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Sunday, May 31 High School Sports

Staples girls basketball team pulls away from Greenwich, behind Gerig and its defense


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WESTPORT — Oftentimes in sports, defense is a team’s best offense.

Defense has certainly gone a long way for the Staples’ girls basketball team.

Using a tenacious full-court press, Staples forced turnovers, sped up the tempo and created transition offense.

Those aspects, along with a 24-point performance from forward Arianna Gerig powered Staples, past visiting Greenwich, 60-44, in an FCIAC matchup between a pair of squads off to a strong start in their respective seasons.

The victory moved the Wreckers’ record to 10-2 overall and 8-1 in the FCIAC. Greenwich is 8-4 overall and 6-2 in FCIAC play.

Staples held a 14-8 lead following the first quarter and took a 32-19 advantage into halftime, capitalizing on numerous layups, that were the result of steals and transition.

“We value our defense so much,” said Gerig, a senior, who is averaging almost 20 points per game. “Defense is about how much you want it and hustle and drive and that’s something this team really has. We got transition points and steals, which just fuels our whole game.”

Junior guard Nicole Holmes tallied 11 points, while providing strong defensive play throughout and junior forward Marley Lopez-Paul added nine points in the winning effort.

“I thought this game was really important to us, because Greenwich has a really good group,” Lopez-Paul said. “When we were practicing, we were focusing on staying together as a team. I am really proud of how we stayed together the entire time.”

The game was originally scheduled to be a home matchup for the Cardinals, but a pipe that burst in the school’s Performing Arts Center, caused a portion of the gym to be affected by a flood.

Freshman forward Mackenzie Nelson had 11 points, while sophomore guard Kristin Riggs totaled eight points for GHS.

“They did a really good job of pressuring us and forcing us into turnovers,” Cardinals coach Chrys Hernandez said. “We didn’t do a very good job of sticking to our game plan and that’s one of the things we talked about going forward. We need to be more disciplined in our execution.”

Staples’ full-court press and trapping halfcourt man-to-man defense seemed to cause Greenwich to rush some shots and passes. Nelson, who is averaging almost 20 points a game for the Cards, was often trapped and double-teamed.

“Sometimes we were putting three girls on Mackenzie Nelson, because she is so good,” Staples coach Paco Fabian said. “Our goal is to put pressure on you the whole game, so offensively, you know there’s going to be a hand in your face. We didn’t play a great game defensively in our last game. We made it a goal defensively, that we were going to get pressure on the ball and I think we did a very good job in the second half.”

Holding a six-point lead after the first quarter, Gerig’s short jump shot put the home team on top, 17-8, at the 7:25 mark of the second quarter. Greenwich closed to within 19-16 on Nelson’s layup off a steal and senior forward Bea Owen’s layup.

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The Wreckers, however, finished the first half with a 13-3 run to open a 32-19 edge. Consecutive layups from Gerig, followed by a 3-pointer from the right side by Lopez-Paul made it 31-17 with 43 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

“I think our passes weren’t very sharp today,” Owens said. “I think we were a little sloppy doing those lob passes that we really don’t want to do. We want those bounce passes toward the middle, which we weren’t making today. But our chemistry is slowly getting better and we’ll be ready for Norwalk on Monday.”

A 3-pointer from the right side from Riggs, cut Staples’ lead to 36-27 with 5:00 to go in the third quarter. A putback by Gerig, a layup from Holmes and a basket off a steal from senior guard Kat Cozzi built the Wrecker’s lead back up to 42-29 after the third quarter.

“We had to come out strong, because we knew they were good, they’re so young,” Holmes said. “We have a lot more experience and we have such a large bench, so we are able to sub and get contributions from everyone.”

Gerig continued to thrive in the low post in the final quarter, scoring six points for the hosts, which led by as many as 19 at one point.

“Greenwich is a great team, they’re well-coached and they have great players,” Gerig said. “They beat a bunch of great teams, so just playing our game and focusing on hustle and things we can control on defense were important for us.”

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“This game taught us a lot about being disciplined,” said GHS freshman guard Ava Sollenne, who scored eight points. “We need to work on our fundamentals and focus. We made mistakes this game that we’re going to work on next practice and the next game as well.”

Said Riggs: “The chemistry on our team has been strong, but that was just a tough loss tonight. In the long run, a game like this is going to help us.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Gerig excelled in transition, was a force on the offensive and defensive backboard and converted the majority of her layups throughout for the victors.

“She is one of the best players in the history of Staples,” Fabian said of Gerig. “She’s a phenomenal scorer and she gets so many blocks on defense. Arianna also cares about the team first.”

Said Hernandez: “She dominated the paint with layups and rebounds. We knew coming into the game she was one of the best players in the FCIAC.”

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