MILFORD -- In a Class LL quarterfinal matchup pitting the two-time reigning SWC champions against its equal in the FCIAC, the second-seeded Lauralton Hall girls basketball team asserted its interior dominance early and played clutch defense down the stretch to hold off seventh-seeded Danbury, 59-53, Thursday night.
Crusaders senior center Olivia Levey poured in a game-high 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting, her only miss coming early in the fourth quarter when she strayed from her post-up repertoire and launched a 3-pointer from the top of the key. And with Levey anchoring them on both ends, an array of shooters, led by Emma McCarthy (16 points) helped the Crusaders build a 12-point cushion heading into the fourth.
Still, Danbury, which had led 16-13 after a quarter before going cold in the middle quarters, settling for too many jump shots, found life with a 12-6 run, bringing them to within 51-47 with 2:32 left.
The Crusaders forced timely turnovers and knocked down eight of their 12 fourth-quarter free throws to ice the victory. They'll play third-seeded Trumbull, a 55-39 winner over sixth-seeded Career Magnet Thursday, at a neutral site on March 11.
"We just had to start taking better care of the ball -- that's what really started their run," said Levey, who will play for Division I St. Francis in New York next season. "I transferred here my sophomore year. The other seniors have always told me about how we couldn't get past the quarterfinals. I was happy to help us do that."
"We knew, with Danbury's guards, we had to have active hands," said Crusaders coach Amanda Forcucci. "And it's always a conscious effort to try and establish (Levey) early on. She's my Division I player. She's that way for a reason, so we always try to get her the ball. She wanted it tonight, and rightly so. Senior captain, give me the ball, let me make something happen."
Danbury's vaunted twins, Rebecca and Rachel Gartner, scored 16 points and 12 points respectively, and Uniqua Tucker added 10 points. But a crisp start offensively by the Hatters gave way to a mid-game funk. That, along with Lauralton Hall's poise, put the game out of reach, according to Hatters coach Jackie DiNardo.
"They're upperclassmen, they've been there, and I give them a lot of credit for that," DiNardo said. "Sometimes we get in this mentality when we're losing and we play like we're losing. It's one basket at a time. We forced it too much. When we finally did settle down and look for the right pass, we scored. But you have to do that for a whole game."
Nahla Ward 1 0-0 3; Rachel Gartner 3 5-6 12; Allie Smith 3 0-0 6; Uniqua Tucker 5 1-1 11; Rebecca Gartner 4 7-8 16; Kayla Handberry 2 1-1 5. Totals: 18 13-15 53.
LAURALTON HALL (23-1)
Olivia Levey 9 0-0 18; Emma McCarthy 7 1-5 16; Maggie Salandra 1 6-9 9; Carly Fabbri 2 0-0 5; Michelle DeSantis 1 4-6 7; Bianca Robertson 0 0-0 0; Emily Bonzagni 1 2-2 4. Totals: 21 13-22 59.
DANBURY 16 9 6 22 -- 53
LAURALTON HALL 13 17 13 16 -- 59
3-pointers: D -- Ward, Rac. Gartner, Reb. Gartner; LH -- Fabbri, McCarthy, Salandra, DeSantis.