WATERBURY — Greyhounds senior captain Jessica Webber became the ninth player in Naugatuck girls’ basketball history to reach the coveted mark of 1,000 career points Tuesday night at Holy Cross.
The slashing point guard would have been happy to give up a few of those points in exchange for a victory, but the Greyhounds defense accomplished what it set out to do in spite of the 56-35 loss to Holy Cross.
The undefeated Crusaders came in sporting a 70-points-per game average, and if Naugatuck was going to stay with them, defense would be the key.
Naugatuck pounded the boards in the opening period with Renee Augustine going up with authority and yanking down some powerful rebounds. Danielle Charette and Alexis Granahan put a lot of pressure on the ball, as the Crusaders uncharacteristically threw away several possessions in the early going.
Webber and Julia Longo, with a team-leading 10 points apiece, took aim, but the Naugy shots just weren’t falling. Thanks to a determined defensive effort, the Garnet and Grey were very much in the game, trailing 9-6 heading into the second period.
“Defensively, we held Holy Cross under their game average, which was one of our goals tonight,” Naugatuck head coach Jodie Ruccio said. “Offensively, we hurt ourselves with 14 turnovers. Holy Cross really keyed on Jessica, and she may have felt a little pressure going after the career milestone. Scoring 1,000 points in your career is an amazing feat, and Jessica is not only a great athlete, she’s an amazing person, as well. She tried not to let it be a distraction, but every game its always on your mind. You could see her just relax after the mark was broken. It was like a weight off her shoulders.”
The anticipated moment would have to wait, as Holy Cross began to put together a little offensive burst in the second period, while stifling Webber and the Greyhounds offense.
After Augustine ripped away a rebound and stuffed it back into the net to tie the game at 10 with 4:40 to play in the first half, the Crusaders responded with an 8-0 run to take over the game.
A 5-0 run to close out the half sent Holy Cross to the locker room at the break with a commanding, 23-14 advantage. The Webber watch was down to three points at the start of the second half.
Lauren Piroscafo came on to try to generate a little offense, and Melissa Miller got under the boards to offer her help in the rebounding department. Webber drove the lane, Longo fired in a three-pointer and with 4:08 to go in the third, Naugatuck trailed, 27-19. The Webber watch was down to one.
With 3:28 left in the third, Webber took a pass from Longo out on the wing and drove to the bucket. The shot kissed off the glass and rippled through the net as her Naugatuck teammates surrounded her in congratulations.
The game was stopped briefly, as Webber posed for pictures with her family, teammates and coaches. Holy Cross coach Frank Lombardo also came over to offer her congratulations on reaching the coveted milestone.
“It was a huge relief to get that out of the way,” Webber admitted following the game. “You try and not let it become a distraction, but it’s always on your mind at the start of every game. Now we can get back to work and focus on becoming a better team.”
You could see an immediate change in Webber’s focus after the career mark was made, as she seemed to kick it up a notch. Minutes after reaching the mark Webber sprinted down court and blocked a shot as the third period was coming to a close.
Kristen Myers came on to offer some offensive support, and Amber Kuczenski battled in the paint, throwing down a put-back. It was too little too late, as the Crusaders tacked on another 15 points in the final period to pull away with a 56-35 win.
The Greyhounds will be back in action after the Christmas break next Tuesday against Wilby.