Wednesday night’s season opener featured a familiar opponent for Mercy. Career Magnet of New Haven, ranked third in the preseason polls, defeated Mercy in the Class LL championship game last March by two points. It was the second consecutive year Career had defeated Mercy in the state tournament.
But this is a different Mercy team from last year’s squad, and Wednesday’s outcome was a new one for the Tigers versus Career. Mercy led 12-0 three minutes into the first quarter and by as much as 23 points in the third before setting for a 62-51 victory in the season opener at home.
“We played really well in stretches,” Mercy Head Coach Tim Kohs told the Hartford Courant. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do.
Mercy controlled the contest from the opening tip thanks to the shooting of Jordyn Nappi. The junior guard with the beautiful outside shot hit three three-pointers and had 11 points in the first quarter as the Tigers shot out to a 19-8 advantage. Junior point guard Maria Weselyj then got hot in the second quarter, putting up nine points as Mercy continued to push the tempo. They led 30-14 at the half.
Career appeared flummoxed on both offense and defense throughout the first half. Career, which lost much of its core from last year’s championship squad and was starting a freshman point guard, struggled to run any successful offensive sets against Mercy’s excellent pressure defense. The Panthers lack of offense and frequent turnovers allowed the Tigers to play fast break hoops for much of the night and to get the basketball both inside on drives and to their guards for open outside shots. As Mercy continued to increase their lead coming out of halftime, the confusion and frustration of Career’s players was obvious in their play and body language.
“We have a lot of role players who are trying step up,” Career Head Coach Kevin Walton said to the Courant. “We have a freshman point guard who’s still learning the varsity game. This is kind of what we expected.”
As Mercy got both foul happy and sloppier with the ball as the second half wore on Career started to get on track. The Panthers began to push the tempo and used their superior speed to break down Mercy’s defense. Career slowly whittled down what was a 23 point Tigers lead to nine, 53-44, but that as close as the team would get.
Nappi finished as Mercy’s high scorer with 19 points. Weselyj had 16 points and center Liz Falcigno put up 12 points and 8 rebounds. Career was led by Tamaya Atkinson, who was the game’s leading scorer with 23 points.
Mercy has its first road test when it travels to Cheshire Friday for a 7:00 game.