Surprising journey runs its course

NAUGATUCK — No one saw it coming. Endings can be that way. They are as eye-opening as coming out of nowhere to put up a remarkable season.

That was the story of the Naugatuck girls basketball team’s season.

The incredible journey came to an end on Tuesday when No. 28 Branford knocked off No. 5 Naugatuck, 41-24, in the first round of the Class L state tournament at Naugatuck High School.

Hailey Deitelbaum led Naugatuck (19-5) with seven points against Branford (8-13). Alyana Sosa and Brielle Behuniak added four points each.

The loss put an end to a season that sparked excitement throughout the borough.

“I just want to thank the town of Naugatuck for coming out to support us this season,” Naugatuck head coach Gail Cheney said. “Their support and their belief in us meant the world to us. We had an amazing season and achieved some outstanding goals. Looking forward to building on this next year.”

The goals were simple in Cheney’s first season at the helm. Find some consistency on offense, qualify for the state tournament and hopefully make the NVL tournament.

Naugatuck came out of nowhere to finish the regular season 17-3 and earn the No. 3 seed in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament, before making a run to the NVL tournament championship game for the first time.

The Greyhounds faced No. 4 Sacred Heart in the NVL title game last Wednesday as fans of the Garnet and Grey packed the bleachers at Kennedy High School in Waterbury.

Naugatuck fell behind 13-3 with two minutes left in the opening quarter and chased that ten-point deficit the rest of the way. The Greyhounds made a late push to make it a two-possession game in the fourth, but Sacred Heart hung on to win the championship, 44-37.

The Greyhounds struggled to find that offensive consistency that marked a season of success and struggled against the Hearts’ quickness on defense.

When the shots weren’t falling, senior Bridget Rosikiewicz went to work in the low post (15 points, 11 rebounds) to keep Naugatuck in the game.

Shannon Burns hit for nine points out on the perimeter. Sosa had seven points and Mia Rotatori added five points, but Naugy had no answer for the Hearts’ scoring duo of Treasure Coleman and Aamya Rivera.

Coleman, who was named the tournament MVP, scored 18 points to go along with 10 rebounds and six steals. Rivera had 12 points.

“I couldn’t be any more proud of what these girls accomplished this season,” said Cheney after the championship game. “This was the first time they have ever played in this kind of environment, and to battle back the way they did and make it a two-possession game down the stretch says a lot about the heart of this team.”

Naugatuck will miss the senior leadership provided by Sosa, Rosikiewicz, Alexis Woods and Alyssa Peterson next season, but the Greyhounds will return an experienced lineup that includes juniors Evelyn Diaz, Hannah Biondo, Deitelbaum, Rotatori and Burns. Sophomores Hailey Russell, Alissa McNeil and Behuniak, and freshman Alyssa Roberts all developed into consistent varsity players this season, as well.