NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – North Attleboro was trailing by a point as the clock wound down under 90 seconds remaining in Tuesday’s game at the Kenneth Pickering Gym. The Rocketeers needed someone to make a play to avoid the upset against an upstart Milford team that was trying to tie North for the Davenport division lead.
Senior Ashley Ahern picked the pocket of Jill Burley, her fifth steal of the game, and raced the length of the court for a layup to give North a 46-45 lead. It turned out to be the game-winning basket, as the Rocketeers locked down on defense and Ahern sealed the 51-45 victory by knocking down 5-of-6 free throws.
It was an impressive come from behind win for the hosts, who trailed by as many as 10 points in the third quarter, but also an indication of how far Milford has come in head coach T.J. Dolliver’s second season that the Hawks had the division leaders on the ropes.
“They did,” replied North coach Derek Herber about Milford having the Rocketeers on the edge. “We’ve seen enough of them…I told my girls that they’re scrappy like us and they can shoot a little bit, so we’ve got to be ready to play. They came out right away and did exactly that.
“They’ve come a long way and credit to T.J., he’s put a team together over there and they’re going to be a problem throughout the season.”
The opening quarter was an indication of the confidence that the Hawks are playing with this season. In an end-to-end period that resembled a track meet as much as a basketball game, the Hawks got points from six different players and scored 19 points.
Christine Pye (eight points) knocked down a pair of long jumpers and Burley scored four of her eight points on a pair of runners in the lane. Nicole Dahlgren (12 points, eight rebounds, five assists) scored on an offensive rebound plus the foul then assisted on a three-pointer by Juliana Tracy.
North kept it close in the opening quarter with a strong offensive attack of its own. Ahern scored four of her game-high 16 points and sophomore Julia Feid added six of her seven points in the first.
The pace continued in the second quarter, but the scoring slowed down. The teams scored six points apiece and headed into halftime with the Hawks ahead 25-21.
In the third quarter, Milford came out strong and took a double digit lead. Kate Irwin flipped a pass over the defense to Dahlgren for a layup then Gillian Valanzola used a pump fake to get past Caroline Collard in the post for a basket. After Dahlgren scored on one of Burley’s six assists, she then managed to keep a play alive while falling to set up Irwin (six points) for a three.
North trailed 36-26 and Herber called timeout.
“We’ve got to execute better on offense,” Herber told his team. “We have a height advantage, so lets try to get the ball to Collard and if we get the shots off that look that’s what we need to do. We were able to put some pressure on their guards and get in their face a little bit.”
Feid snagged a rebound of a missed free throw and fed it to Collard for a layup to get North started. Collard then scored a layup in transition off an Ahern assist and another off of a Feid inbound pass to get the Rocketeers back within three. Collard scored 10 of her game-high 16 in the quarter.
North regained the lead before the end of the third on back-to-back steals and transition baskets by Ahern. Dolliver was left rueing the missed opportunity to put North away.
“We just turned the ball over too much and it was just…careless,” he said. “They played good defense on it, but they were passes that we could avoid. We definitely have to take care of the ball a little more and that was the difference.”
North extended the run to 13 straight points with a pair of free throws and then Samantha Taggart answered a Dahlgren jumper with a three-pointer that made it 42-38. Pye scored on a layup to cut the lead in half, but Liz Morehouse scored her only points of the night to push the lead back to four.
Pye was left open on an inbounds play for a layup and then Dahlgren buried a straightaway three-pointer that put Milford back in front by a point with time running out for North.
“I was happy to see that they bounced back,” said Dolliver of his team’s response to the North run. “I really love this group. That’s the No. 1 seed [in the division] and you had them, so it’s a good sign in that aspect but I hold them to higher standards now. They know how to take care of end-of-game situations.”
The North defense was aggressive throughout the second half with Ahern causing problems for Burley and Emily Schromm holding Irwin, who currently leads the Hockomock in scoring, to just six points. It was Ahern who made the biggest play, turning the game around for North when it needed a stop and scoring the final seven points of the game.
“They all know it too, she’s the heart of the team,” said Herber of Ahern. “They take their cue from her. If she’s up on her person and in their face then everyone else has to have the same mentality. She’s still a little banged up and she fought through it today.”
North Attleboro (9-2, 6-0) will continue a tough stretch when it hosts Foxboro on Friday in another game against a team that is one game back in the division. Milford (6-2, 4-2) will have no time to dwell on the loss, as the Hawks host Hopedale on Wednesday.
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