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Crusaders girls top Raiders in OT, 69-66.

POSTED December 19, 2014
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

TORRINGTON: Okay, it’s the third game of the year so we won’t go too crazy but with that said, it was a pretty darn good third game of the season for two of the top teams in the Naugatuck Valley League.

In the third game of the year, both the Holy Cross and Torrington girls’ basketball teams learned a great deal about themselves with the visiting Crusaders making just a slightly higher grade in a 69-66 overtime win at the Connie Donahue Gymnasium.

Cross junior RaShana Siders was the difference maker in this one, scoring 20 second half points as she willed her team back from a nine-point hole early in the third quarter and forcing the extra frame with two free throws with 36-seconds left in regulation.

Early season matchups such as these can be either pleasant surprises for the respective head coaches or flat out nightmares.

Safe to say both coaches are pretty happy with how Friday night played out, starting with Raiders head coach Mike Fritch.

“I think we proved to ourselves that we could play,” Fritch said. “Early on, I didn’t think we would this ready this early. I think the kids did a heck of a job.”

The Raiders got a balanced first half scoring attack that saw six different players score, led by seven points from senior Paige Middleton.

“We are learning a whole new offense this year,” Middleton said, “And the progress we have made over the past couple of weeks has been incredible. It’s a hard offense to learn because we are breaking our own habits.”

The Raiders use a pass and cut offense this year with movement without the ball a key component. The system was just instituted when the team began practice in late November.

“We got into foul trouble and I had to move some kids around,” Fritch said. “But give our kids some credit, they played great defense. I don’t think they (Holy Cross) had seen this kind of defensive pressure.”

Torrington took a 31-25 lead into halftime but six consecutive turnovers to start the second half, most caused by a suffocating Crusader press, led to a 7-0 run by the visitors that got them back to within one at 34-33.

Part of the new offense Fritch is teaching his team relies heavily on being able to finish at the rim, something the Raiders struggle with as they missed 14 layups during the game.

“We missed a bunch of layups,” Middleton said, “If we make those layups, we win.”

For Frank Lombardo and his Crusaders, the first half was part of an education that needed to take place with a bunch of new faces.

“We have a lot of new varsity players,” Lombardo said. “These are the games that they learn on the spot.”

Halftime adjustments led to a different approach in the third, and the coach was pleased with the effort.

“We played with some heart and intensity in the second half,” Lombardo said. “We needed players who don’t usually get a lot of varsity time to step up and they did after a tough first half.”

Raider sophomore Brie Pergola scored a team high 20 for Torrington but had to work very hard to get every one of them.

“We knew she would get her points but we had to make sure they were not easy,” Lombardo said. “She is one of the top five players in the league this year.”

Torrington had the ball with 36 seconds left in regulation and was working for one play but good defense and a missed opportunity denied the Raiders a shot at a regulation win.

On the play, the Torrington coaching staff was looking to run Pergola off a double screen but the talented sophomore got bottled up and the shot never materialized.

Lombardo has a gamer of his own in Siders who scored six of her teams eight points in the extra frame, her three pointer with 2:51 left gave the visitors a lead they would not give back.

“Siders had a tremendous game,” Lombardo said.  “In the last two minutes of the game I told her ‘it’s your ball dribble around, they are going to foul you and make the foul shots’.”

These two teams normally give their fans two or three great games a year and considering what was seen in game one, this could be another terrific series between two of the top teams in the NVL.

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