The Naugatuck girls basketball head coach Jodie Ruccio knew very well what she had coming into the season. After losing six seniors to graduation, including 1,000-point career scorer Jessica Webber, the rebuilding phase was about to begin.
The Lady Greyhounds did have three players coming back who saw some varsity time but neither of them ever had a starting role. Seniors Renee Augustine and Michelle Troschler would be looked on to lead the way and junior Lauren Piroscafo was the third piece to the puzzle.
Coach Ruccio still needed to find two other players from a bevy of youngsters who could step up and fill out a very inexperienced lineup.
Juniors Amber Kuczenski under the boards and Carli Pellicia at guard offered the most experience to fill out those roles. But there would be some growing pains along the way with a team that had five sophomores and 12 freshmen to choose from.
Defense has been the staple of coach Ruccio’s teams ever since she took over the program four seasons ago. That defense has kept them in more than a few games over the past few seasons and it culminated a few years ago in Torrington.
Naugatuck barely made the state tournament at 8-12 and had to face the 17-3 Raiders on their home court. Torrington had defeated Naugatuck twice by 40 point margins during the regular season.
The Greyhounds pulled off the shocker of all shockers upsetting Torrington and knocking them out of the tournament strictly on defense along with a few timely baskets down the stretch.
“The one basket I will always remember in that game was the one Lauren Piroscafo made with 1:15 to go,” Ruccio said.“She took a pass from Alexis Grannahan and shielded the defender putting in a left handed pay up from the right wing. And that was from a freshman with the game on the line that put us up by four.”
The start of this season saw the defense have its struggles early on but the one constant has been the scoring of Piroscafo who is 5th in the NVL at 16.4 per game on 262 points in 16 games.
The Greyhounds struggled in the season opener against Torrington dropping a 72-39 decision but it was clear that Piroscafo was emerging as the next go-to player as she threw down a team leading 21 points.
“I really didn’t come into the season looking to be the leading scorer or anything like that,” Piroscafo said. “But it just happened that when we needed a basket the team started to look for me in those situations.”
Piroscafo has certainly learned how to handle the pressure with two older sisters who played for the Garnet and Grey. Her oldest sister Gina was a 1,000 point scorer, and led the Greyhounds to the state semifinals in 2003 before playing at Western Connecticut State University.
Middle sister Julie also played for the Lady Greyhounds and all three sisters got their start at the YMCA Little Pal league with dad Larry Piroscafo as their coach.
“That was so much fun playing with my sisters and having our dad as the coach,” Piroscafo said. “We played for the Magic and won a league championship. That’s where I learned the game and I use to go to all my sisters games when they played for Naugatuck.”
As the season progressed so did the scoring ability of Piroscafo even as the young Greyhounds struggled. In the Lady Greyhounds first win of the season Piroscafo knocked down 24 points and hauled away 10 rebounds as Naugatuck upended Bethel 54-51 in overtime.
“Lauren has made tremendous progress this season,” Ruccio said. “Her shot has developed a lot quicker than I thought it would. … In the last game against Crosby she hit on 70 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the free throw line.”
The emergence of Piroscafo has been a bright spot this season for the Lady Greyhounds.
“It’s been a little disappointing this season not making the state tournament at 3-13 but we have a lot to look forward to, especially having a go-to scorer like Lauren,” Ruccio said. “It’s the same feeling I had when I knew our 1,000 point scorer Jessica Webber would be back.”