The box score says Cassie Gildea scored just four points during Thursday night’s South-West Conference matchup against Weston. Sadly, that might make Lauralton Hall’s senior forward nothing more than a footnote in the eyes of many so-called basketball aficionados.
But for those who believe the production of points is the greatest measure of a player’s value on the hardcourt, let Gildea’s performance on the other side of the floor serve as proof of the contrary.
Gildea put on a defensive clinic, dominating the paint while keeping Weston standout senior Ellie Martin in check to lead the surging Crusaders to a 68-39 victory at the Weston High School gym.
Everything Lauralton Hall did revolved around the play of Gildea, who nearly posted a double-double in rebounds and steals alone. Gildea finished with seven steals, most of which came within a few feet of the basket. She also pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds as Lauralton (12-1) used a 16-5 run in the second quarter to take a commanding 37-19 lead and never looked back.
Martin (13 points) got off to a fast start, scoring seven points in the first quarter with her teammates doing everything they could to get her the ball in the paint. But Gildea put a blanket over Martin in the second quarter, holding her to just six points the rest of the game.
“Cassie takes (defense) to heart. She takes pride in it,” said Lauralton Hall head coach Amanda Forucci, whose team improved to 12-1 overall with its 11th straight victory. “She has that mentality no matter who she’s playing, that I’m not going to let you score. It’s phenomenal. I don’t know if there are a lot of kids who will do that.”
Weston (5-7) actually had a nice night in the shooting department, connecting on 10 of 18 in the first half, including a 3-for-3 effort on 3-pointers. But no matter how hard they worked, the Trojans just could not get off a shot against Lauralton’s defense, finishing with just 33 attempts on the night.
That had everything in the world to do with the play of Gildea, who is quickly establishing herself as the top defender in the SWC.
“I might even go as far as to say she’s the best defensive player in the state,” Forucci said. “Any team we play, we put her on their best player. Whether it’s a 5-foot- guard or a 5-11 center, it doesn’t matter. Cassie will play them.”
It was easy easy to see why Lauralton is such a nightmare to match up against. The Crusaders were led offensively by senior Nicola Matero, who scored a game-high 19 points, including four 3-pointers. Matero has the size of most high school centers, but shoots and plays more like a guard. Matero also had three rebounds, three assists and one blocked shot in a solid all-around effort.
Junior Olivia Levey added 13 points, six rebounds and one steal, overpowering Weston in the paint while stepping out to hit a couple of smooth jumpshots.
Lauralton also received solid play from its three-guard backcourt of sophomore Carly Fabbri (11 points, four assists), junior Michelle DeSantis (nine points, six assists) and senior Marissa Dowling (three points, three assists), all of whom handled the ball impeccably, turning it over just 11 times while setting the offense in motion.
“Those were very difficult matchups for us,” Weston head coach Dan Rosen said. “I knew they were this good, but they were very impressive. They can all shoot the ball. They all run the floor. They all handle it well. They’re a very impressive team.”
Weston played well in the first quarter, taking a 5-4 lead on a Martin 3-pointer, and came back to tie the game twice before the Crusaders used a 8-0 run to make it 20-12.
But Gildea simply did not allow Martin to touch the ball in the second quarter, picking off a number of ill-advised lob passes to go along with a couple of clean strips in the lane.
Weston also had no answer on the other side of the court. Lauralton didn’t shoot particularly well, going just 7-for-20 in the first quarter and 27-for-64 overall. But the Crusaders gave themselves plenty of second and third chances behind the rebounding of Gildea, Matero and Levey, helping Lauralton finish with a 27-15 advantage on the boards.
“That’s the first time we’ve been out-rebounded all year,” Rosen said. “I thought we played well in the first half. I was very pleased with our effort. But we just got a little tired and couldn’t keep up.”
Lauralton, which received nice efforts off the bench from Alison Sacco (seven points, two rebounds) and Bianca Robertson (three points, two rebounds), is now the overwhelming favorite in the SWC as well as one of the top teams in the state.
Lauralton’s only loss came against Hillhouse by just two points.
“I’m extremely happy, and I know these girls are too,” Forucci said. “They’re playing well and playing with a lot of confidence, which is good. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
With the most difficult part of its schedule behind them, the Trojans are looking forward to a solid finishing run. Weston, which had won four of five going into the game, could make some noise in the SWC if it can play as well as it did in the first quarter and the final 3:40 of the second when it out-scored Lauralton 7-0 to get to within 37-26 at halftime.
Junior center Anna Mahoney (four rebounds) scored five of her 11 points during the run, including a conventional 3-point play to get things going.
“A game like this lets us know the things we need to work on,” Rosen said. “We break the game into four-minute segments, and while we only won one of them tonight, we know we can beat a very, very good team in a four-minute segment. But we need to play that way the whole time, and if we can do that, we’ll be successful.”