By Eliot Schickler

eschickler@bcnnew.com

Defense and its scrappy demeanor helped the Staples girls basketball team beat host Notre Dame of Fairfield on Tuesday in the first round of the 17th annual Notre Dame Catholic High School Appalachian Classic Basketball tournament. The game, which was originally scheduled for Notre Dame, was moved across the street to the Pitt Athletic Center at Sacred Heart University because of a leaky roof at Notre Dame, which affected the court.

"It was a solid team victory, team defense, team offense, shooting and heart," Staples Coach Ed Huydic said. "Everyone showed poise."

The Lady Wreckers raised their record to 4-2 and will play Mansfield, Ma. (5-0) on Wednesday at the Pitt Athletic Center at 7:30 p.m. Notre Dame dropped to 1-3 and will play St. Joseph (4-2) at 6 p.m. in the consolation round.

Overall, there were seven ties, five in the first half, and nine lead changes, seven before halftime, in this back-and-forth game. Neither team had a lead bigger than three-pointers in the first half with Staples going in front 10-7 when junior Remy Nolan (six points, one forced turnover) swished the first of her two 3-pointers with 3:53 remaining in the first quarter.

Shooting was a problem for the Lady Lancers, who were 18-61 (30 percent) from the field, 6-22 (27 percents) from beyond the 3-point arc. However, Notre Dame overcame its shooting woes by outrebounding the Lady Wreckers, 34-26. The Lady Lancers did most of their damage on the glass on the offensive end with their guards grabbing long rebounds, such as junior Bianka Bell (10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, three forced turnovers). Senior tri-captain Annie Sutilia (15 points, six rebounds, one assist) and classmate Monique Plummer (15 points, five rebounds, five assists, one steal, one tieup, three forced turnovers) hustled in for rebounds and were successful despite being 5-3 and 5-2, respectively.

"I knew I wanted the ball, I jumped up for it and I was able to get it," Plummer said.

Sutilia said, "Normally, I don't go in for the rebounds so I had to go in and play hard."

Senior Brittany Perez (two points, five rebounds, one assist, one forced turnover) helped Notre Dame take an 11-10 lead, first by scoring on a putback off the offensive and then by setting up senior tri-captain Nicole Negron's layup.

Negron (14 points, five rebounds, two assists, three steals, one forced turnover) attacked the basket well for the Lady Lancers. Sutilia was on fire from the perimeter as she hit four 3-pointers.

"I just stepped in and kept my elbows up," Sutilia said. "I missed a lot of shots but I kept taking them [and they eventually went in]."

Speaking of hitting trifectas, the Lady Wreckers reclaimed the lead at 13-11 when senior tri-captain MK Van Sant (14 points, six rebounds, four assists, one steal, one blocked shot, four forced turnovers) swished one off a feed from senior tri-captain Nikki Brill (nine points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals, one forced turnover, one charge drawn). Overall, Van Sant drained two 3-pointers.

"They were in my face and I practiced 3s in practice and I just shot over them," Van Sant said.

Both teams played well defensively in the first half as they forced each other to turn it over. Staples finished the half with nine turnovers, 13 overall, while Notre Dame committed 10 turnovers before the break, 17 overall.

Lady Wrecker sophomore point guard Erica Stein (17 points, six rebounds, one assist, three steals, five forced turnovers) was deft in forcing Lady Lancer mistakes and one of her forced turnovers led to Van Sant's trey. Stein also hit a jumper after stealing the ball to give Staples a 15-13 lead.

"I know defense is a key aspect to the team and I had to step it up and contribute," Stein said.

Junior Tori Wainwright (two points, one forced turnover) hit a layup from Negron to close out the quarter tied at 15-15.

Brill and Van Sant had good chemistry all night and they took turns setting each other up for layips in the second quarter to give the Lady Wreckers a 22-18 lead. Staples led 24-22 at the break as Plummer hit a jump shot from Sutilia at the buzzer. Notre Dame senior tri-captain Bonnie Broome (four points, one assist, one steal) set up the play with a steal.

After Nolan nailed a 3-pointer, Sutilia answered by swishing a trey from Plummer to cut the deficit to one, 27-26. Sutilia's trifecta started an 8-0 surge, which gave the Lady Lancers a 32-27 lead with 4:05 left in the third quarter. Broome hit two layups during this rally.

Van Sant and Plummer traded 3-pointers before Van Sant scored on her first of three putbacks, her only one off a missed field goal attempt to pull Staples within one, 35-34. Brill's free throw tied it 35-35 with 1:41 to go in the third quarter.

Stein's steal gave the Lady Wreckers a chance to claim the lead but Sutilia came back with a theft. With 1:10 remaining, Nolan committed a flagrant foul at center court, giving her two free throws, which she made, and Notre Dame had the ball and a chance to make it a four-point game.

The Lady Lancers couldn't capitalize because Staples sophomore Nikki Butkovsky forced Negron to travel.

"Their defense was good and made us pay when we made mistakes," Notre Dame Coach Eric DeMarco said.

Butkovsky (eight points, four rebounds, one assist, three forced turnovers, one tieup, one charge drawn) made her presence felt on defense. She also got in and grabbed some key rebounds.

"You had to keep playing hard and be able to keep on going," Butkovsky said. "Boxing out was key."

Junior Sydney Houseworth (six points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal, one tieup, two forced turnovers) was also instrumental for the Lady Wreckers in forcing missed Lady Lancer shots and drawing contact while shooting. Houseworth went 1-2 from the line twice in the third quarter, making the first and missing the second both times.

Staples was better off both times because Van Sant got in and grabbed the offensive rebound and scored on putbacks, the first one which tied it 39-39 with 2.1 seconds left, which was the score after three quarters.

"I've been good at reading the foul shots," Van Sant said. "I just charged for the ball and put it back in."

Plummer hit two free throws to give Notre Dame its last lead, 41-39. Houseworth then drew a foul after grabbing an offensive rebound and after going 1-2, Van Sant scored on a putback to give the Lady Wreckers the lead for good, 42-41.

Stein scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and hit a layup to make it 44-41. She was 6-8 from the free throw line overall and Butkovsky was 4-5 from the foul line, including one free throw to complete a 3-point play that made it 47-41 with 5:04 to go in the game.

"I just had to block out the noise, picture the rim and it went in," Stein said.

Despite being only 5-4, Stein used her pluckiness in getting rebounds.

"They got rebounds in the first half and we had to box out and get them in the second half," Stein said.

Overall, the Lady Wreckers were 19-51 (37 percent) from the field, 5-12 (42 percent) from 3-point land and 17-25 (68 percent) from the foul line.

"We want to win it all and didn't want to settle for second or third place in the tournament," Van Sant said. "Everyone boxed out and stepped it up. We came together as a team in the second half."

Beating Mansfield won't be easy, especially with the short turnaround.

"It will be difficult to leave the gym at 10:30 tonight and play a good team from Massachusetts, who is tall, at 7:30 tomorrow night," Huydic said.

Sophomore Aly Furgiuele had three rebounds for Notre Dame.