Oh, so close for Crusaders

Throughout the Class LL girls state basketball final, the Lauralton Hall defense clamped down on Mercy High standout Maria Weselyj — holding her to 3-of-9 shooting from the floor.

If only the Crusaders could have gotten the Tiger senior to miss the final shot of her scholastic career, they could have hoisted their first-ever state championship.

Weselyj sank a 3-pointer from the right wing as time expired, propelling the Mercy High of Middletown basketball team to a 54-53 triumph over Lauralton Hall before 9,800 fans in the Class LL state final at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on Saturday night.

“Maria had a rough game. You can’t have a better ending to a high-school career for a kid that has been really important to us,” Mercy coach Tim Kohs said.

After Michelle DeSantis scored on a spinning layup with four seconds left, the Crusaders stormed the court thinking they had won the game. However, Mercy had called timeout and 3.8 seconds were placed back on the clock.

“They thought they won the game,” Lauralton Hall coach Amanda Forcucci said. “It’s never good when you go from, you think you just won it, to having it slip through your hands.”

The top-seeded Tigers then called another timeout, before inbounding underneath their own basket.

Sheena Landy threw a baseball pass to mid-court, where Cassandra Santoro caught it and found Weselyj on the perimeter.

The senior guard swished the shot with Levey closing in, as Mercy’s sideline erupted in celebration. The Tigers had lost in the Class LL state finals the past three years by a combined total of seven points.

“It’s a great play when you catch it and make a shot,” Kohs said. “Levey came out hard and I’m saying, ‘She’s blocking it.’ It must’ve gotten over her fingertips by a quarter inch.”

Jordyn Nappi led the Tigers (24-2) with 13 points, while Landy had 12 and six rebounds. Maura Fitzpatrick chipped in with 11 points and Weselyj eight.

Carly Fabbri paced second-seeded Lauralton Hall (25-2) with a game-high 20 points, while Olivia Levey had 13 and DeSantis 11.

Santoro’s layup, off of an assist from Elizabeth Falcigno, gave Mercy a 49-45 lead with 3:47 left to play, before Levey knocked down a jumper in the paint.

A pair of foul shots by Landy pushed the margin back to four points with 2:34 left, which DeSantis answered with a brace of free throws.

The senior guard then stole the ball from Landy at halfcourt, drawing a foul at the 2:16. She connected on both attempts from the foul line, tying the game at 51.

Both teams then turned the ball over, before Maggie Salandra came up with a steal for Lauralton with 20 seconds left to play.

After a Crusader timeout, DeSantis dribbled the ball along the right wing, split a pair of Mercy defenders with a spin move into the post, then tossed in a scoop layup.

Following Mercy’s timeout, Lauralton Hall elected not to guard Landy on the inbound. Her pass found Santoro, who caught it between four Lauralton Hall defenders, then kicked to Weselyj.

Levey closed on Weselyj, but she got the shot off and propelled Mercy to its second state championship.

“It tipped over what, two, three people,” Forcucci said. “It fell in Maria Weselyj’s hand right at the three-point line.”

Lauralton Hall used a 12-2 run, capped by Fabbri’s 3-pointer, to take a 14-7 lead with 1:24 left in the first quarter. A 12-0 burst by Mercy, keyed by 3s from Weselyj and Nappi, staked the Tigers a 19-14 advantage with 7:02 left in the half.

The Crusaders countered with a 14-6 flurry, with Emma McCarthy’s layup giving Lauralton Hall a 28-25 halftime lead.

Weselyj’s jumper to close the third quarter put Mercy on top by a point, 41-40, to set up the frenetic fourth quarter.

The Tigers led by as many as five points, before Lauralton Hall took its only lead of the final stanza on DeSantis’ layup. But, Weselyj’s heroics shocked the Crusaders and gave the Tigers the state title.

Mercy was the only team to defeat Lauralton Hall this season, posting a 66-47 regular-season victory back on Dec. 28.

“I said I know this hurts now, it’s going to hurt for a long time,” Forcucci said. “I said that I hope that one day, you can be proud of the journey that got you here. Not many teams get here.”