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Class MM girls: Northwest Catholic takes a step up to win second straight state title

UNCASVILLE – A large group of Northwest Catholic High girls basketball fans in the stands at Mohegan Sun Arena wore shirts that read “Maeve Madness” Saturday afternoon.

That would be Maeve Staunton, who ended up scoring 16 points in Northwest Catholic’s 43-37 victory over Sheehan in the Class MM state championship game.

It was second-seeded Northwest Catholic’s second straight title. Last year the Lions won the Class S championship and moved up to MM this season.

“This was a goal they set a long time ago,” Northwest Catholic coach Alison Connors said. “A lot of high school players don’t get this opportunity once. These kids got it twice.”

Staunton, a sophomore guard, was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.

“It was fun doing it first time, it’s even better doing it the second time,” Staunton said. “We proved to ourselves we can do it more than once.”

Another sophomore, Abby Casper, led Northwest (24-5) with 19 points and seven rebounds.

“It feels amazing,” said another part of Northwest’s Maeve Madness, Northwest senior forward Maeve Rushin, who had six points, seven points and two blocks.

“I think it’s the first time at our school the girls have won back-to-back, so it feels really special. It feels great my last game ever to go out with a win.”

Neither team shot particularly well, especially in the first half. Northwest Catholic was 5 for 23; Sheehan, 7 for 30. The fifth-seeded Titans were 3 for 20 from the 3-point line and still led 18-14 at halftime.

But the Lions opened the third quarter with a 10-0 run and took a 24-18 lead midway through. Sheehan rallied to tie the score at 29 when senior guard Liv Cassesse, who had also struggled to shoot, hit three free throws with no time left on the clock.

Cassesse, who hit her first field goal (a 3-pointer) with 1:56 left in the third, was 3 for 13 and had 12 points to lead Sheehan.

“One of the best players I’ve ever coached, and she didn’t have a typical Liv Cassesse night,” Sheehan coach Mike Busillo said. “I think anybody who had seen her the 28 games previously would know today was not a characteristic Liv Cassesse day. She still scored 12, I think that’s a credit to what kind of player she is.”

And yet Sheehan – which shot 12 for 51 as a team – was still in the game at the end. Cassesse hit a 3 with 3:40 left in the game to give Sheehan a 34-33 lead.

“For the most part I thought our shots were OK,” Busillo said. “There were a few times we got out of our minds a little bit and we were playing a little fast.

“We’ve always had the ability to hang around. We hung around, even though we didn’t necessarily play well.”

The ball went to Casper in the paint on the next play and she made the basket to give the Lions the lead. Staunton hit a 3 and Casper made one of two foul shots and Northwest had the lead again. Cassesse hit another 3 but Casper scored again in traffic and drew the foul and hit a free throw and the Lions led 42-37.

“Northwest outplayed us particularly in the second half,” Busillo said. “The same thing happened last time we were here (in 2019). We took the lead last time with 2:32 to go. We couldn’t get the stop.”