Preps: Williston boys basketball, girls hockey advance in NEPSAC tourneys

By KYLE GRABOWSKI and JEFF LAJOIE

Staff Writers

Published: 03-01-2023 6:46 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Williston Northampton point guard Paul Ippolito kept a steady hand on the Wildcats’ gear shift.

He knew Williston’s opponent in the NESPAC Class A boys basketball quarterfinals, No. 6 seed Trinity-Pawling, wanted to red line. Ippolito held the game’s pace in second gear, and the No. 3 Wildcats pulled away slow and steady behind their defense in a 68-44 victory Wednesday.

“Don’t try to go 100 miles per hour. It’s gonna create havoc, and everybody else on my team is gonna freak out,” Ippolito said. “If I stayed calm, didn’t go as fast and changed pace better we would stay in the game and blow the team out.”

Ippolito scored 10 of his game-high 16 points in the first half, hitting three 3s in the game.

“He's a basketball junkie, man. He watches a ton of film. The game means a lot to him. He understands the personality of the game more than he ever has,” Williston head coach Ben Farmer said. “He's been with me for three years, so he's kind of my coach on the court and he understands what we need. I'm very, very lucky to have a kid like that out on the court running the show.”

Williston (18-6), which will face No. 2 St. Sebastian’s on Saturday in the semifinals, scored the game’s first eight points and held the Pride off the scoreboard for the game’s first 7 minutes, 41 seconds. Then Trinity-Pawling answered with the next nine points. The Pride took a 14-13 lead with 8:10 to halftime after Landon Printz drilled a fadeaway jumper.

The Wildcats ripped off a 17-2 run over the next 6:16. Ricardo Nieves (eight points) rattled home a 3 off a kickout from Ippolito to give Williston the lead for good 16-14 with 7:47 to halftime.

“We talk about that a lot, responding versus reacting,” Farmer said. “Responding is coming down, getting some reversals, getting some paint touches, trying to reestablish ourselves in the basketball game. I think that’s something we were not good at in the beginning of the season. It’s something we’re getting better at as we move forward.”

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Williston led by as many as 17. Thomas Henaghen added 14 points with four 3s and blocked four shots, emphatically firing up the home crowd with each one.

“Personally it gives me confidence. It gives the rest of the guys momentum to go out there and play offense,” Henaghen said.

Girls hockey

No. 1 Williston 3, No. 8 Loomis 2 — Williston girls hockey coach Christa Talbot Syfu admitted she wasn’t thrilled to see Loomis Chaffee pop up as the No. 8 seed in the NEPSAC Chuck Vernon (Elite) Tournament. Just two weeks ago, the Wildcats and Pelicans skated to a 2-2 tie, the only blemish on Williston’s otherwise perfect record this winter.

Wednesday’s rematch in the tourney quarterfinals lived up to that billing.

The top-seeded Wildcats were pushed but never trailed, and senior stalwart Emily Crovo recorded the 100th point of her Williston career as the blue and green hold on for a 3-2 victory at Lossone Rink.

Williston will play No. 5 Noble and Greenough in the Elite semifinals on Saturday. The title game is set for Sunday at Taft School in Watertown, Conn.

“They have so many talented players on their roster that we knew this was going to be a really difficult game again,” Tablot Syfu said of Loomis.

After a scoreless, back-and-forth opening period, the Wildcats (25-0-1) struck first just 37 seconds into the middle stanza when Crovo skated behind the Loomis net and saucered a pass in front. Ava DeCoste backhanded the trickling puck into the back of the net, staking the hosts to a 1-0 advantage.

Crovo joined an illustrious list, showcased on a banner high on the wall at Lossone, by tallying point No. 100 in the win.

“[Crovo is] really the heart and soul of our program so it’s just awesome to see her achieve that milestone in a game like this,” Talbot Syfu said.

Loomis responded with a goal to tie the game with 5:17 left in the second period however, as Catherine Collins wristed a shot through traffic that beat Wildcats goalie Olivia Ferebee to make it 1-1.

Undaunted, Williston responded quickly. The hosts drew a penalty just 28 seconds after Loomis tallied, and the ’Cats cashed in on the opportunity just 29 seconds into the power play opportunity. Miranda Calderone’s wrist shot up high was perfectly placed, lighting the lamp from the point to re-establish Williston’s lead at 2-1.

“I thought we really responded well after (Loomis) scored,” Talbot Syfu lauded. “That was a big spot to get a goal right back.”

Starting the second period quickly paid dividends for the Wildcats, and they did the same to open period No. 3. This time it was Violet Carroll who struck for the home team, as the sophomore pounced on a rebound off an initial shot from Katherine Kang and buried a shot while falling to the ice to make it a 3-1 game. Carroll’s goal came just 1:19 into the final stanza, another quick strike out of the dressing room.

Loomis didn’t make things easy down the stretch, as the Pelicans pulled goalie Leila Fournier with just over two minutes remaining and got one back with an extra skater. Hamilton Doster batted a loose puck in a scrum in front of Ferebee into the net with 54.2 seconds to go, setting up a wild final minute of regulation in a one-goal game. The Wildcats fought off another extra attacker scenario however, clearing the zone after one final Pelican rush to secure the 3-2 win and a spot in the semifinals.

After winning the program’s first-ever NEPSAC championship last year, Williston finds itself on the brink of making history yet again. Still sporting an undefeated record and two wins from back-to-back titles doesn’t have Talbot Syfu worried about her team’s focus, however.

“There’s a lot of veterans on this team who were part of last year’s success so this is a winning group. They’re relentless, that’s the signature of this team,” she offered. “It took a lot of time [as a program] to get here but once you taste success, the kids understand what it takes and what it means.”

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