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Torrington falls to Holy Cross in NVL semis

POSTED February 25, 2014
BY Patrick Tiscia
Twitter: @PatrickTiscia

WATERBURY – The script of the two Torrington-Holy Cross girls basketball games in the regular season were eerily similar.

Holy Cross would jump out to an early lead, hold off a pesky rally by the Raiders and eventually prevail, winning both contests by nine. The third meeting of the season between these teams, Monday night in the semifinals of the Naugatuck Valley League Tournament, amazingly followed that same outline.

The Crusaders led wire-to-wire, but not without some scares from Torrington in winning by nine once again, 50-41, at Kennedy High School.

These teams have been the class of the NVL for over a decade now, engaging in some classics that included a half-court buzzer-beater and some great NVL Tournament finals. This season, however, is somewhat of a rebuilding year for Torrington, according to coach Mike Fritch.

“We are a couple of big kids from being very, very good,” Fritch said. “We got some good guard play, some good forward play, but we don’t have the frontline play we need.”

That was evident Monday as Kiera O’Donnell (13 points) and Chelsea Houlihan (12) each gave the Raiders trouble in the paint. RaShana Siders, who Holy Cross coach Frank Lombardo calls “the best point guard in the league” added 10 points. The trio was too tough for Torrington to overcome.

“We did struggle,” said Fritch, whose team scored only 14 points in the second and third quarters. “We worked too hard to score and they got some easy baskets we were not able to get.”

“We knew it would be a tough, physical game,” noted Lombardo. “We know exactly what they like to do, and they know exactly what we like to do. We were lucky tonight in the fourth quarter to have some kids hustle, do the right things and execute when we needed them to.”

Despite those struggles, the Raiders (16-6) were only down by four halfway through the fourth quarter after Caroline Teti hit a pull-up three and Taylor Howe connected on a jumper.

Holy Cross (21-1 overall, 19-0 NVL regular season), though, put the game away at the foul line, making eight free throws in the final two minutes.

The Raiders, meanwhile, had issues at the line, missing eight of 14 attempts.

“We’ve struggled at the foul line, not just tonight, but all year. It’s been our Achilles’ heel,” Fritch said. “We’re down to 52-53 percent, which is very uncharacteristic of us. We just have to keep working at it.”

Holy Cross will play St. Paul, semifinal winners over Wolcott, in the finals on Wednesday.

Torrington, led by Paige Middleton’s 17 points, now shifts its focus to the state tournament, slated to begin next week. Fritch is a big proponent of the league tournament, which gives teams a chance to experience an one-and-done atmosphere before the real thing begins.

“For us, this is a whole lot better than a practice,” Fritch said. “It’s a very important experience for the kids.”

And while this may be a “rebuilding” year, the Raiders are not a team to count out, says their coach.

“All year long we have not been mentioned and here we were, right back at the semis,” Fritch said. “These kids deserve a lot of credit. They hustle.”

That they did, even in defeat, on Monday and in each of their three battles against the Crusaders.

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