WELLESLEY, Mass. – The upset was there for the taking. Oliver Ames was down by just one point entering the fourth quarter on the road at second-seeded Wellesley in Friday night’s Div. 1 South quarterfinal and battled back from seven points down in the fourth to get within three twice, but the Tigers couldn’t find the baskets they needed against the experienced Raiders.
Oliver Ames (13-9) gave the hosts everything they could handle, but the Raiders showed their mettle and made the big shots when they were needed to pull out a 46-41 victory that sets up a semifinal against Bay State Conference rival Braintree.
“We knew we were going to have to deal with a lot of screening, a lot of slips,” said OA coach Laney Clement-Holbrook. “We spent two days on how to help, how to hedge, how to help the helper, all those things, but you’ve got to put the ball in the basket at the other end too. It’s one thing to get a stop but you’ve got to score.”
From the start, it was obvious that offense was going to be tough to come by for both teams. Despite scoring a combined 26 points in the first quarter, neither team was able to find a rhythm offensively, although Wellesley was finding some success slipping screens in the pick and roll and getting its forwards heading to the basket.
OA was relying on its ability to get into the paint and out on the break to generate its offense. Senior forward Alex Sheldon got off to a good start with five points in the first, including three free throws, and sophomore Caroline Flynn got an offensive rebound and then scored off a Meg Holleran assist.
Wellesley led 15-11 after one, but the defenses got even tougher to breakdown from that point forward. The Raiders would only make two shots and score seven points in the second quarter, but they also held OA to just one made field goal (a Flynn layup in transition) and six points to actually extend their lead to five points at the break.
Senior guard Gianna Palli came out firing in the third, getting free for a rare drive to the basket and burying a deep three from the wing to push the Wellesley lead to as many as eight points. As it turned out, the basket would be her last of the night, as Sadie Homer clamped down and allowed Palli (11 points) little room to maneuver.
“I’m really proud of her,” Clement-Holbrook said of Homer, who has the opportunity to play volleyball and basketball next year at Dean College. “She was able to finish as a senior the way that we hoped that she would.”
Just when it looked like Wellesley may break the game wide open, the young Tigers came storming back. Freshman Caroline Peper, OA’s leading scorer, finally wriggled free of the attentions of Wellesley senior Molly Cronin to score on an offensive rebound plus the foul. Homer found Flynn (10 points) in transition for an easy basket and then Flynn set up Sheldon (seven points) for a short jumper.
When Flynn kicked out to Holleran for an open three, OA had come all the way back to tie the game at 29-29. Wellesley responded with a big three from Cronin but Holleran set up a cutting Peper (12 points) for a basket that made it a one-point game with eight minutes remaining.
In close games, when the pressure gets ratcheted up, experience counts and the Raiders definitely benefited from playing in this stage or later in recent years. Anna Glashow drilled a three and then, after a Peper basket, Lily Woodring beat the buzzer with a contested mid-range jumper following a great defensive possession. Brooke Guiffre (game-high 14 points) hit a three from the corner to put the Raiders back up seven.
Peper had been largely held in check by Cronin’s defense, but she got fouled on a three-point attempt and made all three at the line to get the game back within four. Clement-Holbrook saw this game as a learning experience for the rookie on how to handle this level of attention from opposing defenses.
“Now she’s a known entity,” Clement-Holbrook said of Peper. “Cronin’s not going to let a ninth grader beat her, that’s what it comes down to, so I just talked about this will be a good experience. I said, the down side will be if you don’t learn from this in the off-season and make yourself a better player.”
Trailing by five, OA had several defensive stops in a row, but each time the Tigers failed to take advantage at the other end and the clock started to whittle away. Finally, Holleran fought to grab an offensive rebound and wriggled through a few defenders for a basket that made it 41-38. Wellesley went to the line but missed a pair only to have Goehringer snag the rebound with 57.1 on the clock.
OA again locked down on the defensive side of the ball, sticking with players through a myriad of screens on the perimeter until the ball swung over to the left wing where Guiffre made the biggest shot of the game, sticking a three despite Flynn’s hand right in her face.
“She drained it,” said Clement-Holbrook. “Those were big moments for them and they took advantage of the situations and I think that was the difference that we didn’t do that in situations where we had fought back and got it to three.”
The game was far from over, as Homer (seven points) came down and answered with a three of her own to keep it a one-possession game with 10.2 remaining. OA fouled on the inbound and Guiffre missed the front end of the one-and-one. Flynn got the rebound and headed up court but the Tigers were called for traveling with 4.5 left.
Guiffre made amends by hitting two at the line and sealing the win.