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Crusaders knock off Raiders in defensive battle.

POSTED December 31, 2010
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

WATERBURY - Going into his teams game against Holy Cross, Torrington girls basketball coach Mike Fritch knew that the team that brought their “A” game would come away with the win.  

With just over two minutes left in the third quarter, the visitors held an eight-point lead and seemed to have been the squad that brought the first letter of the alphabet with them this night.

From that point on though, a stubborn Crusaders defense allowed the Raiders just two more baskets the remainder if the game and came away with the top grade in a hard fought, 50-44 win.

Holy Cross improves to 8-0 while the Raiders drop their first of the season and fall to 6-1.

The difference between these two teams in not big; both love to play tough, in-your-face-defense and run whenever they can.

This game, like most in the storied history of these two schools, was about as physical as one could get.

Bodies where flying, noses where bleeding and fouls piled up for both teams.

The home team jumped out to a fast 8-3 lead after Brianna Bradford converted on a conventional three-point play.

Bradford would play a big roll in the second half after missing time in the second quarter when a collision caused a bloody nose that for a while would not stop.

Torrington guard Sarah Royals got her team back in the mix with a three-point play of her own before Nicole Kozlak drained one of her two three-pointers of the game to give the visitors their first lead of the night at 10-8.

Angelica Ariola, who led all scorers with 21 points, is the same type creator on offense that Royals is for Torrington.

When her team needs a spark, Ariola steps up, which was especially true in the second half when the Crusaders defense fed their offense.

Sounds a lot like the Raiders, doesn’t it?

Bradford went down with just over three minutes left in the half but her team kept it close at 24-21 at the half.

“I wasn’t thrilled to be down at the half,” Cross head coach Frank Lombardo said, “But I understood it could have been worse.”

Neither team could buy a hoop as the second half got underway, the home team didn’t convert one until there was 1:39 left when Bradford, back after getting her nose plugged, scored on a runner.

That basket led to a 7-0 run that ended with Bradford draining a three pointer to bring her team within one at 33-32.

A trend that would haunt the Raiders later in the game, started in the third when Royals missed three of four free throws.

Torrington would convert on just 15 of 30 attempts for the game while the Crusaders would make 21 of 28, 10 of 12 in the fourth.

The Raiders would miss 7 of 11 chances in the final quarter.

Holy Cross, especially Ariola and Bradford, clamped down on the Raiders half court offense, with Bradford staying right with Royals.

No other Raider player broke into double digits on the night, Kozlak was next with eight points while Taylor Christiano added seven.

“We just knew we had to step our defense up ten notches,” Bradford said, “Both teams are such great competitors and it’s always a battle when we play.”

In the end, Fritch understood his team had let one get away.

“We didn’t execute our offense and couldn’t make free throws,” Fritch said. “Their defensive pressure disrupted us and we didn’t handle the pressure well.”

The two teams, who appear to be the cream of the crop in the Naugatuck Valley League this season, get together again on February 8 in Torrington.

Bring the first aid kit.

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