BRIDGEPORT—Aniyah Pettway and her Kolbe Cathedral teammates were 24 seconds away from a trip to the Mohegan Sun, and the 2019 Class M girls basketball state championship game.
Twenty-four seconds from realizing a goal that had been set back in November and built upon game by game for 106 days.
Twenty-four seconds from a dream come true.
One play and two whistles changed all that, though.
Two questionable calls on one of her Kolbe teammates—one a personal foul, the second a technical foul—cost her team a shot at winning Monday’s game as Cromwell posted a 51-47 win to advance to this weekend’s championship game.
Less than 24 hours after walking out of the Maloney High School gym in Meriden, physically and emotionally spent and teary-eyed, Pettway could look back on the 2018-19 season and respect what the Cougars had accomplished.
“Actually, we had a pretty amazing season,” the junior guard said. “It was one of our best seasons ever as a team.”
The third-seeded Cougars, who were also SWC semifinalists, finished the season 21-5.
“We worked really hard every day at practice and we did our best to prove to others that we could still make it after losing one of our best players from the year before,” Pettway said. “We wanted to prove we could do it again this year.”
The 5-foot-2 Stratford resident had gone to Kolbe for moments like Monday.
Pettway had attended Flood Middle School and seemed destined to attend Bunnell when some of her friends, who had older siblings who had played at Kolbe, put the Bridgeport-based school on her radar.
“They said it’s a great basketball program for girls and since that’s your main sport, you should look into it,” Pettway said. “I thought it was interesting.”
As Pettway looked more into the school, she realized it was a better fit than she expected, and the draw of the program was huge.
“I wanted to join Kolbe and be a part of that kind of success,” she said. “My mother always told me not to be afraid to try something new. I knew it was best for me.”
After seeing most of her playing time at the sub-varsity level in her first two seasons at Kolbe, Pettway—the daughter of former Stratford High player Demetrius Pettway—worked her way into the starting line-up this season.
Along with senior Gracen Kerr, Kolbe boasted one of the top back-courts in the SWC this season.
“She’s a two-guard in a point guard’s body,” Kolbe coach Devon Parker said. “When she and Gracen were going together, that’s how we got to 20 wins. Aniyah, throughout the year, she gave us that other ball-handler, that other energy, along with Gracen.”
Getting varsity minutes with the Cougars was a big moment for Pettway.
“It felt so good to be out there and contributing to our season,” she said.
When Kolbe got their running game going, they were especially tough.
“When her and Gracen were running the floor, that’s where she shines,” Parker said. “Without Aniyah, we don’t get here.”
A lot of that up-tempo style came from Kolbe’s defense, a place where Pettway said she shined the brightest.
“I feel like I my defensive pressure was important, especially to help us get into our fast break,” she said.
Monday’s season-ending loss was devastating.
“It was an extremely tough loss, especially since we all had it in our mind that we could win the game,” Pettway said. “We only had 24 seconds left. It was heart-breaking since we put our all into it.”
As one of the key returning players for next year, though, Parker hopes the loss fuels an offseason of more improvement for Pettway.
“The torch will be passed to her and we’ll be counting her a lot,” Parker said. “She’ll be ready for it.”
After one more season at Kolbe, she hopes to go off to college and major in either engineering or becoming an athletic trainer.
And if none of those things work out, Pettway will no doubt be ready, willing and able to try something new.
After all, going to Kolbe worked out for her quite well.
(On the Sidelines is a regular online feature column written by Stratford Sports Scene editor John Nash)