TRUMBULL — It isn’t often a basketball team wins a championship without scoring for nearly four minutes at the end of the game. But Norwalk has been a chameleon all season, adapting to any situation because of depth and having one or two players to fill every role.
Led by a player whose contribution was readily apparent in the box score and another whose importance had to be seen on the court, the Bears completed an unbeaten conference season with a 32-29 win over Trinity Catholic in the FCIAC final tonight at Trumbull.
Points were at a premium, a combination of good defense and inefficient execution with the ball. Norwalk’s first title in 18 years was not secured until a halfcourt shot at the buzzer by Trinity’s Caitlin Scott hit the top of the backboard.
“It was ugly but you know what, we like the result,” Norwalk coach Ricky Fuller said. “As long as the result is a win we can fix everything else in practice.”
Jakara Murray-Leach, the rapidly maturing sophomore, scored a game-high 17 points for the second time in three nights and was named the most valuable player.
“I needed my team to help me and the last game helped me out,” Murray-Leach said. “This was one of the bigger nights for me and it was my best game of all. This is a great feeling.”
While Murray-Leach dominated the night with the ball, Sanaa Boyd, one of the Bears’ three seniors, was given the unenviable task of guarding Trinity center Iyanna Lops, who was coming off a 29-point semifinal performance against Ridgefield. Lops finished with just nine points and was held scoreless for the final 13 minutes.
Anaijah Morgan helped out on Lops.
“We put our best defenders on her and we just tried to double her whenever we could,” Fuller said. “We’re built around defense. Sanaa did a tremendous job. I’m proud of JK for winning tournament MVP. She’s just so quiet with it. She just stepped up. She knew that we needed scoring and she did a tremendous job tonight. But that job that Sanaa did on Lops tonight was great. ”
Belinda Hunte, with six points, was the next-highest scorer for the Bears (23-0).
Still, the third-seeded Crusaders (17-5), playing in the final for the first time in nine years, had chances to win and avenge a 22-point loss last month.
Down 32-25, Caitlyn Scott and Kyah Nowlin each made free throws and Emma Garner scored on a scoop with 1:21 left to make it a three-point game.
That was the end of the scoring.
After a Norwalk backcourt violation, Lops was unable to score on a jumper and then Kiera Fenske had a good look but missed a game-tying shot with seven seconds left.
“I thought we played hard, we played tough, we played five girls the whole way and they battled the No. 1 team in the state right down to the wire,” Trinity coach Mike Walsh said. “I thought if we made a few layups here and there it would have been a different story. If we could have got the lead in the fourth quarter we could have been successful. But you know what, Norwalk is a good team and we held them to 32 points and we just didn’t make shots. I congratulate them and we will look forward to the state tournament.
“We had a lot of opportunities to get points and we just didn’t finish,” Walsh added. “Give them credit. They play good defense.”
Nowlin finished with nine points for the Crusaders, who scored just six in the final period, two more than the Bears.
The tone was set in the opening quarter, when the teams combined for 15 missed shots and 12 turnovers. The score was tied at 8-8.
Norwalk, which led by as many as seven points, was ahead for the final 18 minutes but could not shake Trinity.
“It’s a championship game and I told the girls forget what happened during the regular season,” Fuller said. “So what that you won by 20. It doesn’t matter. They’re hungry, they’re a good team and they’re well coached. Anything can happen.”
The Bears will enter next week’s CIAC Tournament on a high note.
“It’s hard to go wire to wire and win the FCIAC championship but all the credit to the girls,” Fuller said. “They put in the hard work every day. We’re just going to get ready for states now.”