Crusaders cruise to SWC championship

Coming up short and not winning a 2012 Class LL basketball title has been a motivating factor for Lauralton Hall this season.

The top-seeded Crusaders have been on a mission and they took a huge step Friday night in defeating a very good Notre Dame-Fairfield squad, 74-28, at Stratford’s Bunnell High School to win their second straight South-West Conference title.

“We’re not done yet,” said junior guard Carli Fabbri who scored 17 points and connected on a trio of 3-pointers to earn all-tournament honors, along with teammates Olivia Levey and Michelle DeSantis, who was the MVP.

“We want to carry this through and into the state tournament. We’re not happy yet. We want to win a state title.”

DeSantis led the way with 19 points. Fabbri was next with 17, while Levey had 13 points and junior forward Emma McCarthy threw in 12.

“Notre Dame is no slouch,” Lauralton Hall head coach Amanda Forcucci said of the third-seeded Lancers.

“They have players who all do their jobs well. They beat an outstanding Pomperaug team (58-45) in the semifinals. I wasn’t expecting this. Certainly not. Everything for us clicked tonight.”

That included an offensive effort with solid ball distribution and a defense which forced 29 turnovers (18 of them coming in the second half when the Crusaders pulled away).

The win gives the Crusaders, who played six games in eight days, a 21-1 record heading into the Class LL state tournament, where they have a first-round bye and will meet the winner of the Amity Regional-East Hartford game in the second round.

“These kids have earned a well-deserved rest,” Forcucci said. “That was a question mark for us coming into this game. I was worried about how much fuel we had left in the tank.

“These kids are basketball players. They knew that this was it for the regular season. This was our big game. It was the big time and we got an outstanding effort from everyone.”

The Crusaders, who defeated Masuk, 66-26, and Kolbe Cathedral, 43-37, to reach the final, jumped out quickly in the championship game played before a crowd of close to 900.

DeSantis made a pair of free throws on a technical foul called against the Lancers’ Jovan Kingwood and Fabbri’s first 3-pointer on the following possession gave Lauralton Hall a 5-0 lead that they never gave up.

A driving layup by sophomore Maggie Salandra, a top reserve off the bench, gave the Crusaders an eight-point margin, 12-4, after the first quarter.

Lauralton Hall led 29-10 at halftime and pushed that out to a 33-point bulge after three quarters.

“This was a tight game, but only for awhile,” said Notre Dame coach Eric DeMarco, whose team will take a 19-4 record into the Class M state tourney. “Then Lauralton Hall began imposing its will on us. They have a lot going for them. They’re physical, talented and well-coached. We tried to stay as positive as we could. That wasn’t easy.”

Lauralton Hall was on its mark all game long. The Crusaders finished with a shooting percentage of 50.9 (they made 27-of-53 attempts) and they were 16-of-21 from the foul line.

They held ND to an 11-of-36 (30 percent) night from the field and the Lancers were limited to four free throw attempts.

Lauralton Hall had 33 rebounds (McCarthy led the way with eight while Levey had five and Fabbri and Robertson four each) compared to 25 from the Lancers (Nakia Mabin was tops with five).

The Crusaders turned the ball over only 14 times and had only three giveaways in the second half.

The team had eight assists. Levey, DeSantis, Fabbri and Salandra all had two each.