NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Two days after putting up 79 points in a win against Davenport division rival Canton, Oliver Ames looked up at the clock nearly six minutes into Thursday night’s rematch at the Nixon Gym and saw a zero under its name. It was a sign that things weren’t going to be nearly as comfortable the second time around.
“Consider it ugly but effective,” joked OA coach Laney Clement-Holbrook after her team rallied, and then held off a late charge by the Bulldogs, to secure a 53-43 victory that puts the Tigers in pole position for a league title in their first season back in the Davenport in four years.
“We really wanted it to be a fast-paced game but it wasn’t pretty, at all,” Clement-Holbrook continued. “We know who their three-point shooters are, a couple of times we just didn’t get a hand up, we were too far off. I thought we were scrappy. Once we switched our defense, we got a lot of turnovers. I think that got us going and got us back into it.”
Canton showed fight from the opening tip, determined not to allow the game to get away like it did in the first meeting. Kiara Cerruti opened with a quick three and Sydney Gallery added two from beyond the arc, including one off glass, to open a 9-0 lead.
OA looked completely out of sorts on the offensive end, taking quick long-range shots, and struggling to find the mark against an aggressive Bulldogs defense. Caroline Peper knocked down a free throw with 2:10 left in the first to get the Tigers on the board. She followed that with a three, Caroline Flynn knocked down four at the line and suddenly it was a one-point game (11-10) after one.
“They’re physical, they’re probably the biggest team in the league or close to it,” said Canton coach Jim Choquette. “Their size is a totally different challenge than many of the games we face. They put so much pressure on you whenever you touch the ball that it’s not an easy task just to whip it inside.”
Kelsey Yelle (eight points and six rebounds) gave the Tigers a spark off the bench. She knocked down a pair of mid-range jumpers, both assisted by Hailey Bourne (seven points and four assists) to put OA ahead.
Cerruti had a steal and layup and Gallery a score off an offensive rebound to go back into the lead, but freshman Jasmyn Cooper (five points and seven rebounds) buried a three and grabbed an offensive board that led to a Peper jumper. OA closed the half on a 9-4 run that put them in front for good.
The Tigers stretched the lead into double digits in the third quarter and threatened at several points in the second half to break the game wide open and run away, as they did on Tuesday, but Canton kept finding ways to hang around.
Peper kicked things off in the third with a three off a Flynn assist, had a nifty scoop on the baseline after Bourne swung it around the perimeter, and turned a steal into an easy transition basket. She scored seven of her team-high 15 points in the third. Bourne (seven points and four assists) added a couple of buckets in the quarter, including one off a Flynn (eight points, seven rebounds, and four assists) rebound and dish.
“Caroline Flynn has the heart of a lion,” Clement-Holbrook said. “She really does. She just makes things happen and I hardly got her a rest. She played almost every minute.”
Gallery tried to keep the Bulldogs close with four of her 14 points in the quarter and Cerruti nailed another three, but OA’s defense and rebounding was proving to be a problem. Kayla Albert (14 rebounds) was one of the few players finding any success crashing the glass for the visitors, who went into the fourth trailing 38-28.
“Kayla played amazing underneath,” said Choquette. “She kept a lot of extra balls alive for us and that gives our guards more chances to hit some shots.”
Twice in the fourth quarter, OA led by as may as 13 points. After Cerruti drilled a deep three, Flynn turned a steal into a short pull-up jumper and then Maddie Homer had a quick release jumper on the baseline to make it 44-31. Samya DaSilva answered with her second three of the game, but Homer hit another short jumper and Bourne knocked down a shot from the corner for a 49-36 advantage.
“Maddie Homer coming off the bench did a good job,” said Clement-Holbrook. “We started moving people around and that to me is the beauty of this group because of the depth. If somebody’s not having a good night, we’re going to move them out and move somebody else in.”
It felt like the game was lost, but Canton kept fighting back. Fay Gallery set up Cerruti for her fourth three of the night and then Sydney Gallery got a rare look in the paint to get the lead back down to eight. Cerruti fought off the attentions of a couple Tigers to spin into the lane and then spin the ball off the glass for a tough finish to make it 49-43 with 51.5 to play.
Homer made a clutch bucket for the Tigers to stem the Canton momentum and Jess Erlich hit two shots at the line (her only points of the night) to seal the win.
Choquette said, “The other night wasn’t a really good representation of our team. We had a really good practice yesterday and talked about that and how we can help each other. Every girl decided lets go out there and play the way we’re capable of playing. I was really really proud of the way the girls responded.”
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