NORTH EASTON, Mass. – After winning the opening three games of the season by an average of 30 points per night, Oliver Ames was off to a perfect start, but the Tigers knew that Friday afternoon’s opening round of the annual Sue Rivard Tournament would be one of the toughest challenges to this point in the year.
Walpole proved to be more than OA could handle, pulling away with an 8-3 run over the final three minutes of the game, to secure the 48-44 victory and handing the Tigers their first loss of the young season.
“That’s not really our strength,” OA coach Laney Clement-Holbrook said of Walpole’s ability to force the Tigers into a half-court game.
She added, “We need to be able to read situations because we missed offensive opportunities and then we forced things that weren’t there. We have to be better. We weren’t in any rhythm today. We’ve got to grow up and face the difficult situations.”
The Tigers couldn’t handle Walpole senior guard Sydney Scales, who scored 25 of her team’s 48 points and was able to get into the lane almost at will. She got to the line on 10 different possessions and forced the Tigers to double in the lane, which opened up shots for her teammates.
The Rebels looked like they were on the brink of breaking the game open in the third quarter, pushing the lead to 31-24 after a pair of Scales free throws. OA showed its resiliency to bounce back and force a 34-34 tie heading into the final eight minutes.
Caroline Flynn (18 points and 13 rebounds) hit four straight free throws to cut the lead to just three. Flynn then added a basket on an offensive board to make it 34-30. Tate Hadges grabbed three straight on the offensive glass to earn a trip to the line. She knocked down one to make it a three-point game and then Flynn spotted up in the corner on a Jess Erlich look ahead on the break and buried a three that tied it in the closing seconds of the quarter.
“We put too much pressure on her and somebody else needs to step up and help her,” Clement-Holbrook said of Flynn, who was also tasked with chasing Scales on the defensive end for the bulk of the game. “If we don’t, then we become one-dimensional and we need to be multi-dimensional to be successful.”
Walpole bounced right back with five straight to start the fourth, all by Scales. It took more than three minutes for the Tigers to get on the board, but Erlich’s basket made it just a three-point game. Caroline Peper (12 points) hit a pair at the line and then she knocked down her first three-pointer since the opening minutes to give OA a 41-40 lead with 3:03 to play, its first lead since the first quarter.
The visitors answered right back. Scales kicked out to Elisabeth Roche for a big three that restored the Walpole lead. Hailey Bourne (seven points) made one-of-two at the line and OA had the ball with a chance to get back in front, but Brooke Walonis stole the ball and then drilled a clutch three for a four-point edge.
OA wasn’t done. The Rebels shot just 4-for-13 from the line in the fourth quarter and allowed the Tigers to hang around, despite their shooting struggles. Bourne came up with a huge rebound and putback with 21.3 on the clock.
The Tigers got the ball back after Walpole made one-of-two and got a good look for Peper for a tying three but she wasn’t able to knock it down. One more free throw sealed the win for the Rebels and sent them to the tournament final.
“We couldn’t get the foul shot in and then Pep struggled off that screen,” Clement-Holbrook explained. “I was just disappointed because I thought we lost every 50-50 ball in the second half and we weren’t playing with basketball I.Q.”
She added, “I know the level of competition was beyond what we had seen and we just didn’t play like we had been.”
OA got off to a decent start to the game. Flynn and Peper each buried threes to put the Tigers up 6-0. The two Carolines combined for all 13 of OA’s points in the first. Peper scored in transition, off an Anna Murphy assist, to make it 13-10. Scales, who had seven in the first, continued to cause problems and she drove to the basket to put Walpole up 15-13 after one.
Defense was the star in the second quarter. Flynn cut the lead in half (19-16) with a layup plus the foul and Erlich cut backdoor for a layup that made it a two-point game (20-18). With Walpole leading by four, Meg Holleranstole the ball and fed Bourne for a layup to make it 24-22 at the break.
Oliver Ames (3-1) will take on neighboring Brockton in the consolation round of the Rivard Tournament on Saturday.