WATERBURY — The Naugatuck Valley League’s girls’ basketball tournament was held over the weekend and fans couldn’t help but think about a Torrington-Holy Cross matchup in the finals.
There was much anticipation about a Watertown (Brass Division champs) and Torrington showdown for a right to play the number one ranked Holy Cross as well.
Somewhere along the way they forgot about the sixth-seeded 12-8 Naugatuck Greyhounds.
The Greyhounds turned in a championship performance stunning Watertown in a buzzer-beating overtime classic 53-51 on Saturday in front of a packed house at Holy Cross High School in Waterbury.
If that didn’t get everyone’s attention the Lady Hounds dialed it up again and gave Torrington a scare in Monday’s semifinals as the Raiders escaped with a buzzer beating 42-41 victory.
“We didn’t come into this tournament to just show up,” Naugatuck head coach Jodie Ruccio said. “We had every intention to reach the championship game. I’m so proud of my team’s effort.”
On Saturday against Watertown the Lady Greyhounds took over the game early as Amy Dietz carried the team on her back with a 12-point, 18-rebound performance.
On more than one rebound Dietz was knocked to the floor but managed to hang on to the possession as Watertown showed its aggressiveness in the paint.
“We just had to box out and get into position for rebounds,” Dietz said. “It was definitely a tough game but it was a total team effort.”
Naugatuck was out in front 29-27 at the half with Lauren Piroscafo (18 points) and Angelina Piccirillo (10 points) leading the way.
Watertown’s Jess Spezzano led the Indians with 18 points and Kelly Lewis grabbed nine boards as the Brass Division champs clawed to get back in the game.
Watertown came out and took the lead in the third period 37-32 holding Naugatuck to just three points. The Indians continued to pull away and with 6:16 to go it appeared to be over with Watertown out in front 43-32.
Then the ‘Hounds came back to life. Whatever coach Ruccio said during a time out the team heard it loud and clear. Emma Colucci dove to the floor for a steal and Dietz converted a pair at the line. Suddenly it was a 43-38 deficit with 3:18 left in the fourth period.
“We just talked about playing with intensity like we did when we came back against Kennedy,” Piroscafo said.
Naugatuck needed to knock down some big shots down the stretch and they didn’t come any bigger than Steph Lima’s two three pointers. The first one cut the lead to 45-41 with 1:20 left and the second came with only 19 ticks on the clock to make the score 47-46.
“There was just no way we were going to lose this game,” said Lima (nine points, eight rebounds). “We all stepped up down the stretch and made it happen. We didn’t quit we just kept working hard.”
With 11 seconds left and Naugatuck trailing by a pair, the Greyhounds called a timeout. On the inbounds Lima got it to Piroscafo, who charged the lane and put it in off the window to tie the game at 48-48.
Watertown hit on just two of 10 free throws in the final period and had to resort to a Spezzano shot at the buzzer that was off the mark as the game headed to overtime.
With just 30 seconds left in the overtime session Amber Kuczenski threw down a put-back to give Naugatuck its first lead since halftime at 52-51.
Piroscafo hit a foul shot to open up a 53-51 advantage. With six seconds left Watertown came down the floor looking to take the final shot but Lima came away with a steal and Naugatuck was headed to the semifinals versus Torrington.
Torrington charged out of the gate on Monday with a 10-0 lead and increased the advantage to 14-3. Naugatuck appeared to be in trouble before they once again banged the nails out.
Piccirillo (14 points) and Piroscafo (11 points) helped Naugatuck to battle back in a physical knock-them-down drag them out kind of game.
Colucci took it coast-to-coast on a steal and just like that the ‘Hounds were back in it tied 22-22 at the half.
But the physical game began to take its toll, as Piroscafo (four fouls) and Dietz (three fouls) found themselves on the bench in foul trouble.
Jess Butler came on to handle the ball for Naugatuck and Felicia Gullotta lent a hand in the paint, as both players were instrumental in keeping the ‘Hounds within striking distance.
Naugatuck retook the lead and headed into the final period with a surprising 35-30 advantage. Piccirillo drained a three with 4:15 left to put Naugatuck on top 40-35.
Torrington dug down and managed to wrestle away the lead when Mariah Cerruto nailed a three-pointer with 1:17 to go to give the Raiders its first lead since the opening period at 41-40.
Piroscafo cut the lead to 42-41 at the charity stripe with 22 seconds left and Dietz blocked a shot on the other end to give the ‘Hounds one final chance with 11 ticks left.
Torrington double-teamed Piroscafo as the clock was winding down, but she managed to get a pass to Colucci at the top of the key. But, it was not to be for Naugatuck, as Colucci’s shot fell off the side of the rim as the final buzzer sounded.
Naugatuck did not make the championship game but in two NVL tournament games they played with the heart of champions. Which ever team goes on to win the NVL title they won’t soon forget the effort of the underestimated team from the borough of Naugatuck or its excited fans who were treated to a thrill a minute NVL tournament.
“No one gave us much of a chance but they went out and proved that they belonged in this tournament,” Ruccio said.