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2011 Year in Review. March 7. Torrington's frontline muscles Red Raiders into Class L semifinals

POSTED December 22, 2011
BY Patrick Tiscia
Twitter: @PatrickTiscia

2011 Year in Review. March 7. Torrington girls basketball coach Mike Fritch celebrates with his team after the Raiders advanced to the Class L semi-finals with a 69-56 over RHAM at THS.

TORRINGTON – It’s a common perception across the state that the Torrington girls basketball team can go only as far as Sarah Royals will take it.

Clearly, those with that opinion don't know what Taylor Christiano, Alyssa Otis or Brittany Kackowski are capable of.

Those three, which consist of the Red Raiders’ frontline, combined for 44 points and 25 rebounds in leading No. 3 Torrington over 11th-seeded RHAM, 69-56, Monday night in the Class L quarterfinals at the Connie Donahue Gymnasium.

Thanks to the that aforementioned trio, Torrington was able to outplay a tall and talented RHAM team, winning the battle of the boards, 29-18.

“They did not have an answer for our players in the paint, particularly Taylor,” Torrington head coach Mike Fritch said. “Everyone played well tonight. I was very proud of their effort.”

After the Red Raiders (23-2) took a one-point lead at the end of one quarter, Christiano and Royals took control.

Christiano (game-high 21 points, 10 rebounds) hit two jumpers and put back a miss for six points in the second period, while Royals, who had her second straight strong tournament game with 19 points, netted nine points in the quarter, including a three-point play with four seconds left to give Torrington a 30-21 lead at the half.

One posession into the third, Christiano hit another jumper to up the Red Raiders’ advantage to 11 and it appeared Torrington was on its way to a relatively easy win.

Not so fast.

In just 1:49, RHAM tied the game, powered by three consecutive three-pointers, two of which came from Sarah Veilleux. The freshman star added another basket to knot the score at 32-32, leading Fritch to use a timeout.

The lead then changed hands five times in the quarter until Christiano and Otis recorded back-to-back makes for a three-point Torrington lead. The Red Raiders held a one-point edge heading into the fourth.

 “It takes a lot to keep calm in that type of situation,” said Christiano, a senior. “Coach kept telling us to run our plays and take our time. This was our game and we were going to play at our pace.”

All things considered, the Red Raiders avoided a complete disaster in the quarter and found themselves in position to take home the win.

“I cautioned the kids in the locker room that we can’t let the third quarter bite us,” Fritch said. “Even though (RHAM) came back, we found a way to stem the tide.”

Otis opened the fourth with a lay-up and following a RHAM hoop, Christiano notched a three-point play.

Otis and Mariah Cerruto followed with hoops and Torrington found itself up, 53-46, with 2:47 left.

Then the free throw shooting contest began. Enter Brittany Kackowski.

Not only did she have a strong game in the paint with seven rebounds, Kackowski nailed all eight of her foul shots in the fourth, while Royals added five free throws of her own.

In all, Torrington made 25-of-37 from the line, including 18-of-24 in the fourth.

“I told the kids if they didn’t make their free throws, we wouldn’t win the game,” Fritch said. “They did a great job.”

Now, Torrington stands just one win away from a berth in the Class L finals. It will face No. 2 E.O. Smith in the semifinals Friday night at a venue to be determined.

“I definitely thought we could get here,” Fritch said. “When looking at the bracket, I thought we got a nice draw.”

“This feels amazing,” a smiling Otis said following the final buzzer. “We’ve worked so hard and we’ve wanted this so bad.”

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