NHS girls almost shock T-town again

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TORRINGTON — If Friday night’s game in Torrington was any indication then the second half of the Naugatuck Valley League season is going to be a wild ride for the Naugatuck girls’ basketball team. Last year, the Greyhounds pulled off the upset of the century in a game that has been dubbed The Shocker in T-town.

With a valiant effort, the Hounds (4-7) almost shocked the Red Raiders (11-0) again, losing, 44-41.

To put the contest in perspective, Torrington came in sporting an average of 64 points per game and had defeated its opponents by 30 or more points in seven of 10 games, including the season opener in the borough.

The Greyhounds, by contrast, went 4-6 in the season’s first half, losing three times by at least 30 points.

But the Garnet and Grey have all the tools in the shed and after Friday night’s game, they may even be a threat to earn an NVL tournament berth. Naugy didn’t win the game, but with 38 seconds left, it had the mighty Raiders clinging to a one-point lead. Sarah Royals (18 points) came out of a timeout and knocked down a pair of free throws. Naugatuck missed a three-pointer at the buzzer, as Torrington escaped with the 44-41 win.

Naugatuck's Julia Longo makes a left-handed drive while Lauren Piroscafo sets the screen during the Greyhounds' 44-41 loss at Torrington Friday.
Naugatuck's Julia Longo makes a left-handed drive while Lauren Piroscafo sets the screen during the Greyhounds' 44-41 loss at Torrington Friday.

As the teams lined up for the handshake at the end of the game, Torrington coach Mike Fritch reached out for Ruccio and said something to the effect of, “Naugatuck is no longer welcome up here.”

Who could blame him for feeling that way? Naugatuck had just held Torrington 20 points under its average, limiting the Raiders to just three points in the second quarter and nine in the third, when the Greyhounds took a 30-28 lead into the final period.

How could this happen? Simple. Naugatuck has two instant scoring threats in Jessica Webber and Julia Longo (15 points apiece), a pair of in-your-face defenders in Danielle Charette and Alexis Granahan, an effective low post player in Renee Augustine, and a scorer off the bench in Lauren Piroscafo. Most recently, the Greyhounds added a few more pieces to the puzzle: the outside shooting of Kristen Myers and a presence under the boards in Melissa Miller.

It certainly didn’t look like the Greyhounds’ night early, as they fell behind quickly by an 8-0 margin. Longo connected on a shot from the corner with 3:38 to play in the first quarter, only to have Royals bury a three to open up an 11-2 Torrington lead.

Webber went on a tear, throwing down nine points before the horn, and the Greyhounds were back in it, trailing 16-11 to open the second period.

Charette began to pound the boards to help Augustine in the paint. Granahan and Longo were quick to the ball in the passing lanes, as Torrington began to turn over the ball.

Naugatuck didn’t put a lot on the scoreboard—tallying only two baskets, by Granahan and Longo—but its suffocating defense started to take effect, as the Raiders became increasingly frustrated by each turnover.

Augustine got hit with an errant elbow and left the game. If Naugatuck was going to remain competitive, someone needed to step up. Miller came in and immediately made her presence felt, as Torrington went into the break holding a 19-15 advantage.

“I’m very proud of my team’s effort tonight,” Naugatuck head coach Jodie Ruccio said. “When Renee [Augustine] went out of the game, we could have folded, but Melissa [Miller] stepped in and did a great job for us. This is a tough place to play, but the girls came out ready to play and proved to themselves that they can play with any team in this league.”

The questions coming out of halftime were would Torrington be fired up enough to run Naugatuck out of the gym? Would the Greyhounds revert to the team that lost the season opener by 30 points to this very same team?

The answers spoke volumes about where NHS is headed, as Miller stepped up and started to control the glass. She not only lent a hand in the paint but also buried a pair of buckets that gave Naugatuck the lead.

Amber Kuczenski gave the Greyhounds an added presence in the paint, as Naugatuck continued to battle on the boards. Longo hit a couple of long range threes and when the period came to a close, the Greyhounds were on top by a 30-28 margin.

After scoring a total of 12 points over the second and third periods, Fritch got all over his players, trying to inspire them before it was too late.

It almost was too late: Three times in the final period Naugatuck cut the deficit to one, after Torrington regained the lead. Granahan hit a shot from the corner with 3:38 to go, making it a 34-33 game. Charette nailed a three from the top of the key with 2:22 to play, and it was a 40-39 Torrington lead. With 38 seconds to go, Webber went coast-to-coast to cut the deficit to 42-41 before Royals finished it off at the free throw line.

Naugatuck is back in action Wednesday, hosting Sacred Heart. The Greyhounds lost to the Hearts, 36-35, Dec. 11.