Raider girls basketball shows remarkable family spirit.
TORRINGTON: Mike Fritch has always treated his teams like family.
One look at any sideline during a Torrington girls basketball game would show you as much, what with kids of all ages running around and being part of the scene, just like Fritch had when his kids grew up in the gym.
As with any family, sometimes bad things happen to great people and the Raiders family was hurting on Monday night as they prepared to take on rival Holy Cross in the semifinals of the Naugatuck Valley League Tournament.
Playing a game was the last thing on anyone’s mind considering what had transpired over the previous 48 hours (out of respect, I am not going into detail until the proper time occurs), but a game had to be played.
Sometimes high school athletes show the adults a thing or two about family and togetherness, and after falling behind 18-2 after the first eight minutes of play, Torrington responded with a near heroic performance that wiped out all but one-point of that deficit in the third quarter.
The Crusaders, though, were simply too tough and moved into the finals with a 59-48 win, a victory that sets them up to face St Paul in a match-up of the two top teams in the NVL this year.
“The three areas we struggled with all year,” Fritch said, “were rebounding, turnovers and, our off-guard shooting.”
The loss should not take away the main lesson of the night, the ability of these players to fight through the pain that was so evident before the game, as well as finding the internal moxie that allowed them to not simply roll over after being hit hard on and off the court.
“Give the kids a lot of credit,” Fritch said. “They showed me that they’re not quitting. Don’t get me wrong, they had as tough a day yesterday as we all did. As a family, we had a tough day but they fought back tonight.”
The Crusaders, who ran the table during the regular season in the NVL, raced out to a stunning start that nearly ran the fourth ranked team out of the building, featuring a ferocious defensive effort that induced ten first quarter turnovers by the Raiders.
Holy Cross understand how to hit the glass and did so in dominant fashion all night, outrebounding Torrington by a 38-13 margin.
Still, head coach Frank Lombardo felt his team is not exactly where he wants them to be at this point.
“We still haven’t had a full 32-minute game,” Lombardi said. “We have been harping on that for a long time. The last two to three weeks, we’ve been starting the games with a lackluster effort. The last two days in practice, we have been working on getting them focused to start the game fast and tonight we finally did. It was the first time in the last four or five weeks that we actually did.”
In the second quarter, though, the Raiders were led by seniors Brie Pergola (named Top Senior in the NVL) and Alexis Tyrrell (named to the All-Iron team), who helped ignite a 24-11 run through the second quarter, cutting the lead to just three at 29-26 at the break.
Pergola had eight points in the frame, Tyrrell added five as did sophomore Alyssa Maraia, who will be the face of this team next year and has gotten stronger as the year went on.
What did it take to get back into the game at a time when all looked lost?
“It takes a lot,” Pergola said. “By the second quarter, we knew we had to put our heads into it and do something about it (the deficit). We got to the paint more, the press kind of got us in the first quarter.”
Maraia nailed a three pointer late in the half that cut the lead to that 29-26 score and the Raiders went into the locker room having already proven something to themselves and their fans.
They showed heart and grit and dedication to each other. Just how a family does.
When Tyrrell found Pergola for a bucket inside as the third quarter got underway, the Raiders had come all the way back to within one.
A 6-0 run by Cross stretched the lead back out to seven, but a three-ball from Maraia and a steal and layup by Pergola made it a two-point game again at 35-33.
Three-pointers by Idalis Miranda and Julia Mecca ignited a 12-2 run to end the third and any real chance Torrington had to make an appearance in the finals on Wednesday went by the wayside.
Pergola led the Raiders with 18 points, while Tyrrell added 12 and Maraia 10.
Plant led Holy Cross with 14, while Miranda added 13.
The Raiders may have come out on the wrong side of the scoreboard, but won in so many more important ways that could ever be found on the hardwood.