Holy Cross High's press hit the visitors like a slap in the face on a cold winter morning. It stung and it stunned Stonington, which didn't seem to know what had hit it.
"I think they definitely were not used to being pressured that much. The pressure definitely startled them," said forward Cayla Howard after the Crusaders' 64-54 win in the quarterfinals of the Class M girls basketball state tournament Monday night before a lively crowd at the Tim McDonald Gymnasium.
No. 3 Holy Cross advanced to the semifinals Friday for the first time in three years.
It will face either No. 2 Canton or No. 15 Coginchaug, whose game was postponed Monday because of a power outage and will be resumed tonight.
Here are the highlights of the Crusaders' opening outburst. Freshman Mya Zaccagnini scored immediately on a drive, then she drained a 3-pointer. Alyssa Hebb swiped an inbounds pass for an 8-1 score. Howard grabbed a loose ball on the floor, shoveled a pass to a teammate and then hustled down to score off a rebound.
Hebb made another steal at halfcourt and went the distance for another basket, a 14-3 lead and a Stonington timeout.
"Our press was very effective. Most people play a zone, so when they see our press, they get startled and don't know what to do," said Hebb. "That causes us to get a lot of steals and score points."
Ahead 20-9 after one period, Holy Cross called off the harassment to protect some players in foul trouble. Stonington rallied to cut the halftime margin to 30-23.
But out of the locker room, the press was back on for the third period and so were the Crusaders. Zaccagnini scored off her own rebound, and Howard made a steal and a layup to push the lead back over double digits, where it remained the rest of the way.
Howard finished with 23 points, including 11 in the third period. Zaccagnini had 20, including nine in the first period. Hebb scored 11.
No. 22 Stonington (10-12) had upset No. 6 Morgan in the second round behind 32 points from Zoe Ribeiro, but the Crusaders limited her to 13 and didn't let her score a point in the opening quarter.
"Our team goal is always under 10 (points) for their best player," said Zaccagnini. "We try to keep them under that and our help-side (defense) is really key."
Center Sophia Bell had 21 points to pace Stonington.