CANTON, February 27 – Seldom does the No. 31 seed in a basketball tournament have the firepower and skill to hang and compete with the No. 2 seed. But Trinity Catholic of Stamford is no ordinary low seed.
The Crusaders went 8-12 playing in the Fairfield Country Interscholastic Athletic Conference (FCIAC) this year playing against some of the largest schools in the state such as Danbury, Greenwich, Trumbull and Fairfield Warde.
Trinity Catholic built a 12-point lead only to see the two-time defending Class S champion Warriors take their only lead of the game when Lauren Puglielli drained a three-point shot with 8.4 seconds left in the game for a one-point advantage.
But Trinity Catholic’s Caitlyn Scott drove the length of the floor, got open thanks a nifty behind-the-back dribble and put up a 12-foot floater that sank through the basket as the buzzer expired to lift the visiting Crusaders to a stunning 44-43 victory over No. 2 Canton Tuesday night in the first round of the CIAC Class S tournament.
Scott scored a game-high 22 points as the Warriors’ 10-game CIAC tournament win streak was snapped.
Trinity Catholic had a 42-40 lead with 25 seconds remaining. Canton’s Paige Brown drove in for a layup but the ball bounced off the rim but 5-foot-8 sophomore Allison Celmer fought off Trinity Catholic’s 5-foot-11 senior Molly Murray for the rebound and kicked the ball out to Puglielli, who drained her second three-point shot of the game.
That gave Canton a 43-42 lead – their first of the contest. The Warriors had trailed by as many as 12 points late in the second quarter. Trinity Catholic called timeout with 6.2 seconds left and had to go the length of the floor.
Trinity Catholic coach Mike Martone called a play but as the huddle broke up, Scott looked at the clock and told her coach that she didn’t think they had enough time left to run the play. Martone looked and quickly changed his mind. “I said scrap it and go to the rack,” he said.
“I did all of my moves, got to the basket and released it,” the 5-foot-2 guard from White Plains, N.Y., said. “I was so happy (it went in). I just started crying. I didn’t know what to do.”
Martone said, “She is clutch. You need the ball in her hand when things get rough. We knew this would go down to the last minute and be a nailbiter.”
Leading by one, the Warriors wanted to slow up Scott as much as possible without fouling. Scott was able to inbound and get past Allie Delsanto to face Abby Charron at midcourt. But Scott dribbled the ball behind her back and moved to the left and toward the basket.
“She made a great dribble move and made an unbelievable shot on top of it,” Canton coach Brian Medeiros said. “She made a heck of a play to beat us.”
The Crusaders led from the start and had a 30-18 lead with 2:48 left in the first quarter. Jumpers from Puglielli and Charron cut the lead to eight at halftime. Canton had a 10-4 run in the third quarter to cut the Crusader lead to two, 34-32.
Celmer had a great third quarter for Canton with a block, some key offensive rebounds and a few steals. Magna scored one basket after Lauren Eschenbrenner got an offensive rebound and dished it back to Magna for the points. Charron had a three-point shot. Gabbie Schenkel sank a pair of foul shots. Trinity Catholic didn’t score a basket in the final 5:50 of the third quarter.
“We really continued to battle,” Medeiros said. “We showed a lot of grit tonight and that’s not usually one of our team’s characteristics. So many kids made big plays and stepped up. It was a total team effort once we got down by 12 (points).”
Canton had 12 steals in the game, led by Charron with four. Brown, Treacy and Celmer had two steals each.
Schenkel sank a pair of free throws with 7:14 remaining the game to tie it at 34-34. But the Crusaders responded with a pair of three-point shots from Scott to extend the lead back to six points.
With 2:22 remaining, Charron, who scored a team-high 17 points, had a reverse layup along the baseline to cut the Trinity Catholic lead to three, 41-38. A double team forced Trinity Catholic turnover and then 5-foot-8 freshman Paige Brown sank a jump shot with 1:41 remaining to cut the lead to one, 41-40.
Trinity Catholic was able to burn off more than one minute with good passing around the perimeter. Canton put Scott on the line with 25.4 seconds left and she sank the first foul shot to extend the lead to 42-40. A lane violation on the second foul shot giving the ball back to Canton.
It was a bittersweet loss for the Warriors (18-6), who also dropped a one-point decision to East Windsor last Thursday in the NCCC Tournament championship game.
“It’s been a great year,” Medeiros said. “One game doesn’t define your season. We’ve accomplished probably more than anyone thought we would. We showed a lot of resiliency this year. I know it’s not as glamorous as winning a state championship but what we did was almost as difficult to win a state championship.”
Canton went undefeated in the NCCC (16-0) for the first time since 1998, won the league championship and played in their first NCCC Tournament final since 1999.
Trinity Catholic will continue their long trips to the Northwest Corner. The Crusaders will visit No. 15 Gilbert in Winsted on Friday night.
Trinity Catholic’s game-winning play
Trinity Catholic 44, Canton 43
Trinity Catholic (44) Molly Murray 3-0-8, Iyanna Lops 4 1-2 10, Kiera Fenske 2-0-4, Caitlyn Scott 9 2-4 22, Theresa Lupinacci 0-0-0, Emma Gardner 0-0-0. Totals 18 3-6 44
Canton (43) Belle Magna 2-0-4, Abby Charron 6 4-6 17, Alison Celmer 1-0-2, Gracie Treacy 0-0-0, Lauren Eschenbrenner 1-0-3, Lauren Puglielli 3-0-8, Morgan Walzak 0-0-0, Paige Brown 2-0-5, Gabbie Schinkel 0-4-4, Maggie First 0-0-0. Totals 15 8-10 43
Trinity Catholic (9-12) 18 12 4 10 – 44
Canton (18-6) 10 12 10 11 – 43
Three-point goals: Charron (Ca), Eschebrenner (Ca), Puglielli (Ca) 2, Brown (Ca); Murray (TC) 2, Lops (TC), Scott (TC) 2