Agnieszka Kulaga’s (Tarnow, Poland/I Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace H.S.) career-high 21 points led four Crusaders in double figures as Valparaiso earned its first victory of the season on Saturday evening, defeating Central Connecticut State 75-67 in the consolation game of the FGCU Thanksgiving Classic held in Fort Myers, Fla.
“We did a great job of coming out and playing with a high level of energy today,” head coach Keith Freeman said.
Valpo started quick offensively and on the defensive end. The Crusaders held the Blue Devils scoreless for nearly three minutes to open the game and Kulaga hit her first four shots from the floor, including a pair of three-pointers, as Valpo opened a 17-7 at the 12 minute mark.
The lead grew to 11, 22-11, following Leah Hochstetler’s (Berlin, Ohio/Hiland H.S.) second triple of the game with 9:30 to play before intermission. Central Connecticut State answered with back-to-back three-pointers of its own to cut the lead in half.
Valpo kept the lead between five and eight the rest of the stanza, though, connecting on 9-of-10 from the free throw line in the final five minutes to take a 38-31 lead into the locker room.
Hochstetler tied her career high with a team-leading 11 points in the first half alone.
Kulaga hit a three-pointer as the shot clock expired and Launa Hochstetler (Berlin, Ohio/Hiland H.S.) followed a minute later with another three as the lead Crew back to 10, 44-34, out of the break.
The lead grew to 13 before the Blue Devils made another run. Kerrianne Dugan’s second old-fashioned three-point play of the half cut the Valpo lead down to six, 53-47, with 11:31 to play in the game.
A Sarah Ott (Chippewa Falls, Wis./Chippewa Falls H.S.) three and an Aimee Likta (South Bend, Ind./Saint Joseph’s H.S.) lay-in pushed the Brown and Gold’s advantage back to 11, 60-49, heading under eight minutes to play.
Central Connecticut State would not get their deficit below five the rest of the way as the Crusaders connected on 18-of-20 second half free throws to secure the victory.
“We got the job down knocking down our free throws all night,” Freeman commented.
Kulaga also had four rebounds, four assists, and two steals in addition to her career scoring night. Litka added 14 points and a career-high five assists while Ott scored 13 points. Leah Hochstetler finished the night with her 11 first half points.
Dugan led Central Connecticut State (0-5) with 19 points while P.J. Wade added 16 points. Danica Covington had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Blue Devils.
Valpo’s defense held the Blue Devils to just 20% (3-of-15) shooting from beyond the arc while forcing 25 turnovers.
Valparaiso (1-5) will return to action next Saturday afternoon for the Crusaders’ home opener as part of the State Farm Hoosier Classic. The Crusaders will face Ball State beginning at 3:05 p.m. at the Athletics-Recreation Center while Butler and Indiana State meet in the first contest at 1:05 p.m.