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Raiders move into NVL Finals with 40-34 win over Crusaders...

POSTED February 21, 2013
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

Caroline Teti and the Torrington girls will face off against Watertown on Thursday night for the Naugatuck Valley League Championship. The Indians beat Ansonia by a 42-25 score to set the stage for the top two teams in the finals.


WATERBURY: They don't win pretty.

They at times seem be on a mission to drive head coach Mike Fritch absolutley crazy.

But when it has counted this year, the Torrington girls basketball team finds a way to get it done, finds a way to win.

The Raiders find themselves in a extremely familiar position; in the finals of the Naugatuck Valley League Tournament after a 40-34 win over rival Holy Cross.

In a year without a Royals or a Cerruto or a Williams or an Otis or countless other big names that have played for Fritch, this version of the team that calls the Connie Donahue home is truly the definition of a team.

How did this come about after a pre-season of below, low expectations?

"This team bought into everything." Fritch said. "They know their roles and while they do drive me crazy at times, they don't give up."

The story line coming into this one was a good one.

Torrington had demolished the Crusaders by 30 at home early in the season before coming back from a large black hole down at "The Pit" in a game they looked awful in until they didn't.

Tuesday night the latter appeared out of the gate for the Raiders who found themselves down 8-0 before breaking onto the scoreboard with a Caroline Teti (game high 13 points) free throw with 5:02 left in the opening quarter.

You knew Cross head man Frank Lombardo had his team ready to play after the last meeting and the Crusaders had been on a roll since the Torrington loss.

Everything was clicking for Lombardo's team.

Their pressure and nerves were killing Torrington, their first seven possession resulted in either a turnover foul or missed shot.

"It seemed like it was going to be one of those night when we couldn't do anything right." Fritch said. "But then we settled down."

Fritch knew coming in that he wanted his team to focus on three Cross players on defense.

Chelsea Houlihan, Kiera O'Donnell and Amy Stafford accounted for 21 of their teams 4 points but were completely shut down in the third and fourth quarters.

In fact, the fourth quarter has belonged to the Raiders in the last two meeting. On Tuesday, a lay-up off an inbound pass with 51.6 second to play to O'Donnell accounted for the only Cross basket scored in the period.

Torrington got back into this one by driving to the hoop and getting to the foul line.

"We made our free throws tonight." Fritch said. "We had been shooting something like 55 or 56 percent this season."

Tuesday night the Raiders converted on 16 of 25 (64%)

The Crusaders led 13-7 after one but an 8-0 hole was partially filled.

Multiple players contributed in the second quarter including Mika Howard, who gave the Raiders some instant offense with a running layup and a long three pointer after Teti had given Torrington their first lead of the night with a three pointer and a two point drive.

Torrington went into the half up 22-20, and opened a five point lead at 30-25 on a nice feed from Nicole Kozlak (2 points) to Megan Calabrese who played a great game underneath.

The senior center pulled down 12 rebounds and hit two key free throws late in the game to put the Raiders up for good.

Cross threw on their classic full court press which led to a multitude of turnovers and gave the Crusaders the lead again at 31-30 on a free throw from Houlihan with 1:50 left in the third.

Kozlak scored her only basket on a fast break the next time for Torrington with a nice assist from Howard to give the Raiders a lead they would never give back.

Beating a team three times in a year is rarely done but the Raiders have now swept the season series from the Crusaders, something not lost on Kozlak.

"I thinks it unbelievable to have beaten them three times." the senior guard said. "They have such a great team so to be able to do that says something about our team."

With the Watertown 42-25 win over Ansonia in the second game, the match up everybody wanted is on tap.

Number One (Watertown) versus Number Two (Torrington) for the NVL Championship.

Thursday night at Kennedy starting at 7.

The Raiders won the only meeting of the two division winners earlier this year by a 55-47 score at home after nearly blowing a 19-5 lead after one quarter.

Should be a good one....  

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