Holy Cross girls gut out win over Mercy

The Holy Cross girls basketball team hadn’t had much success against Mercy-Middletown, until Wednesday night.

The Crusaders, short-handed due to COVID protocols, outlasted the Tigers, 55-51, inside the Tim McDonald Gymnasium at Holy Cross High School. Holy Cross improved to 2-0 while Mercy fell to 0-1.

The Crusaders overcame a nine-point second quarter deficit, then held on when their own 10-point lead was sliced to a point by the Tigers. Mercy pulled to within 52-51 late in the fourth quarter on a deep 3-pointer, but Mya Zaccagnini (21 points) made three of four free throw attempts over the final minute to clinch the victory. Holy Cross got 18 points from Cayla Howard, along with seven points apiece from Shania Howard and Nyasia Smith. Ella Atkins played strong defense against Sophie Hedge and held the 2021 All-SCC second team selection to eight points.

It didn’t look good in the second quarter for the home team. Mercy used strong defense to rip off an 11-1 run over the first 2:40 of the eight-minute period. When the Tigers scored off an offensive rebound following a missed foul shot, it was 28-19.

How did the Crusaders respond? With a 15-1 run of their own to close the first half, including the last 12 points. Cayla Howard (1) and Shania Howard (2) knocked down three foul shots. Mercy made one of two free throws at the 4:07 mark for a 29-22 lead, but then Zaccagnini took over. A 3-pointer at the 2:35 mark made it 29-25. After Shania Howard connected on three of four foul shots in a 20-second span, Zaccagnini’s steal and layup gave Holy Cross a 30-29 lead at the 1:36 mark. The Crusaders would not trail the rest of the game. Zaccagnini pulled up for two points in transition, then shook a Tiger defender multiple times before hitting a step-back jumper for the final points of the half.

Holy Cross started the second half with a terrific fast break, Smith to Zaccagnini to Cayla Howard for a layup. When Atkins, more known for defense, took the ball strong to the basket for a layup, the Crusaders had their largest lead of the game, 40-30, midway through the third quarter. The Tigers closed to within three points near the end of the quarter, but a basket from Cayla Howard made it 44-39 Crusaders after three quarters.

In a game of runs triggered by tough defense, Mercy ripped off an 8-2 spurt, capped by a 3-pointer, to cut the Holy Cross lead to 52-51. The Crusaders, with many players gassed after playing the whole game, fought the Tigers off and claimed a terrific win.

GALLERY: Here are my photos from the game.

PHOTO CAPTION: Holy Cross senior Ella Atkins plays some tough defense against Mercy’s Sophie Hedge during Wednesday night’s game in Waterbury. (Copyright, Sports on CT-69)