NAUGATUCK — Armed with four seniors, three juniors and a strong cast of underclassmen, the Greyhounds churned out a 15-5 regular season record and earned the No. 5 seed in the Naugatuck Valley league girls basketball tournament.
The Greyhounds entered the league tournament looking to get back to the championship game after making a run to the final last season. After an overtime win the quarterfinals, Naugatuck fell in the semifinal against eventual champion and No. 1 seed St. Paul.
“I thought the team did very well in the tournament,” Naugatuck head coach Gail Cheney said. “Our younger girls didn’t seem too worried about being freshmen. They came to play and did a great job in spite of all the pressure a tournament like this can have.”
Naugatuck opened the tournament with a thrilling quarterfinal game Feb. 16 against No. 4 Ansonia (16-5).
Trailing by three with time running out, freshman Kaylee Jackson (13 points) buried a 3-pointer to tie the game. Fellow freshman Sara Macary made sure the score stay tied by blocking a last second shot by Ansonia’s Liz Wilson to send the game to overtime.
In the extra session senior Sarah Wisniewski (20 points) took matters in her own hands, coming up with back-to-back steals that led to buckets before sinking four foul shots to secure the 52-45 win for Naugatuck.
“We knew it was going to be a battle with Ansonia,” Cheney said. “I thought we showed what we are made of after scoring just 12 points in the first half.”
Naugatuck was in for another battle against St. Paul, which is 21-0 against NVL competition, in the semifinals Feb. 18.
The Falcons busted out to a 10-0 lead, but the ‘Hounds battled back and held a seven-point advantage with three minutes to play in the game. Led by Janessa Gonzalez, who scored a game-high 27 points, St. Paul finished the game on an 11-0 run to pull out of 55-51 win.
Macary led the Greyhounds with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Wisniewski had another all-around performance, scoring 14 points, pulling down eight rebounds and coming up with six steals.
“We got beat pretty good by St. Paul twice already during the season,” Cheney said. “As a coaching staff we knew we needed to make some adjustments. It worked out for us and we had that lead late in the game. But Janessa just took it over in those last couple of minutes.”
Macary earned All-NVL honors. Wisniewski and senior Hailey Deitelbaum were named to the All-Iron Division team.
Naugy (16-6) will take that experience gained in the NVL tournament into the Class L state tournament. The Greyhounds, the No. 8 seed in Class L, are scheduled to open the tourney against No. 25 Avon (8-12) Monday. A win will put Naugatuck in the second round on Thursday.
“Anytime to go into the state tournament you never know what can happen,” Cheney said. “Last year we faced a No. 28 seed in Branford and lost. There are so many strong leagues in the Class L, and we are not taking anyone lightly. It all comes down to who comes ready to play.”