NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck girls basketball team reached its goal of qualifying for the state tournament with Tuesday’s 59-27 victory over Wilby.
There are still two games remaining in the regular season and the Greyhounds are battling for the final spot in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament.
“It feels great to make the postseason because with all that happened during the season with injuries and illnesses no one thought that we would be here,” said Angelina Piccirillo, Naugy’s leading scorer and senior captain.
Naugatuck came out with a focus knowing what was at hand as it quickly built an 11-1 advantage with 3:04 remaining in the first period. Seniors Jessica Case and Michaela Pruchnicki provided the swarming defense that led to 11 Wilby turnovers in the quarter.
The Wildcats finally got on track when Jackie Legree (10 points) and Tchalwanda Chambers (eight) began to take it down the lane and Wilby cut the deficit to 13-7 with a minute left in the period.
But the ‘Cats were just no match for the speed and quickness of senior captain Emma Colucci (seven steals, five assists, four points) and Jackie Aronin (eight points, four steals) as they both converted coast-to-coast drives off steals to open up a 17-9 lead heading into the second period.
Wilby wasn’t taking no for an answer as it kept attacking the middle and clawing back into the game, trailing 18-14 with 5:45 to go in the first half. That’s when Nicole Boucher (13 points, seven rebounds) started to find her range and Naugy began to pull away.
Piccirillo (19 points) hit a pull-up jumper at the top of the key to make it a double-digit lead at 26-16 with three minutes to go in the half. Senior captain Jess Butler (eight points) scored on back-to-back possessions as Naugatuck went into the locker room at the break holding a safe 32-18 lead.
The Wildcats came out in the second half determined to get back in the game. They went back to attacking the middle and were still very much in the game, trailing 34-22 with 4:20 left in the third period.
Christina Batista (eight rebounds, two steals, two assists) began to take control of the paint and the Wildcats were no longer getting second looks at the basket. Boucher and Butler nailed back-to-back 3-pointers and when Batista drove the baseline and threw one in off the window, Naugy had a 44-23 advantage going into the final period.
“We have such a good chemistry on this team,” said Batista, one of four senior captains. “All the seniors on this team have been playing basketball and have been friends for so long we really come together out on the court.”
Knowing that this game could get them over the hump, all the seniors played a step above the norm. That went for senior Christina Jando (four points), too, who rocked the house by taking one the length of the floor for a bucket.
The Naugatuck defense shut down the Wildcats in the second half, allowing just nine points while the ‘Hounds added 27 points to their final output to complete the total team effort in the 59-27 win.
“I’m so happy for the seniors to be able to go out with a state tournament,” Naugatuck coach Jodie Ruccio said. “They have worked so hard to get here and they deserve to go out like this. Right now we are in a battle with Crosby for the final spot in the NVL tournament. We don’t want to leave it up to a coin toss so we still need to take care of business this week with Sacred Heart.”
The Hearts beat Naugatuck Wednesday night, 57-42, to fall to 8-11 on the year. Piccirillo had a team-high 15 points for Naugatuck and Boucher added 14 points.
Naugy will conclude the regular season Tuesday at home against Torrington.