STAMFORD --Trinity Catholic girls basketball forward Ali Palma found her scoring touch in a tight game just when her teammates needed her.
It turns out she is enjoying her new role as the focal point of the Crusaders' offense.
Palma scored 12 of her 24 points in the fourth quarter as Trinity Catholic sank 13 of 15 free throws to secure a 52-43 win over Staples on Friday night at Walsh court.
"Ali has that ability and her teammates feed off that," Crusaders head coach Tom Kriz said. "She's an unselfish player that can find the open man; she brings a lot of versatility on offense."
Palma took over in crunch time. She sank a 3-pointer with five seconds left in the third quarter, and opened the fourth with three free throws and a layup to turn a 32-31 deficit to a 39-32 lead. That proved to be the difference in the contest as the Wreckers got no closer than five points from that point on.
"The coaches push me from the bench all the time," Palma said. "My teammates definitely tell me: `Ali you need to get in the game and work harder.' Everyone has each other's back and they to help me stay up."
The Crusaders (7-2) overcame a slow start to improve to 7-1 in conference play this season, despite scoring only seven points in the first quarter while being out-rebounded 11-4.
"The last time we played was the Christmas tournament," Kriz said. "It's not an excuse, but I was figuring that may happen. You also have to give credit to Staples; they controlled the tempo well."
The Wreckers (3-5) were first to nearly every loose ball in the opening half, using energy on the boards to create second-chance opportunities and build a 25-17 second quarter lead. Guard Nikki Bukovsky scored 17 of her 21 points in the first half as Staples held a 22-19 lead.
"Bukovsky is playing like a first-team All-FCIAC right now," Staples head coach Ed Huydic said. "It's just too bad this team, at this point, doesn't have enough to win games like this."
Trinity Catholic made a halftime adjustment on the defensive end in an attempt to limit Bukovsky and force her teammates to make open shots.
"The second half Trinity Catholic went to a triangle-and-two defense to take Nikki Bukovsky out of the game, who continues her sensational play," Huydic said. "They went man-to-man with Bukovsky and (Erica) Stein, which put us in a situation where we needed other scorers to step up. A good defensive adjustment by Trinity."
The Crusaders' defense held Stein to just four points. Stein scored 21 points when the squads met a year ago (a 51-48 Staples win), but this time Trinity's Siobhan Kirby stuck to her like glue, denying the sharpshooter any space to operate.
"Siobhan's been playing great defense on people, and we count on her," Kriz said. "She's like the energizer bunny. She keeps going and going and never stops; we want to capitalize on that."
"It was obviously hard losing (Griffin); she was such a great player and teammate," Palma said. "It's difficult, but with so many seniors it's been so great and they are supporting me. With the younger players helping out it's going well."
Ryan Lacey is a freelance writer
Trinity Catholic 52, Staples 43
Madeline Schemel 2 0-0 4 Maggie Fair 3 0-0 6 Nicole Bukovsky 8 5-5 21 Erica Stein 1 1-2 4 Dayna Gelman 1 0-0 2 Allison April 2 0-2 6 Totals: 17 6-9 43.
TRINITY CATHOLIC (7-2)
STAPLES 13 9 10 11--43
TRINITY CATHOLIC 7 12 15 19--52
3-pointers: S--April 2, Stein; TC--Amy Hurd, Kellie Hurd, Palma 2, Elertson.