Holy Cross edges Torrington, wins NVL Tournament
WATERBURY – The Torrington-Holy Cross girls basketball rivalry has not disappointed in the drama category over the past two seasons, so it was fitting the two Naugatuck Valley League powerhouses stood alone Wednesday night in the league’s tournament championship game.
For the second time in less than a month, the Red Raiders gave Holy Cross, unbeaten in NVL play this season, all it could handle and led by six early in the fourth quarter. But the Crusaders, powered by Angelica Ariola’s go-ahead lay-up with 37 seconds left, held off Torrington for a 57-54 victory at Kennedy High School, capturing their third straight NVL Tournament title in the process.
While the loss may have been tough for the Red Raiders, head coach Mike Fritch loved the experience it gave them heading into next week’s state tournament.
“The kids did a great job and I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Fritch said. “On paper, we’re not supposed to stay with this team, but in the last two games against them, we gave everything we had. This game is going to prepare both teams for the state tournament.”
The Red Raiders had a great opportunity to seize the upset, but struggled after Caycee Williams hit a jumper for a 50-44 lead to start the fourth.
Holy Cross slowly crawled back, tying the game at 52-52 six minutes later on an Ariola twisting, left-handed lay-up in traffic.
Brianna Bradford, fouled on a hand-check 25 feet from the basket, made one free throw to give the Crusaders a one-point advantage with 52.6 second left.
Her missed foul shot then shot off a crazy sequence to remember.
Alyssa Otis, who was tremendous with 24 points, rebounded the miss and drove the court for a lay-up and one-point Torrington edge. Ariola wasted no time, taking the in-bounds pass and going the distance for an immediate hoop and a lead the Crusaders would not relinquish.
Torrington had two chances in the final seconds to tie or take the lead, but turned it over on both occasions, the first with 6.6 seconds left and the final nail in the coffin with 4.9 seconds on the clock.
“We had two bad trips down the floor and unfortunately they came in the end,” Fritch said. “We were going for the win, but were unable to execute.”
Twice, it appeared the favored Crusaders were on the brink of gaining control, but each time Torrington had answers.
The first came when Holy Cross rattled off a 13-0 run that spanned the first two quarters for a 23-12 lead.
Otis led the comeback, scoring 10 points in the period to put the Red Raiders in a good position, down 32-29 at the half.
The Crusaders were up 45-40 in the third when Mariah Cerruto took over, scoring seven straight points, including a three, to give the Red Raiders the lead back.
Williams, who recorded a 20-20 game in the last matchup, had another strong outing Wednesday, notching 16 points and 19 rebounds. Her two lay-ups in the final 1:45 of the third helped Torrington open up a 48-44 advantage to start the fourth.
Holy Cross struggled offensively for long spurts throughout the game and adjusted its mentality just in time to secure the win.
“We settled for perimeter shots against their zone, and that hurt us,” Lombardo said. “We huddled up after a timeout in the fourth and stressed that we had to drive to the hoop and not live and die with threes. Williams and Otis were getting all the rebounds off our long shots and once we drove to the hoop, we started to be successful.”
Lombardo expected nothing less than the physical battle Holy Cross got from Torrington.
"Mike Fritch does a great job preparing his teams to play," Lombardo said. "We knew it'd be tough tonight. Year in and year out, it is always tough to play against them. It always comes down to who executes in the last three minutes.
“This is a tremendous win for us,” Lombardo continued. “To go 19-0 in the NVL regular season and then 3-0 in the tournament is a great feat. The seniors really wanted to win a third in a row.”
Torrington (19-4) has a bye and will play either Daniel Hand or Bunnell in the second round of the Class L Tournament at home on March 2.
“We’re going to go back and work on some plays in practice and get ready,” Fritch said. “These girls aren’t scared of anybody. I love that about them.”
That attitude, even in defeat, was on full display Wednesday.