Masuk girls advance in states after lengthy layoff

Bailey Bajda dribbles as a New Canaan player defends during state tournament action.

MONROE, CT — Masuk High’s girls basketball team’s return to the competitive hardwood was a successful one. The No. 6 Panthers defeated No. 11 New Canaan 40-32 in a defensive-minded Class L State Tournament second-round contest on Friday night.

Grace Kearney scored 15 points, Dani Dube had 11 and Bailey Bajda seven to lead the offense. Grace Sheppard and Hannah Fagan added four and three, respectively.

Masuk limited New Canaan to a single field goal and led 9-2 after one quarter of play. The Panthers saw the Rams rally to tie the score at 15 apiece heading into halftime.

A 3-pointer by Dube, 3-point play by Kearney and two more baskets apiece by Kearney and Bajda helped the Panthers to a 29-27 lead through three quarters.

Fagan had a drive in the paint for two points and Dube hit another 3, a right-corner shot for a 36-32 advantage with 2:21 left, just after the Rams had pulled to within a point. The rest of Masuk’s fourth-quarter points came from the free throw line.

With the win, the Panthers will travel to South-West Conference nemesis New Milford, the No. 3 seed, in the Tuesday, March 5, quarterfinals at 7 p.m.

Masuk had a long break from game action following its SWC Tournament quarterfinal setback to New Fairfield two weeks ago. A first-round state playoff bye added to the hiatus following the early conference tourney exit.

Grace Kearney makes a move toward the basket.

The Panthers made sure to extend their state playoff appearance with defense leading the way. Key shot blocks and steals helped spark the offense.

Masuk Coach Dan Young noted that his team was mentally tough to persevere, particularly on defense, against a good team.

Masuk practiced hard during the lengthy time off from game action.

“They kept a really great attitude throughout it,” Young said.

“It was difficult. We were practicing every day for two hours after school. It’s a lot of work we put in but I think it showed in this game,” Kearney added.

Masuk doesn’t have to wait long for its next game with Tuesday’s visit to New Milford just around the corner. The Panthers will look to avenge a regular-season loss to New Milford, the eventual SWC champ.

“We’re excited to get another shot at it,” Masuk’s coach said.

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