NAUGATUCK — From the outset, the game’s outcome was never in doubt. The Naugatuck girls were just too tough defensively and too diverse offensively for Woodland last Friday night.
Steph Lima scored a game-high 15 points while Amy Dietz added 14 points, Amber Kuczenski grabbed 10 rebounds, and Lauren Piroscafo made nine steals as the Greyhounds rolled past the Hawks, 53-34, to move one step closer to a state tournament berth.
Naugy (7-5) dominated from the opening tip, going on an 11-0 run to start the contest. The Greyhounds’ full-court press stifled Woodland, allowing the Hawks to pass mid-court only a handful of times in the first five minutes of the game.
In fact, the ‘Hounds tallied 11 of their 25 steals in the first quarter. Piroscafo, Lima, Dietz, Emma Colucci, Kuczenski, and Ang Piccirillo all scored in the period, after which Naugy led, 14-6.
“That’s been our focus since the first couple of games,” Naugatuck coach Jodie Ruccio said of the team’s pressure defense. “We changed our lineup to go to a pressing team. We substituted a few girls who are better defensively and we’ve been a lot better since.”
Woodland (3-8) made an 11-5 run spanning about six minutes from the end of the first to the start of the second, but only Carli Mariotti (11 points) and Andrea Piccolo (14 points) were able to score. Naugatuck turned on the defensive intensity once again and closed the half on a 10-0 run to take a 26-11 halftime lead.
“I think all of our scoring came in the paint tonight,” Woodland interim coach Jess Moffo said. “We really don’t have a point guard, so we don’t have anyone to distribute the ball to the wings.”
Only Piccolo, Mariotti, and Shannon Meany (seven points) scored field goals in the game as the Hawks struggled to find an offensive rhythm.
“Shannon is really a forward but she’s been stepping up to fill in as the point guard,” Moffo said. “She’s trying her best out there and is stepping up as a senior captain, but that’s not her natural position.”
Naugatuck took advantage of Woodland’s backcourt inexperience and continued to make steals as the Hawks tried to press up the floor. Piroscafo, who finished with an uncharacteristically low four points, totaled nine steals and two blocks in her defensive effort.
“Lauren is definitely underestimated as a defender,” Ruccio said. “She’s one of our best conditioned girls so she stays strong throughout the game. She can steal the ball and go down and score, so that’s even better.”
While Piroscafo paced the Greyhounds’ defense, Lima continued her recent resurgence on offense. She scored seven of her 15 points in the third quarter, all coming during a personal 7-0 run that gave Naugy its biggest lead of the night at 37-13.
“She left last year thinking she was going to be our point guard,” Ruccio said of Lima. “But she came back this year and realized she was going to be a forward. I think she’s our toughest player to guard because she can step outside and shoot or drive inside.”
Woodland outscored Naugatuck, 13-10, in the fourth quarter, including an 8-0 run on consecutive layups by Mariotti and Piccolo, but it was too late for the Hawks.
“I don’t care if we’re down one or 100,” Moffo said. “I keep telling these girls not to give up and they haven’t yet. The effort is there, we’re just making mental mistakes. As long as we don’t give up in a game, I’ve done my job.”
Woodland was set to host Holy Cross on Wednesday before visiting Sacred Heart on Friday and hosting Kennedy on Tuesday.
For Naugatuck, its next win will clinch a state tournament bid for the first time since 2010. The ‘Hounds were scheduled to visit Watertown on Wednesday before returning home for games against Ansonia on Friday and St. Paul on Tuesday.
“I’m feeling really good about our team,” Ruccio said. “I still don’t think we’ve played our best game yet. When we can get all of our girls going at the same time, I think we’re going to be a real tough team to beat.”