The Holy Cross girls basketball team faces a big challenge in the Class M state semifinals on Friday night.
A big, undefeated challenge.
Holy Cross, the No. 4 seed in Class M, faces undefeated, top-seeded Cromwell at 6 p.m. in the first game of a doubleheader at Berlin High School. The winner plays the winner of No. 2 Enfield and No. 11 Notre Dame-Fairfield in the state final.
The Panthers (26-0) have beaten No. 32 Ellington, No. 16 Coginchaug and No. 8 Morgan to reach the semifinals. Senior Emma Belcourt led Cromwell with 16 points in the Morgan win while fellow senior Mya Villard tallied nine points. Junior Nikki Britinaitis added eight points in the victory.
Cromwell's closest win so far in the tournament was over Morgan, its Shoreline Conference rival, and that victory was by 12 points, 50-38. The Panthers knocked off the Huskies four separate times this season.
Holy Cross head coach Frank Lombardo knew his team was in for a tough game, no matter the opponent (he didn't know who his team was playing when he was interviewed last night after the East Hampton win).
"Both teams are very good," Lombardo said. "I know Cromwell's undefeated, and Morgan, the only [three] losses they have are to Cromwell."
As it turned out, Cromwell claimed another win over Morgan.
Holy Cross has reached the semifinal with wins over Kaynor Tech, Weston and East Hampton. The Crusaders led East Hampton by 15 points after three quarters, then held on for a 54-46 victory. A quick 11-0 start was key for Holy Cross.
"Let's just go out, play to our ability, and crush somebody for once," senior Caitlin Cipriano said of the mentality coming into the game.
For the first half of the first quarter, Holy Cross did just that. The Crusaders continued to be in control and led 45-30 after three quarters and appeared to have the game in the bag.
"We were really focused," Lombardo said. "We had a couple days of solid, intense practices."
In the fourth quarter, East Hampton ratcheted up the pressure, and Holy Cross struggled. The Crusaders saw their lead drop to 51-45 before they were able to finally put the Bellringers away. Cipriano and company know the focus must be better for 32 minutes against Cromwell.
Lombardo believes his team will be better.
"I know my girls are going to come out next game and give 150 percent," Lombardo said.
What's crazy about this run is it has been done without Century McCartney, who was lost to a knee injury. Before the season, Holy Cross was looked at as a contender.
"I think that in the beginning of the year, we knew what we had and we knew the potential," Cipriano said.
Cipriano added: "When Century got hurt, it kind of tore down our confidence."
Holy Cross lost to Crosby, its only loss so far this season. After that, the Crusaders banded together and played harder. Players all over the roster have stepped up, and the result is Holy Cross is back in the state semifinals.
The Crusaders have had their doubters, but so far, their answer has been to just win. Next up is a big challenge, but Holy Cross plans on being ready to meet that challenge.