By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck girls basketball team didn’t end the season as strong as it started, but that will be fuel for the fire in the offseason.
After a 52-50 loss to Sacred Heart in the quarterfinals of the Naugatuck Valley League tournament late last month, No. 10 Naugatuck fell to No. 23 Guilford, 44-21, at home in the first round of the Class L tournament March 3.
“We struggled a little bit offensively,” Naugatuck head coach Gail Cheney said. “But give Guilford credit, they played good, hard defense.”
Both teams struggled to find their groove offensively. Guilford (9-12) held a 10-5 lead after the first quarter. Naugatuck (15-7) continued to struggle, hitting on just two free throws in the second quarter, and trialed 17-7 at the break.
Playing without senior co-captain Brielle Behuniak due to an illness, Naugy got back in the game early in the second half on the strength of an aggressive defense that came away with four steals, including two by Sophia DeFilippo.
After Kaylee Jackson rippled the net on two long-range jumpers and Sara Macary knocked down a pair of free throws, it was suddenly a 17-14 game. But, missed shots and turnovers hampered Naugy again. Guilford continued to turn offensive rebounds into second-chance baskets and opened a 30-18 lead going into the final quarter.
“It is what it is,” Cheney said. “I thought they were a real good rebounding team and we allowed them second and third chances at the basket. But they held us to seven points in the first half and there’s not much you can do after that.”
The Greyhounds, who ended a ten-year state tournament win drought last season, broke out to a 7-1 start this season. Naugatuck graduated five seniors, including three starters, from last year’s squad but returned a solid trio of seniors in Behuniak (153 points), Hailey Russell (185 points) and Alissa McNeil (55 points).
Several young players for the Greyhounds’ continued to develop this season, highlighted by sophomores Macary, (288 points), a two-time All-NVL player, and Jackson (208 points), an All-Iron Division forward.
Freshman guard Lauryn Ramalho worked herself into the rotation by midseason, scoring 101 points on the year. Several other players stepped up into expanded roles, including sophomores Kendall Allen, who scored a season-high 15 points in a win over Watertown, and Felicia Salvati, who had a season-high eight points in a win over Torrington.
“We lost a lot from last year with our seniors,” Cheney said. “Hailey (Russell) and Brielle (Behuniak) came in this year as our leaders and did a good job scoring points for us.”
“It will be interesting to see what next year holds,” Cheney added. “We have Sara (Macary), a two-time All-NVL (player), and Kaylee (Jackson), All-Iron, coming back to lead the way, and we developed a lot of younger talent who are ready to take on bigger roles next season. We definitely come back with a lot more experience than we did this year.”