NAUGATUCK — It was only fitting that the four seniors who helped turn around the Naugatuck girls basketball team after missing the state tournament a few years ago played an integral role on senior night Tuesday as the Greyhounds defeated Sacred Heart, 46-21, to send Naugy back to the state tournament for the second time in as many years.
The ‘Hounds started out slowly, holding only a 6-4 lead after one period. Then the senior night celebration really began as Naugy ripped off a 19-5 run to take over the game in the second.
Amy Dietz played the best game of her career throwing down 22 points, tearing away 21 rebounds and dishing out five assists as Naugatuck improved to 8-10 on the season.
Steph Lima had another strong all-around game with six points, five rebounds and two assists. Felicia Gullotta (five rebounds) has turned into one of the best defenders in the league and Sydney Cotto helped to control the boards by pulling down eight rebounds.
“Amy played the best game in her four years,” Naugatuck head coach Jodie Ruccio said. “Steph is just an all-around player and Felicia had an incredible game on defense. Sydney gave us the kind of hustle that helped us to control the boards. I can’t say enough about the contributions these seniors have made this year and the four years they’ve been here.”
Ruccio also pointed to her backcourt of Emma Colucci and Angelina Piccirillo for an important defensive effort.
“The key to the game was Emma Colucci and Angelina Piccirillo, holding the Hearts’ all-league player Elena Colaci to zero baskets and just two free throws,” Ruccio said.
Naugatuck clinched the state tournament in its second try after falling to Holy Cross, 51-43, last Friday in Waterbury. The Crusaders used a pair of 10-2 runs to pull away with the victory.
The Greyhounds sliced the gap to 22-19 with 2:19 left in the first half when Cross responded with a 10-2 spurt to take a comfortable, 32-21 lead at the break.
Naugy pulled back to within 41-34 after the third when Holy Cross exploded again. Another 10-2 run to start the stanza gave the Crusaders a 51-36 edge with 2:35 to go.
Holy Cross finished up the first quarter with an 8-2 run and Naugy’s only bucket came with 2:07 left when Raina Ceryak tossed in a one-hander in the lane.
The Crusaders built a seven-point lead in the second before the ‘Hounds came back. Lima scored on back-to-back possessions and Dietz (nine points, 11 rebounds) hit one of two at the line to make it a 17-15 game with 5:09 left in the half.
“I thought for the most part we played good defensively,” Ruccio said. “But we went through a couple of stretches where we couldn’t generate any offense. At times we had trouble breaking the press, then everyone started to do their own thing. We weren’t running our offense the way we normally do and it got a little helter-skelter at times.”
The most glaring problem for Naugatuck was getting outrebounded 40-29, giving the Crusaders second and third looks at the basket.
Naugatuck took better care of the ball in the second half, committing just four turnovers compared to 15 in the first half. But the ‘Hounds still managed about one shot at the basket on each trip with Holy Cross controlling the boards.
The Greyhounds closed out the game on a 7-0 run to close the gap. Colucci and Lima each split trips to the line and Piccirillo buried a 3-pointer before Lima took a steal the length of the floor putting it in off the window for the 51-43 margin.
“I thought we played much better on defense in the second half,” Ruccio said. “We held them to 51 points for the game and most of the time with that kind of effort that is a winnable game. Even though the offense struggled at times we did put 43 points on the board against a very good Holy Cross team.”
Naugy has two games left in the regular season Tuesday at Wilby and Wednesday at Kennedy, which was postponed from Friday due to the storm. The ‘Hounds still hold an outside chance of making the league tournament.