TAUNTON, Mass. – Foxboro came into Saturday evening’s Div. 2 South final against Nauset at Taunton High averaging more than 65 points per game this season, but what turned out to be even more important for the Warriors as they aimed for a second straight sectional title was that their defense was allowing fewer than 37 points per game.
It was not a pretty game. Neither team shot well and the game was played more at the pace that Nauset preferred, which was in the half-court, running down the shot clock and not allowing Foxboro to get into transition. Yet, at the end, Foxboro was once again heading to the TD Garden with another trophy in the case following a 40-23 victory, in which it allowed Nauset only six made field goals in the entire game.
“From day one, first day of practice, we wanted to make sure that defense was the best aspect of our game, so we came out here and we just played the best defense we possibly could,” said senior Lily Sykes. When asked if there was a point that she was concerned about winning the game, especially as the offense struggled, Sykes replied, “Honestly, I personally no. We just have too many weapons for teams.”
Nauset had only two seniors on its roster coming in, while Foxboro, even with senior center Shannon Smally sidelined with a shoulder injury, started three seniors and four players with experience on this stage. Foxboro used that experience to not panic even as its shots were not falling.
“That’s a young team and it’s intimidating to play in this type of venue and with this many people and all that pressure,” said Foxboro coach Lisa Downs. “The seniors could just settle themselves down better than the younger kids.”
Sykes added, “We played in the sectional finals freshman year. I don’t think any of us were nervous, so we just came out and knew we were going to win.”
Things started well for the Warriors, who jumped out to a fairly typical 13-1 lead in the opening quarter. Ashley Sampson (game-high 17 points and six steals) knocked down a pair of threes to get things going and then completed a three-point play to give Foxboro the early advantage. Freshman Katelyn Mollica, the lone starter who is experiencing the playoffs for the first time, also drilled a three.
Nauset’s lone basket of the first was a three by 6-foot sophomore center Skyeler Sandison that made it 13-4. Abby Hassman hit a jumper off one of Sykes’ five assists to give Foxboro a 15-5 edge after one quarter.
Sandison was the primary threat for Nauset coming in and Foxboro relied on Grace Tamulionis to front the center and deny passes into the post. The strategy worked perfectly. Even when Tamulionis was not able to deflect the pass, a Foxboro player was lying in wait on the backside to get the steal. Sandison finished with only five points and even though Tamulionis only scored four herself, after leading the Warriors with 19 in the semifinal, she was a key to the win.
“She did amazing,” said Downs of Tamulionis. “We only had one day to practice for that and Sandison was our main focus. We were kind of leaving Ashley’s man unattended to double team on her because once she gets the ball in the paint she’s pretty deadly in there.”
The offense started to sputter in the second. After Chelsea Gibbons hit a pair at the line, she picked up a steal and fed Sampson for a rare fast break bucket. Mollica (13 points) added a steal and layup to push the lead to 13, but Nauset would answer with five straight to give the fans who made the trip up from the Cape a little hope.
Sampson took the momentum back with a floater and a transition basket off a Gibbons assist. It was 25-13 at the break even with Foxboro admittedly not playing at the top of its game.
“I give them credit, they were getting back much quicker than I thought they would,” Downs explained. “They were also pressuring our rebounders so we couldn’t get the outlet as quick as usually do…but when we had the open court we were able to attack the basket.”
The third quarter was even worse, as the two teams combined for 11 points. Nauset got four, including a three-pointer, from Reagan Meehan, but Mollica drained a three as well, Tamulionis hit a free throw line jumper, and Sampson scored with an offensive rebound. That was all the scoring for the third.
“We know what we’re capable of but we were a little bit tense and our shots were a little bit flat,” said Downs, “so we just need to really exaggerate that follow through.”
Tamulionis scored with a layup off a Sampson assist to get the fourth quarter started and push the lead to 17 at 34-17. Meehan (eight points) completed a three-point play to give Nauset some life, but Mollica knocked down a corner three and added two more with a steal and layup to seal the victory.
It does not matter if the win was pretty or not, Foxboro still gets to take home the trophy for the second straight year and gets another shot at playing at the TD Garden. It is something that the Warriors have been thinking about for a full year.
“With this group of seniors, I would’ve been upset to have left too early,” said Downs. “They have unfinished business and they got a taste of it last year and they haven’t forgotten it.”
Sampson said, “It’s really exciting. Last year obviously didn’t end how we wanted but now we have the experience of playing there so it won’t be totally new to us. I think that will really help us.”
Sykes added, “I thought coming into the season we had a chance but with every single person contributing it’s the best season ever.”
Foxboro (24-2) advances to face North champion Pentucket at the TD Garden on Tuesday at 5:45.