Girls basketball: Lauralton's defense the difference-maker

Teams that impart a good full-court pressure defense and can trap well are an opposing coaches' nightmare. If Foran High girls basketball coach Bob Asmussen didn't sleep well on Monday night there was a good reason for it.

Up by four points, 33-29 with 3:25 left in his team’s Southern Connecticut Conference road game on Monday evening against Lauralton Hall, the Lions were simply unable to handle the Crusaders' press and. They were outscored 11-3 down the stretch in suffering a 40-36 loss.

"Up till now our team has been able to deal with that type of pressure," Asmussen said of his Lions (3-7, 3-6 in the SCC). "Obviously, tonight we could not."

The Crusaders, who brought their record to 2-4, 2-2 in the SCC, forced six 4th-quarter turnovers and made crucial steals in the closing minute.

Samantha Inthapanhya made one of two free throws with 2:07 remaining to give Foran a 34-31 lead. That soon melted away.

Trish Gildea's free throw cut the lead to 34-32 with a little under two minutes to play, before a basket by Lauralton Hall's Julia Sendzik, who scored a game-high 15 points, drew the Crusaders even at 34-34. It came off of a steal by Colleen McCarthy, who would soon become the game's difference-maker.

Foran pushed ahead, 36-34, when Jessica McQuade made two free throws with 27.1 seconds left.

Lauralton Hall coach Amanda Forcucci then called a timeout to draw up what would be a perfect play.

Sendzik brought the ball up and worked off of a screen set by Gildea to get the ball to McCarthy in the right corner. As quickly as McCarthy received the ball, she released a three-point shot that was all net. The Crusaders had what would become the game's final lead at 37-36 with 15.3 seconds showing.

"It's a great feeling when you draw up a play and your kids run it perfectly," Forcucci said about the go-ahead basket made by McCarthy.

Foran turned the ball over again and had to foul. McCarthy, who finished with 12 points, made one of two. On her second miss, she alertly got the ball and was fouled again. Then with 3.2 seconds to play, she knocked down the two shots to create the game's final score.

"All of this shows that hard work can pay off," said McCarthy, one of two seniors (Gildea is the other) who were freshman three years ago when Lauralton Hall defeated Mercy High of Middletown, 68-53, for the Class LL state title. "It was our defense which won this game for us. We definitely didn't come out and play well early in the game. But we stayed together as a team and kept battling."

Foran had taken a 4-0 lead off and the rivals were tied 8-8 after one quarter.

Sloppy play by the Crusaders in the second quarter, where they turned the ball over six times, gave the Lions an opportunity that they seized to take a 19-15 lead into intermission.

After Lauralton Hall drew even with a 4-0 run to start the third quarter, the Lions got six points from center Viktoria Notholt and made shots from the foul line in holding three leads of five points before ending up ahead 30-25 at quarter's end.

But the fourth quarter proved to be an undoing for the Lions. They made only one field goal (by Inthapanhya in the opening minute) and managed to score only six points.

"We missed too many open shots and in the late stages our ball movement was bad," Asmussen said. "We weren't looking for the open spots. They're a very good team who can hurt you with their aggressive defensive play. We knew that coming in. We need to play better and score when we get good opportunities to do it."

Forlucci said, "There were times tonight when we were able to keep the ball away from their big kids inside. But, overall, it was the late-game pressure that helped us win this one. Our two starting guards (McCarthy and Sendzik) did a terrific job in the press, and then I put Lauren Dowling in and she forced some mistakes."

Gildea scored six points and had 11 rebounds, where the Crusaders held a whopping 55-40 edge.

McQuade scored 11 points to lead the Lions. Lauren Notholt (seven rebounds), Inthapanhya and Viktoria Notholt (six rebounds) had six points each.

Neither team shot the ball well. Foran was 10 for 44 while the Crusaders connected on only 14 of 56 attempts. Foran converted 14 of 22 tries from the foul line; Lauralton Hall was 8 of 18. Ironically, the Crusaders had three more turnovers than Foran with 19 compared to 16.

Roundup: Foran High lost a 44-24 SCC decision to Guilford High in Milford on Friday. Lauren Notholt scored nine points and Viktoria Notholt had seven. Foran earlier lost a 48-32 decision to visiting SCC rival East Haven. Lauren Notholt had 11 points and 11 rebounds.