By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The St. Paul Catholic girls basketball team was in the middle of several tough challenges, all during a short brutal stretch of days, when double-tough Torrington showed up to the Maltby Street Gymnasium on Monday, Jan. 30 for a Naugatuck Valley League tilt.
And, just like every other team the Falcons squared off against over that very short span, the Raiders refused to back down an inch as sharpshooter Brie Pergola was firing on all cylinders early and often.
However, trailing by a point midway through the final stanza, St. Paul Catholic went on a 19-5 run to knock off Torrington as the Falcons zipped up an impressive 65-54 win in Bristol to move to 12-2 overall.
After dropping two of its previous three games, it was a huge victory for the locals.
“I don’t want to make excuses but we played three games in four days,” said St. Paul Catholic coach Joe Mone. “Saturday was this absolute brawl with Pomperaug, a very good team, twice the size of us. We played them right to the end. And then today, I could tell that a few kids were a little sore. The first half, it wasn’t how we normally [play]. That’s why I stopped the press. It just wasn’t there. I feel bad for them because we have to play again on Wednesday.”
“We’re in a five games in eight days stretch. NBA players don’t play in those conditions and asking 15-year-old girls – some of them – to play 30, 32 minutes. They’re banged up, they’re tired but I’m very proud of them.”
The contest featured eight lead changes and five ties but once the St. Paul reserves mixed in with the starting unit, the offense came to life over the final period of play.
And then the defense took charge, allowing Pergola – nearly a clone of former Torrington standout Sarah Royals – just six fourth period points to eventually ice the game, turning that defense into offense.
The Falcons did just enough to hang around at the half, trailing 26-23, and held a slim one-point edge going into the fourth period before the squad surged in front for good just minutes later.
“It was a great second half,” said Mone. “We hung around in the first half, playing sloppy, not really aggressive basketball. And in the second half, everybody decided to kick it up a little bit.”
Overall, the Falcons splashed in 24-of-48 field goals for a tidy 50-percent shooting clip while limiting the Raiders to just a 34.6-percent tally (18-of-52).
St. Paul Catholic freshman Janessa Gonzalez did it again as the budding star poured in 23 points and a couple assists – all off the bench – while mainstay Brigid Johndrow splashed in 13 points, nine rebounds, and a five-pack of assists.
And off the pine, Jade Udoh rolled three fives as her 5-point, 5-rebound, and 5-assist performance helped lead that fourth period charge.
Overall, St. Paul Catholic outrebounded Torrington 39-24 in the contest.
“We rebounded,” said Mone. “Janessa and Brigid had a great second half together, combining and helping to find each other open. Brigid just does an absolute tremendous job in full court, finding people. Jade had some great opposite look passes when it looked like she was going to score. She hit some big free throws, some put-backs, some rebounding so we’re starting to get there.”
Overall, Pergola canned a game-high 33 points – getting 11 of those over a big second period for the visitors.
“That girl is a great player,” said Mone of Pergola. “We knew that going in. We knew she was going between 20 and 30 points. She just does it all.”
The showdown went back and forth from the start as Alexandria Mourges (four points, 4-of-6 free throws) hit early charity tosses for the Falcons but when Pergola canned two of her own with 4:27 left in the first period, Torrington led 9-5.
But at the end of the stanza, Chantell Lopez (seven points, five rebounds) canned a three and when Johndrow hit one final lay-up, the Falcons were up 16-13 on the scoreboard through one.
Lopez drained another hoop midway through the second quarter and with 5:00 remaining in the half, the Falcons were in front 21-19.
Torrington ended the fray with a 7-2 push and when Sidnee Kovall hit a free throw, the Raiders went into the locker room with a three-point edge in hand.
“I thought the first half was very poor defensively,” said Mone. “We didn’t do what we wanted to do defensively. [But], in the second half, it was much better. We gave them tougher looks, tougher shots.”
Back-to-back hoops from Pergola pushed out Torrington’s lead midway through the third quarter but a 7-0 Falcons’ push – highlighted by a 3 from Johndrow – gave St. Paul Catholic a 35-32 edge with 2:33 left in the stanza
A steal and lay-up from Gonzalez made it a two-possession game but at the final buzzer of the third, Pergola drained a 3 – chopping the Falcons’ tally to 41-40 with eight minutes remaining.
But that St. Paul defense went into overdrive in the fourth and, fueled by nine big points from Amelia Sanchez (11 points, six rebounds), she ended the 19-5 burst with a hoop – off a sweet feed from Udoh – as it was a 60-47 game with 3:02 left.
Torrington could only get as close as nine the rest of the way as St. Paul Catholic picked up win twelve in the 65-54 victory.
Shutting down the high scoring Pergola in the second half was the turning point of the contest, getting the Falcons back to the pay window in the process.
“I think she had really only two or three open, open looks which in the first half, we gave her way too many,” said Mone of Pergola. “Other than that, I’m proud of them.”
NOTES…Molly Hooks had six rebounds for the Falcons while McKenzie Gauthier and Lexi Morneault also made contributions to the winning effort.