With an almost completely revamped lineup in place, Lauralton Hall’s girls basketball team showed plenty of potential for success in a season-opening 41-35 setback at former conference rival Newtown High on Dec. 10.

The Crusaders, in their first year in the Southern Connecticut Conference, met with a familiar foe – the South-West Conference’s Nighthawks, a team they battled for years on an annual basis – in a hard-fought game that was far from decided until the final couple of minutes.

Newtown built an early lead and fended off a spirited Crusader comeback as the visitors erased a 23-16 second-half deficit to eventually tie the score at 28 apiece in the fourth quarter.

Clinging to a 30-29 lead with a little more than five minutes to play, the Nighthawks inched away with seven unanswered points to put the game out of reach.

Maggie Salandra, the lone returning starter, led the Crusaders with 11 points. Trish Gilden had 8, Colleen McCarthy added 7, Tanisha Clark contributed 5, Amethyst Barzee had 3 and Emily Spahn tacked on a free throw.

Down by seven in the third, the Crusaders quickly climbed to within just one point after Gilden hit a jumper, Salandra sank a pair of free throws and McCarthy drained an outside jump shot.

Down 25-22, the Crusaders again closed to within a point, as Gilden got a long-range shot to rim home in the waning seconds of the quarter.

Newtown’s Olyvia Shaw converted a 3-point play to cap the third quarter scoring, and it was 28-24 heading to the fourth.

Salandra scored to cut the lead in half, then drew a charge on the defensive end of the floor. Moments later, Salandra weaved through the NHS defense for two points to tie the score at 28 with 6:30 to play.

Lauren Wilcox hit a couple of free throws to give Newtown the lead with 5:32 left, and the Hawks wouldn’t let go of the advantage the rest of the way.

Spahn’s free throw got the Crusaders back to within a point at 30-29 before Newtown went on that game-changing 7-0 run.

Lauralton coach Amanda Forcucci is hopeful of seeing her team get off to an early start, similar to the third-quarter turnaround it put together in the opener. She’s confident success will come with time.

“Once they keep playing together, once they gel more, once they gain some of the chemistry they should be okay,” said Forcucci. “Every game is a test to see how well we did, or what are we learning.”

This game featured lots of fouls and turnovers. Newtown shot 15 of 29 from the free throw line and Lauralton was 9 of 16. The Nighthawks forced 22 turnovers, half of which came on steals, and the Crusaders forced 14 with seven of those via steals.

Salandra had four steals and seven of her team’s 29 rebounds, and Gilden pulled down nine rebounds.

Newtown was led by Haley Ryan’s 10 points, Mali Klorczyk’s 8, and 7 each from Sarah Lynch and Wilcox.

Lauralton, the defending Class LL state champion, may have graduated four starters from a year ago, but this was a very big win in the eyes of Newtown coach Jeremy O’Connell, whose team lost a pair of starters from last season. After all, the Crusaders always a strong team and this year’s version gave the Hawks all they could handle.

“Anytime you can beat Lauralton Hall it’s a step in the right direction. They’re a class program,” O’Connell said. “They’re an upper-echelon program.”