Towards the end of the regular season Berlin girl's basketball coach Sheila King was asked if senior Chelsea Vujs could take over a game if she needed to. Vujs is a tremendous player who admits she likes assists more than scoring.
King said she was confident that Vujs could do it.
Friday night in a second round state tournament game at home against Joel Barlow, Vujs proved her coach right. Berlin struggled mightily against Barlow's long and wide zone defense and looked nervous as the game went on.
But Berlin had Vujs, and Barlow didn't.
Vujs scored 24 points, including 17 in the decisive second half to lead Berlin past Barlow and into a Class L quarterfinals meeting with Torrington on Wednesday.
"Early in the second half, I looked up at the scoreboard and shed a tear," Vujs said. "I couldn’t understand what was going on. I wasn't frustrated but I thought to myself 'what if this is it.' I wasn't going to let us lose tonight."
Berlin was coming off a 12-day layoff from its last game and played tentatively in the first half. Most of that was due to the excellent Barlow defense. Every Berlin pass seemed to get tipped or deflected by a Barlow defender. On offense, Barlow's two seniors Brittney Dumas and Taylor Auer, found ways to beat Berlin's pressure and scored in a variety of ways.
It was an uneven first half and Barlow led 30-29 midway through the third period but that would be their last lead. Vujs scored five straight points on a lay-up and a three-pointer. A hoop by Auer closed the gap to 34-32 but Vujs played beat the clock on an end-to-end lay-up to make it 36-32 Berlin after three periods.
Barlow tied it at 36-all on hoops by Auer and Dumas to start the fourth quarter. After a Vujs hoop, Barlow's center Drew Bartro scored on a put back to make it 39-38 with 4:51 left in the game. From there, Berlin went on a 13-3 run, going 9-of-10 from the free throw line, to seal the victory.
"It was scary," King said. "I've never seen us play that tight before. They played very good defense on us but we didn't attack it very well. The second half was a different story but still scary. We showed them four different looks on defense. We could have played another quarter, I'm not sure they could have. I thought DD Barrett turned up the defense and Chelsea Vujs stepped up the offense."
After Vujs' 25 points, Berlin got 13 from Courtney Trzasko. Dumas and Auger led Barlow with 16 and 10 points respectively.
"We had seen them and knew they went nine or 10 players deep," Barlow coach Joe Carollo said. "We knew they were pretty athletic and their big girls were good. Number 14 was really good. That's what good players do; they make big plays in big games. We had a good first half and not as good second half. We went through a cold spell at the end when they got hot on offense. I wish them the best of luck the rest of the way."
Berlin played without junior Ashley Malloy and senior Paige Owens. Malloy was diagnosed with a torn ACL and is out for the rest of the season. Owens had to sit out the game after being ejected from the last game against Manchester in the CCC Tournament. She can return for the quarterfinal game Wednesday.
Next up for Berlin is a rugged test in Torrington, also 17-3 during the regular season. The Red Raiders are led by 6-foot-1 Cayce Williams and seven seniors.
"They are aggressive and very big," King said of Torrington. "They have one really big player and a lot of veteran players. We'll have to play much better if we are going to get past them."