Lauralton Hall brings home title

Lauralton Hall stuck to the script its players had co-authored in the offseason and made rewrites to throughout the season, including the Crusaders’ 68-53 victory over South Windsor in the Class LL girls basketball state championship game at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday, March 22.

The title was the first in program history in three tries, and was especially satisfying to the players who thought they had brought one home a year earlier, only to be denied by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

“That (loss to Mercy High) fueled us in April, May, June and through October,” Lauralton Hall coach Amanda Forcucci said. “Then the girls decided to put it behind them. We chose to have short memories.”

Second-seeded Lauralton Hall’s only loss during the regular season was to Mercy High, then the Crusaders defeated the Tigers in the state semifinals and set their sights on the fourth-seeded Bobcats from South Windsor (23-4).

Emma McCarthy led Lauralton Hall (26-1) in scoring with 26 points and rebounding with 17.

“So many thoughts are rolling through my mind,” the 6-0 senior forward said. “Emily (Menendez) and I have been teammates since third grade, and Carly (Fabbri) was first our opponent in third grade and then our teammate.

“The celebration after beating Mercy to get back here was so emotional. Then we had to focus (on South Windsor). We knew it was going to be a battle and we couldn’t letdown.”

Fabbri scored 15 points with 10 rebounds, junior point guard Maggie Salandra had 14 points with three assists, Menendez had nine points and seven boards, and Maureen Connolly had four points and a pair of assists, as Lauralton’s wonder five played all but one minute.

The Bobcats took a 14-11 lead after one quarter, behind Molly Murphy who canned all six of her shots (two from the foul line).

“We started with Emily on Murphy to match her size and then Maggie switched over to slow down her drives,” Forcucci said. “Then we started to run and get better looks.”

Lauralton Hall won the second period, 15-9, with Menendez and Salandra accounting for 11 points (each having a 3-pointer), to take a 26-23 lead into halftime.

In turn, South Windsor put Alexandra Goslin on Fabbri to deny the senior guard easy avenues to the basket.

“I don’t think Carly’s had to work that hard for points and the ball all season,” Forcucci said.

The Crusaders dominated the backboard in the third quarter, scored some transition baskets, and stretched their lead to 44-35.

Fabbri was quick to point out what she thought was the game changer.

“This net (from one of the baskets around her neck) goes to show what hard work will do,” she said. “My shot wasn’t going in, but they (her teammates) really stepped up. Their transition points really led to us getting that big lead in the third quarter.”

The third had an up-and-down scoreless beginning, before Salandra assisted on a McCarthy three-point play, and after a McCarthy steal, Fabbri found her inside for another hoop and a 31-23 lead at the 5:55 mark. After a Bobcat basket, and a Fabbri steal and layup, South Windsor’s Olivia Bolden (17 points) led her team back to within five.

But, Fabbri made one from the line and McCarthy swished home a pair from the stripe.

Fabbri answered another Bolden basket with two foul shots and Connolly’s defensive rebound led to her hitting two more from the line.

Lauralton was in front 40-33 with 2:11 left in the quarter. Connolly came down court to score after a Bobcat miss, and a McCarthy steal led to a Salandra layup off a Fabbri assist.

Murphy (15 points) brought South Windsor within 44-35 by the close of the period.

Salandra assisted on a Menendez basket to open the scoring in the fourth quarter, but the Bobcats stayed within range and made it 49-46 on a Christina Rozie jump shot with 4:41 remaining.

Fabbri took the ball to the rim for a hoop, and McCarthy made two more free throws. A brace of foul shots by Salandra extended the margin to 55-46 with 3:25 on the clock.

After the rivals traded points, Connolly assisted on a McCarthy basket and Fabbri made a free throw at 2:06 to push the lead to 60-49.

McCarthy (four), Fabbri (two) and Salandra (two) were perfect from the line down the stretch.

“I’m overjoyed, excited and just so proud of the girls,” Forcucci said. “I just couldn’t wait to hug them. It feels so awesome.”