Bacon Academy senior captain Valerie Luizzi drives on Holy Cross senior Ella Atkins at the Class M championship game at Mohegan Sun Arena on March 20. The Bobcats lost 61-38.
The second time at Mohegan Sun Arena was not a charm for the Bacon Academy girls’ basketball team, who lost to Holy Cross 61-38 in the Class M championship game on March 20.
It was the Bobcats second trip to Mohegan, also falling to New London in the Eastern Connecticut Conference (ECC) title game on Feb 22.
Holy Cross, a private Catholic school from Waterbury, entered the championship game riding a 33-game winning streak and hadn’t lost a game in over two years. They earned the top-seed in the state tournament after finishing the regular season 20-0.
Early on the Bobcats struggled with the Crusaders aggressive approach, falling behind 8-0 within the first few minutes.
Cara Shea scored on an assist from Emma Mancuso, temporarily halting the Crusaders’ scoring surge, before Holy Cross scored eight of the next nine and took a 19-8 lead into the second quarter.
Holy Cross deployed a defensive strategy that pressured and often doubled point guard Valerie Luizzi, forcing the ball out of the senior captains’ hands.
Luizzi was Bacon’s primary ball handler, especially after shooting guard Ashley Lizotte suffered an injury midway through the year and was forced to miss the second half of the season.
“We have one point guard and they knew that and they went after that and really made her work. That was a good strategy,” said Bacon Academy head coach John Shea. “Our secondary ball handlers are not ready for this. Hopefully they will be next year.”
Depth also played a role as the Crusaders had the luxury of rotating in ten players in the first quarter.
To start the second quarter, Marissa Nudd made a pair of free throws and then Emily Ferrigno made a layup with an assist from Luizzi to reduce the deficit to nine. It was the closest the Bobcats would get the rest of the game.
Holy Cross junior Mya Zaccagnini scored a game-high 20 points, including her 1,000th career point on a baseline jumper in the fourth quarter.
Bacon was hurt mostly by 26 turnovers, which was a result of the relentless pressure by the Crusaders placed on the ball.
“You could tell they scouted us,” Luizzi said following the game. “They have a bigger rotation and that helped them.”
Coach Shea added that the Crusaders deep lineup was hard to compete with, saying, “They are fresh and they are talented. That’s why they’ve had success; they are just really good players. Even off the bench they hurt you with rebounding and defensive intensity.”
Nudd finished with a team-high 15 points and [Cara] Shea had 11. Nudd and Shea each added eight rebounds and Luizzi dished out a handful of assists.
Luizzi, Mancuso, and Lizotte will be graduating, leaving a sizable production void. Luizzi averaged 15 points per game this season, while Mancuso and Lizotte each averaged over six points per game.
“It was a joy coming to practice every day because of their work ethic and the way they acted on the court and the type of people they are,” coach Shea said of his seniors. “We are really going to miss them. I’m just fortunate to coach them.”
Luizzi, who will continue her basketball career at Keene State College in New Hampshire, said she really enjoyed mentoring the younger girls this season, adding, “I think everyone from the freshmen through the juniors came in knowing their position and they were already confident coming in.”
“I love this team. It is definitely the closest team that I’ve played with in the last four years. We just have each other’s back,” added Luizzi. “Leaving the program how we left it is amazing. I really think they can definitely get back [to Mohegan] next year.”
Nudd, who led the team with 18 points per game, and returning starters Shea and Ferrigno will head the team next year. Top reserves Elizabeth Glover and Katelyn Novak will also play major roles, as will Grace Saldana, Veronica Smith, Ariel Nair, and Olivia Tellar.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin