Flawless late game defense and a strong all-around performance by center Drew Bartro were enough for the Joel Barlow High girls varsity basketball team to hold off a late comeback attempt by host Bethel for a 45-33 win on Friday, Jan. 11.
The Falcons (8-2 overall, 4-2 in the South-West Conference) not only extended their winning streak to six games, the win qualified them for a spot in the state Class L tournament the third straight year.
The first quarter featured Barlow exploit its rebounding advantage on both ends of the floor to control the pace and put up 12 points while holding Bethel (4-6 overall, 0-6 SWC) to only five.
The possession, defense, and rebounding, if not the scoring, would continue into the second frame, and the Falcons entered halftime with a 19-11 advantage.
However, the home side refused to be merely another notch in Barlow’s belt and came into the second half with a revised game plan and a lot of fight.
Bethel debuted a full court press that immediately began to pay dividends, as the Barlow girls committed three consecutive turnovers at the outset of the third quarter, leading to four quick points for the Wildcats.
The Falcons did not fold, however, as Bartro began to assert herself. She drained back-to-back foul line jumpers to negate Bethel’s initial surge, then came up with a steal that led to a Sarah McAniff lay-in and put the score at 25-17 halfway through the period.
At that point, the game’s tempo began to increase dramatically, as did the number of turnovers and fouls committed by both teams. Bethel found itself in the bonus situation early and its free throws helped it stay close, coming within a field goal of the Falcons with 2:30 left in the third quarter. The frame ended with Barlow maintaining a fragile 29-25 lead.
The speed of play on the court continued into the fourth, and the game began to take a decidedly ‘chippier’ tone as both fouls and no-calls by the referees kept the crowd in the game and on edge.
Barlow continued to score at a good pace thanks to the offense provided by Bartro, McAniff, and Victoria Shea, but struggled initially to stop its opponents from matching its point-for-point.
“The Bethel program works so hard and are very well coached,” said Barlow coach Joe Carollo. “They played as well as anyone.”
With little more than four minutes left in the game, Bethel completed a three-point play after a steal and foul on the resulting lay-up, a play that whittled the score to 34-33 and forced Carollo to call time-out and give his players a talk.
Whatever the specifics of the sideline conference were, the time-out proved a turning point. Barlow immediately extended its lead as Emma Gallagher drove to the rim, drew two defenders and left Kelly Gilbert open beneath the rim for a quick lay-in.
On Bethel’s next possession Gallagher came up with the steal and Barlow moved the ball well around the perimeter before dishing it to Bartro for another basket to put the score at 38-33.
From there, the Falcons did not look back.
Superb, clean defense that was missing for most of the game prevented the Wildcats from netting any more points from the field or at the foul line and Barlow would cruise the last two minutes.
“We played good, disciplined D,” Carollo said. “We committed no fouls, and that’s what got us into trouble before.”
Bartro finished with 22 points, 12 blocks, eight rebounds, and six steals to her name.
“She had a great all around game,” said Carollo, who credited all the team’s seniors for their experience and work ethic.
Other top performers for Barlow included McAniff, who had eight points, four assists, and six steals, and Victoria Shea who chipped in with six points in addition to six rebounds and five steals.
Barlow hosts New Fairfield on Friday at 7 p.m. and is host to Bunnell on Tuesday at 6.