NAUGATUCK — The scene was set on Tuesday at the Edward Mariano Gymnasium on the campus of Naugatuck High School as March madness came a few days early. The bleachers were filled with enthusiastic Greyhound fans as 16th seed Naugatuck (13-9) took on 17th seed Windsor (12-9) in the first round of the girls Class L state tournament.
Naugatuck sophomore Alex Hernandez got the festivities started with a sterling rendition of the National Anthem and it was time to play ball.
The Lady Greyhounds were in unfamiliar territory playing in the state tournament for the first time since 2009. Seniors Lauren Piroscafo, Amber Kuczenski, and Carli Pellicia were the only players with postseason experience on the court for the ‘Hounds.
Windsor, which boasts a lineup of four seniors and five juniors, used that experience to get past Naugatuck 56-45 and put an end to the Greyhounds season.
“We were a little out of our comfort zone,” was the way Naugatuck head coach Jodie Ruccio described the game following the disappointing end to the season. “A lot of these girls never played in a state tournament, and it showed in the first half. Windsor did a good job of pressuring the ball and forced us into way too many turnovers.”
The Warriors came out like it was a track meet and raced up and down the floor with reckless abandon. In the middle of the pandemonium there wasn’t a shot that Windsor didn’t like as they rippled the net with three 3-pointers.
Naugatuck was trying to hang on as Emma Colucci came up with a steal and took it the length of the floor for a bucket trimming the deficit to 12-9 with 3:29 remaining in the period.
The Warriors swarmed to the ball and created ten turnovers in the period, as seven different players for Windsor found their way into the scorebook.
Angelina Piccirillo (12 points) gave Naugatuck a fighting chance as she hit a baseline drive, added the ensuing foul shot then buried a three-pointer to end the period. At the end of the first period though the ‘Hounds trailed 21-15.
As if it was possible, Windsor turned up the pressure in the second period. The Greyhounds matched Windsor’s intensity as Piroscafo scored down low and Amy Dietz (13 points, eight rebounds) threw one in off the window to cut the gap at 25-20.
Then, the Warriors went on a tear stealing four straight possessions and took an insurmountable 35-20 lead at the half. Amanda Lopez (12 points) and Alex Williams (10 points) did most of the damage for the Warriors.
“You can’t turn the ball over 21 times in the first half and expect to be in the game,” Ruccio said. “We did a better job in the second half controlling the ball (nine turnovers). But we were taking too long to get off a shot and when we did they just were not falling.”
Steph Lima threw down a put-back to start the second half. Dietz got it going with seven points in the third period and when Felicia Gullotta knocked down a free throw Naugatuck cut Windsor’s lead to 45-34 with 1:04 left in the period.
Windsor answered with a 3-pointer and a baseline drive to take a 16-point advantage into the final period. The Warriors had a chance for the knock out blow but shot just 3 of 13 at the foul line.
Naugatuck got it down to a 10-point deficit twice in the last period but couldn’t draw closer as lay-ups and shots in the lane fell off the side of the rim.
It may not have been the Naugatuck’s night but the Lady Greyhounds accomplished their season goal of making it back to the state tournament. The bar has been raised for next season.
“We are young and it was definitely a learning experience,” Ruccio said. “I don’t think we’ve seen a team this quick outside of Holy Cross. But if these girls continue to work hard in the off season we can certainly be back here next season.”