Zaccagnini, Howard lead Holy Cross girls basketball past Valley Regional into Class M title game

Photo of Scott Ericson
Holy Cross' Maya Zaccagnini (21 points) is hugged by a teammate after the Crusaders defeated Valley Regional 57-50 in the Class M semifinals Monday at Maloney.

Holy Cross' Maya Zaccagnini (21 points) is hugged by a teammate after the Crusaders defeated Valley Regional 57-50 in the Class M semifinals Monday at Maloney.

Scott Ericson / Hearst Connecticut Media

MERIDEN — The last time the Holy Cross girls basketball team was in the state semifinals, the game never happened. In fact, the Crusaders never even got an opponent as one day after reaching the semifinals of Class M in 2020, the tournament was halted due to COVID-19.

Back then, Holy Cross was on a modest winning streak but could never have imagined where they would end up nearly two years to the day.

Holy Cross, seeded first in Class M, opened up a double-digit lead at halftime but had to hold on as No. 5 Valley Regional rallied in the second half before the Crusaders walked off the court with a 57-50 win.

Holy Cross will meet No. 2 Bacon Academy in the CIAC Class M championship game either Saturday or Sunday at Mohegan Sun.

“It feels great. We are so excited. It’s a dream come true,” Holy Cross senior Cayla Howard said. “We had to stay mentally focused and play HC defense and we knew we were going to win. (The winning streak) has been motivation for us all season.”

Holy Cross (26-0) has won 42-straight games with its last loss coming Feb. 19, 2020 to Windsor 47-46, and is the only unbeaten girls team in the state.

Holy Cross has made the state championship game five times, winning Class M in 2007.

Trailing 30-19 at halftime, Valley inched back into the game with an emphasis on getting the ball inside, pulling within 35-31 with 3:44 left in the third but could get no closer.

Valley hurt itself by missing 10 free throws in the fourth quarter and going 9 for 20 in the game from the line.

“That was a big point in the locker room at halftime was attacking the basket because it’s one of our strong suits and we didn’t do it in the first half,” Valley Regional coach Jaimie Bickelhaupt said. “It’s exhausting digging ourselves out of a hole and then we get ourselves an opportunity to score when the clock is stopped and we don’t put those in. We shoot 20 minutes of free throws a day and we have to put those in when they matter.”

Junior Abby Bradbury had 19 points for Valley.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Mya Zaccagnini, Holy Cross: The junior point guard went off for eight of her 21 points in the second quarter, sparking the runs that gave Holy Cross an 11-point halftime lead. Every time Valley made a run, Zaccagnini or Howard answered with a big basket.

QUOTABLE

“It’s a great feeling. Our girls worked really hard to be here tonight. Valley Regional is a tough squad and very well coached and they gave us everything we could handle tonight,” Holy Cross coach Frank Lombardo said. “Cayla has been doing that for four years and Mya for three years. I am just happy for them. Two years ago, we were in the state semifinals and it got cut short. Last year, we were undefeated and we have another good team this year. I am just glad they are fulfilling what they could have done two years ago and last year.”

Sericson@stamfordadvocate.com; @EricsonSports

HOLY CROSS 57 VALLEY REGIONAL 50

VALLEY 12 9 15 16--50

HOLY CROSS 15 15 15 12--57

VALLEY

Abby Bradbury 7 2-2- 19; Lily Grow 7 2-7 16; Olivia Cunningham 3 2-4 8; Ava Cunningham 1 1-2 3; Elizabeth Klomp 1 0-1 2; Siena Schaller 0 2-2 2; Elizabeth Allen 0 0-2 0. Totals: 19 9-20 50

HOLY CROSS

Nyasia Smith 3 1-2 7; Mya Zaccagnini 9 3-6 21; Cayla Howard 9 4-7 22; Ella Atkins 0 0-0 0; Kristina Perry 0 0-0 0; Shania Howard 1 0-1 2; Rachel Healy 1 3-4 5. Totals: 23 11-20 57

3-point field goals: VR—Bradbury 3. HC--none

Fouled out: VR—Klomp. HC—S. Howard