Torrington girls take home NVL Title. Pergola named MVP.
Torrington's Paige Middelton looks for an opening during Wednesday's NVL championship win over Holy Cross. Middleton scored nine points as THS played a remarkable game.
WATERBURY: As the ball rolled over the top of the rim and harmlessly down into a crowd of players, one team had climbed a mountain nobody saw them ascending, while the other was left wondering what might have been.
Not once, but twice, with just 7.7 seconds left in regulation, the Holy Cross Crusaders had a shot at a game and Naugatuck Valley League Championship winning shot and both times, it rolled off, giving the Torrington girls the trophy thanks to a 56-55 win.
It was a win that sums up how this team has gone about their business all year. Nobody expected the Raiders to lose just one game out of 20 this year and then win another three in the post-season so far, but with a grit and determination that reflects their coaching staff, this group of players takes home the trophy that matters in the NVL for the second time in the last three years.
In a game that saw Torrington utilize their cut-based offense to perfection, often carving up the taller Crusaders on back door cuts and the like, it was the Raiders who gained the upper hand and despite a spirited comeback by Cross, didn’t fold when they got down.
While a last minute hero was what the script seemed to be calling for didn’t happen, despite numerous chances by both teams to present one, sophomore sensation Brie Pergola responded to the occasion with a game-high 20-point effort.
Pergola was named the NVL Tournament Most Valuable Player for her efforts.
Torrington had come into the game off a sloppy, uninspiring 45-42 win over Kennedy in the semifinals on Monday night, while the Crusaders had a relatively easy time in disposing of Crosby by a 56-36 final.
Head coach Mike Fritch normally knows how his team is going to play based on how they practice and knowing they were going to face a relentless full court press against the Crusaders, a little more emphasis was put on the tenth grader handling whatever was thrown at her.
“We put the ball in her hands yesterday at practice and told her that she had to beat the pressure,” Torrington head coach Mike Fritch said. “We told her, ‘you can beat these guys on the dribble.'”
At times, Fritch and his staff put seven players on one side, making Pergola work even harder to get the ball up court and it paid off in a big way.
This is a team that has that ability to bounce back from a game in which they don’t play up to their expectations by putting in extra work their next time out and one of their senior leaders knew what they needed to do.
“We knew we were coming into a big game and we knew we had to play our “A” game,” senior Paige Middleton said. “We knew we were going against a really good team and we came out and played really hard.”
After a tight first quarter on Wednesday that ended with the Crusaders up 17-16, it was the number two seed that came out strong in the second behind an eight-point quarter by Pergola to go up 32-26 at the break.
Torrington had survived the opening pressure in the first quarter and got a boost from senior Shelby Howe who, for the second straight game, came up big when her team needed it and with her sister and starting point guard Taylor under the weather.
Shelby Howe scored 13 points, including a trio from beyond the arc at critical times when the Crusaders threatened to open up a very uncomfortable gap between them and Torrington.
The Crusaders are a deep and talented team who got stellar play from junior RaShina Siders (19 points) who, with her team down six at the half, came back out in the third with an 11-point third quarter and 15-point second half.
“I thought the big issue was going to be the third quarter,” Fritch said. “I told the kids that they were going to ramp up the pressure and we were going to have to get through it and we did.”
While Siders kept her team close with baskets on four straight possessions, the Raiders went back to work on the back door cuts and drives that worked to perfection.
Brittany Anderson scored five points in the frame, while Middleton scored on a pair of layups as the Raiders tried to hold off the top seed.
A pair of three pointers, one by Siders and another from freshman Century McCartney closed the gap to just three at 47-44 starting the fourth quarter.
Holy Cross would rip off a 7-0 run to start the final frame with a three by Casey DiZinno (9, all three’s) and back to back baskets by Siders.
The Raiders were down by a 51-47 margin and you had to ask yourself if this was the moment the game would get away from them, the time that Cross won the game.
In the teams only meeting this year, it was Shelby Howe who ended up with the ball in two key spots late in regulation and overtime. Having not played a great deal at that point, neither possession went well for the Raiders, but on Wednesday night in the biggest game of the year, the senior was more than ready for the task at hand.
Howe would drain a three-pointer from the corner with 4:15 to play, bringing her team back to within one at 51-50. The senior would also take a huge charge to stop a key Cross possession.
Senior Brittany Anderson scored of an offensive rebound and the Raiders had the lead back.
The Raiders last four points would come on four free throws by Pergola, while the Crusaders last points came with 1:44 left on the clock on a bucket by Caitlin Cipriano (14 points, 17 boards).
Both teams had chances in the last two minutes but neither would add a point to the final despite one-and-one opportunities or open shots.
So this group of players that even their head coach thinks may have overachieved this year comes away with the big prize that came from never giving up.
“We worked our tails off in practice on Tuesday,” Anderson said. “We deserve to be just where we are and I could not be more proud of this team.”