Naugy girls ousted from Class L tournament

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WOODSTOCK — The Naugatuck girls’ basketball season is over, after a 45-39 loss to Woodstock Academy in the qualifying round of the Class L state tournament Saturday. The Centaurs’ (9-13) victory over the Greyhounds (8-13) earned them a first-round trip to No. 1 Northwest Catholic (21-0), where they lost, 68-27, Monday.

For Naugy, it was the final game in the high school careers of Julia Longo, Melissa Miller, Danielle Charette, Alexis Granahan, Kristen Myers and Jessica Webber, who earlier this season joined the school’s 1,000-point club.

It was a hot-and-cold campaign for the Garnet and Grey but one in which they displayed a consistent ability to overcome difficult circumstances. Woefully undersized, after graduating center Debbie DaSilva, the Hounds knew they would have a hard time scoring in the paint this winter.

“Defense will be the only way to see victories this season,” head coach Jodie Ruccio said before the season. “We are a small team, and we will need to use our quickness and a tight defense to keep us in games.”

Ruccio was right. On nights when the Greyhounds played solid D, they typically won or were at least competitive. On nights they didn’t, the team struggled. In Naugy’s 12 regular-season losses, opponents scored an average of 50.3 points; in eight victories, opponents averaged just 42 points.

But when their coach’s concerns about rebounding and post play proved well-founded—NHS lost five of seven out of the gate—the borough ladies recovered, winning five of their next eight games.

During that stretch, even the defeats were encouraging. Naugatuck lost at then-unbeaten Torrington by only three, 44-41, Jan. 15, after the Red Raiders blew the Greyhounds out of their own gym, 65-35, in the season opener. In that contest, Naugy’s dogged defense held the Naugatuck Valley League’s leading scorer, Sarah Royals, and the Raiders to an appalling three points in the second quarter. When they again limited T-town to single digits in the third, the Greyhounds actually took a 30-28 lead into the final period.

More impressive was the fact that NHS did most of this without Renee Augustine, who was as close to a force on the blocks as Naugatuck had this season.

“I’m very proud of my team’s effort tonight,” Ruccio said after that one. “When Renee 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.”

Naugy stood at 7-8, after a 70-46 thumping of Kaynor Tech Jan. 27. The season, it seemed, had turned around, and the team was poised to qualify for both the NVL and Class L tournaments.

But a disheartening string of four straight losses threatened to squeeze NHS out of postseason play. First came a 57-35 whopper against eventual league champ Holy Cross, a game that was virtually over when the Crusaders went on a 20-2 first-half run. The next three were heartbreakers: 37-34 to Wilby, 33-31 to Seymour and 49-43 to Kennedy, all on the road.

Six times during the regular season Naugatuck lost by six or fewer points. Six, of course, was the Hounds’ margin of defeat in the state tourney.

The game that defined the season, however, was the regular-season finale. On senior night, with a playoff berth on the line, the squad’s six upperclassmen all scored to propel Naugy to a 54-33 win over Wolcott.

“I can’t say enough about this group of seniors,” Ruccio said after the win. “They were determined to make it back to the states.”