Naugy, Woodland girls head into NVL tourney  

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Naugatuck’s Hailey Russell (2) brings the ball back out on offense as Woodland’s Ava Delucia (25) defends her during a game Feb. 7 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

During the final week of the regular season, both the Naugatuck and Woodland girls basketball teams got a taste of how challenging postseason hoops can be.

In the teams’ second-to-last regular-season contests, the Greyhounds and Hawks fell to a pair of the top contenders for the Naugatuck Valley League championship. The good news for the local squads is that both had already qualified for the league tournament, which begins Saturday with a day of quarterfinals at Holy Cross.

Naugatuck suffered a 64-32 loss to St. Paul last Thursday night. Sara Macary led the Greyhounds with 13 points, while Hailey Russell added seven.

The Falcons finished the NVL season 18-0 and clinched the tournament’s No. 1 seed with the victory, which was their second of the season against Naugy.

Naugy bounced back with a 77-29 win over Kennedy Tuesday to finish the regular season 15-5 overall (13-5 in the NVL). Russell led the Greyhounds with 13 points. Lauryn Ramalho added 12 points.

The Greyhounds are the No. 6 seed in the tournament and will play No. 3 Sacred Heart (14-4 NVL) at 11 a.m. to tip off the quarterfinals.

Naugatuck coach Gail Cheney said there are a lot of great teams in the NVL, adding that the top seven teams each have at least 13 wins.

“I think in order to compete in the tournament we will have to continue believing in ourselves and what we know we can do,” she said. “I think one of the things I like best about our team is that on any given night someone new can step up and I love that about my girls. I wish all the teams the best of luck in the tournament.”

Holy Cross (17-1 NVL) earned the No. 2 seed and Seymour (14-4 NVL) secured the No. 4 seed. No. 5 Ansonia (13-4 NVL), No. 7 Woodland (12-6 NVL) and No. 8 Wolcott (8-10 NVL) round out the field.

Woodland cooled off a little down the stretch, including a 60-46 loss to Seymour last Thursday. Kylie Bulinski tied for the game-high with 15 points, while Gabby Mastropietro netted eight.

The Hawks finished the regular season 14-6 overall with a 57-20 win over Wilby on Tuesday. Mastropietro led all scorers with 14 points. Andra Bojka added 10 points for the Hawks.

With the victory over Wilby, the Hawks split their final six games entering the league tournament. In addition, it’ll be Woodland’s first appearance in the NVL tournament since 2017.

“It’s different because they (the players) haven’t experienced it yet,” Woodland coach Jess Moffo said. “I just tell them it’s an extra game preparing us mentally for states. I told them to be excited and have fun. It’s a cool experience and a cool environment with a packed gym. Hopefully they come ready to play and we can give them a show.”

Naugatuck’s Kaylee Jackson (12) pressures Woodland’s Gabby Mastropietro (10) during a game Feb. 7 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Woodland will play Holy Cross at 12:45 p.m. in the quarterfinals. The Crusaders routed the Hawks, 75-40, on Dec. 30.

“We’re going to have a tough task,” Moffo said. “We have to work on our pressure. They’re going to come at our face and we have to handle it. If we can handle it, we can play with anyone. The first half (against Seymour) showed that. We have to minimize our mistakes, know our responsibilities on defense, and we’ll be fine.”

Moment of the night: Last Thursday’s game against Seymour was also the Hawks’ senior night, during which they honored not only varsity players Jill Barbarito and Katie Sirowich but also Danie Meder. Meder has been a faithful member of the team throughout her four years at Woodland, even while undergoing testing and surgeries to treat the chronic seizures from which she used to suffer.

Wearing No. 32, Meder was announced during the starting lineups and took the floor for the opening tip. After Seymour scored on the opening possession, the Hawks drove back down court and fed the ball to Meder in the post. She banked in a short jumper to a wild reaction from both teams as Moffo called a timeout to celebrate.

Moffo praised both teams for making the moment possible — and she noted that it went even better than the Hawks had practiced during the week.