WATERBURY >> The Holy Cross Crusaders captured the NVL tournament title with a 48-38 win against St. Paul, capping off their undefeated, 22-0, NVL season.
“I felt all along we were the best team in the league, we beat all the good teams at their gyms and beat some of them twice,” said Holy Cross head coach Frank Lombardo.
Coming off the worst season in 20 years under Lombardo, 13-7, the Crusaders set their goal to be back on top of the NVL which they have now done 11 times in the last 13 seasons.
“I am very proud of the girls, it was a long year last season,” said Lombardo. “We weren’t going to let that happen again.”
“From last year to where we’re at now, we worked hard to get back to Holy Cross basketball,” added senior Chelsea Houlihan.
The No. 1 seeded Crusaders (22-1 overall) and the No. 2 Falcons played close in the first quarter, 10-9, before senior and tournament MVP Kiera O’Donnell stepped up scoring 10 points in the second quarter to give the Crusaders a 24-16 lead into the locker room.
“At halftime Kiera carried us,” said Lombardo.
He also knew that St. Paul head coach Joe Mone would come out in the second half looking to contain O’Donnell, who scored 13 points, so he set up for Houlihan to take over in the second half.
“The first play of the half we set up a play for Chelsea lay it up, though she missed she knew it was her turn,” said Lombardo.
Houlihan would score five of the Crusaders nine points in the third quarter.
Despite Houlihan and the Crusaders best efforts the Falcons were the ones who came out hot in the second half, scoring the first eight points of the quarter, tying the game on a Kelly McMahon jumper.
“We missed a couple of shots and left the door open for them to come back,” said Lombardo.
That was the closet the Falcons would get though as the Crusaders took back the quarter outscoring the Falcons 9-5 the rest of the way, taking a 33-29 lead.
“St. Paul is a tremendous team and we needed to match their intensity,” said Houlihan.
“We made too many mistakes at crucial times,” said Mone. “We tried to force a couple of things.”
In the fourth Houlihan took over.
“Control of the game is important in crunch time,” she said.
After the Falcons’ Theresa Swanke scored on a layup, 33-31, Houlihan went to work knocking down two free-throws on four attempts, sophomore RaShana Siders added a layup and after two more free-throws from the Falcons’ Elisabeth Cretella, Houlihan drilled a 3-pointer giving the Crusaders a seven point lead, 40-33 with three minutes left as they held on for the win.
“Regardless of how we play, were going to play hard and scrap,” said Mone. “We showed up we competed, I can’t ask for more.”
Both teams are No. 1 seeds in the State Tournament, Holy Cross in Class M and St. Paul in Class S and will begin their chances for a State Championship next week.
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