Ticket punched

Naugatuck’s Dayvon Russell (0) finishes off a fast break with a layup Feb. 21 in Naugatuck versus Holy Cross. The Greyhounds won the game, 48-41, and clinched a spot in the state tournament. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Naugatuck’s Dayvon Russell (0) finishes off a fast break with a layup Feb. 21 in Naugatuck versus Holy Cross. The Greyhounds won the game, 48-41, and clinched a spot in the state tournament. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Naugy makes most of final chances

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck boys basketball team was running out of chances to secure its eighth win of the season and gain entrance into the postseason. With 18-1 Crosby, a team that has scored over 90 points 10 times this season, waiting in the wings on the final day of the regular season, the ‘Hounds were down to their final realistic chance last Friday.

Naugatuck faced off against another team that was running out of chances, Holy Cross. The Greyhounds staged a fourth-period rally to pull out seat-grabbing, 48-41 win.

“The game plan coming in here was not about the X’s and O’s,” said co-captain and the Greyhounds’ only senior Ryne Griesenauer, following the game. “It was about who wanted it more. We knew we had Crosby, one of the toughest teams in the state next week, so it all came down to this game and we had to make sure that we wanted it more than Holy Cross who was also fighting for a postseason spot.”

With the game hanging in the balance, Naugatuck made just two baskets in the last period but knocked down 12 of 19 free throws to put the game out of reach.

Jason Bradley (11 points) nailed a 3-pointer and Griesenauer went strong to the rack for a put-back to open up a 37-31 lead with 5:04 to play. Holy Cross decided to put the ‘Hounds on the line and Dayvon Russell (eight points, five steals) went 6-of-9 at the line to keep Naugy ahead.

With the game winding down and Holy Cross still within striking distance, Naugy began to make some big-time, game-saving plays. Bryan Coney ripped away two defensive rebounds off Holy Cross misses and on both occasions Russell converted both ends of one-and-ones at the line to take a little more fire out of the Crusaders.

Naugy clung to a 43-41 advantage with 1:02 to play when Jordan Booker (11 points) silenced the Crusader fans by converting a pair of free throws. On the other end Coney again tore down a huge rebound off a Holy Cross miss with 19 seconds left and Russell dropped another two freebies through the net before stealing the ball with 10 seconds left to secure the 48-41 win.

The Greyhounds started the game a little tight, turning over the ball in four of their first five possessions. But their defense was up to the task and among C.J. Wall, Maleek Brooks and Griesenauer, Naugatuck beat up Holy Cross on the boards and held an 11-6 edge in the first period.

Wall opened the scoring with a long-range 3-pointer and just before the end of the period Booker sank a 3 from way downtown to give the ‘Hounds an 8-7 advantage.

The Crusaders began to attack the middle with Chris Lynch (17 points) doing most of the damage as Holy Cross opened up a 20-14 advantage with 3:30 left in the first half.

But every time Cross threatened to pull away there was Booker to drop a knee-buckling 3-pointer. Bradley came away with a steal, took it down the other end and rippled the net on a 3-pointer to close the gap at 22-19 at the half.

“We like to pass it around and then kick it out to the open shooter,” Griesenauer said. “Jordan is a great shooter and a lot of guys started to pick up their level of play and we made a game of it.”

Naugatuck was still winning the battle on the boards 31-20 and that’s what made the difference in the second half. The ‘Hounds also took better care of their possessions, committing just three turnovers in the second half.

Naugy battled back to take the lead three times in the third period. Coney (five points, seven rebounds, three steals) took a steal coast-to-coast to give Naugy a 26-25 advantage with 2:03 remaining in the third period.

Griesenauer (nine points, eight rebounds, four assists) muscled his way through the lane to put the ‘Hounds back in front 28-26. Just before the buzzer sounded, Booker hit another in-your-face 3-pointer to hand Naugy a 31-28 lead heading into the final period.

The oversized crowd that came out to support Cross Street School Night in honor of Naugatuck head coach Mike Wilson, an administrative assistant at the school, began to get real loud in the game’s final eight minutes and the Greyhounds didn’t disappoint the faithful borough fans.

Naugatuck, which suffered an 87-65 loss to Crosby in Tuesday’s regular-season finale, is expected to earn a low seed in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament. The Greyhounds (8-12) will have to wait until late Thursday to find out their seed and opponent. They would likely play Crosby or Sacred Heart in a quarterfinal Saturday at Wilby.

 “To have the honor of putting this uniform on one more time in the postseason is all I can ask for,” Griesenauer said. “You win games at the foul line and we showed that (against Holy Cross). To have an extra few games in this uniform means everything to me.”