shifted completely and Bethel’s defense took over. Notre Dame began throwing the ball away and struggled to find any form of offense.
By the time Yamani McCollough made a free throw for Notre Dame with 2:42 left in the fourth, Bethel had compiled a 20-1 run — capped by a Mendonca 3-pointer. The run turned a 10-point deficit into a 36-27 Bethel advantage.
“They closed it out very efficiently and effectively,” Notre Dame coach Eric DeMarco said. “Hats off to Bethel, they played a great game. … Our defense wasn’t terrible, but our offense, again, hats off to Bethel’s defense.”
Notre Dame went nine minutes without a field goal between the third and fourth quarters — a drought finally ended on a layup by McCollough with 2:11 remaining. The Wildcats defense held the Lancers to just nine points and three field goals in the second half.
“As long as we kept fighting, we knew we had a chance,” Bethel coach Anderson Rawlins said. “We knew that we had to play four quarters, 32 minutes of basketball. That was the most important part.”
Ciara Brown led Notre Dame, which will be the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Class L tournament, with 12 points.
“We never gave up,” Nyborg said. “We always knew we had to come into the second half with a new mentality ready to fight back. We knew it was going to be a game of throwing punches back-and-forth and we wanted to get back into it.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Gabriella Mendonca, Bethel. The senior guard led her team with 16 points and hit two huge second-half 3-pointers.
“The finality of one-and-done … now we have to take a couple days off and refocus for Class L” — Notre Dame-Fairfield coach Eric DeMarco on what he can take away from his team’s upset loss to Bethel.
BETHEL 45, NOTRE DAME 31
Mia Prazeres 0 1-2 1 Vicky Gracy 3 3-5 10 Ruby Ackerman 1 2-2 4 Gabriella Mendonca 4 6-8 16 Maranda Nyborg 5 5-7 15 Roe Totals: 12 17-24 45
Yamani McCollough 1 4-9 6 Aizhanique Mayo 2 0-0 5 Erin Harris 1 0-0 2 Taylor Gibbs 0 1-3 1 Kayla Tilus 1 0-0 3 Ciara Brown 5 1-2 12 Laryssa Guimaraes 1 0-0 2 Totals: 11 6-16 31
BETHEL 6 7 16 16—45
ND-FAIRFIELD 4 18 5 4—31
3-pointers: B—Gracy, Mendonca 2; D-Mayo, Tilus, Brown