WOBURN, Mass. -As the clock was winding down in overtime, Foxboro coach Lisa Downs stood with her hands behind her head at the end of the Warriors bench. Her face filled with happy disbelief, as though she couldn’t believe what she was seeing from her team. She was not alone.
Foxboro had fallen behind by as many as 20 points in the second half, struggling to stop North champion Pentucket from getting to the basket on one end and struggling to get anything to go down on the other end of the floor. It looked as though, for the second straight year, the Warriors would end their season in the state semifinal.
But something changed in the third quarter. Foxboro switched to an aggressive 2-3 zone that took away the driving lanes and seemed to lift the team’s energy level and a couple of shots started to fall. The lead was cut down to 10 at the end of three and momentum was with the South champs heading to the final eight minutes at Woburn High.
That was when the senior leadership took over. Lily Sykes buried three shots from beyond the arc and Ashley Sampson put together the type of run that made her a Hockomock League MVP as a junior. After being held to just two points in the first three quarters, she scored 20 in the fourth quarter and overtime, including 19 of her team’s final 20 points, and made a driving layup on the left baseline to tie the game with 2.6 remaining in regulation.
Sampson would go on to score 14 points in overtime, shooting 6-for-6 at the line in the final minute, leading the Warriors to an improbable, thrilling, 58-54 come from behind victory and a spot in the state championship game on Saturday morning.
“We had three captains on the floor the whole game, so we just had to keep telling everyone to keep going no matter how much we were down by,” said Sampson after the game. “I don’t really know what I was thinking, I just didn’t want that to be the last game.”
Downs said of Sampson, “She played like the MVP that she is. When the pressure is on, she’s the one we want to have the ball in her hands and with those seniors on the court we knew we’d be in good shape if we could just chip away a couple baskets at a time.”
She added, “I knew once we got it close that it was going to be anybody’s ballgame. It just came down to who was going to finish when the clock started ticking down to the end and we did.”
Coming off an atypical South final in which the Warriors were held to a season-low 40 points by Nauset, the scoring slump continued in the first half on Wednesday. Abby Hassman started the game with a three and had five in the first quarter, but Foxboro only managed seven as a team. The Warriors were outscored by Pentucket sophomore Casey Hunt, who had 10 by herself.
The second quarter was little better, as the Sachems continued to find holes in the heart of the Warriors defense, driving to the basket and using that penetration to open space for shooters at that the three-point line. Sophomore Angelica Hurley scored eight of Pentucket’s 17 in the quarter, while Sykes (16 points and seven rebounds) scored all seven for the Warriors.
Trailing 29-14 going into the break, Downs implored her team to not let this season, which included a perfect 16-0 record in the league and only two losses overall, be ended in this fashion.
“She just pretty much said, in the nicest way, we’ve never played like that so we really couldn’t do any worse,” said Grace Tamulionis of the halftime team talk. “We just came out and played like it’s a new game and just started over.”
Downs said, “I begged them at halftime not go out this way and none of the seniors wanted to end their entire Foxboro High School [careers] playing the way that they did the first half. They just dug their heels in and did what they did all season, which is win it with defense.”
Pentucket did not back down to start the second half, scoring the first five points to build its largest lead, but there were signs of life from the Warriors. Freshman Katelyn Mollica (eight points) drilled a three to cut the lead to 17. After Hunt scored on a put-back, Tamulionis (five points) knocked down a pair of jumpers.
Hunt responded with a drive to the basket for a 38-21 lead. Foxboro would outscore the Sachems 22-5 from that point on.
Much of the change in momentum could be traced back to a defensive switch in the second half from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone that allowed Sykes and Mollica to be aggressive on the Pentucket perimeter players.
“It starts with defense, it always has,” Tamulionis explained. “So, when we started playing hard defense I think it really helped on our offense.”
Hassman kicked it out to Mollica for a three to get the run started and Sampson finally got on the board with a jumper. Hassman (seven points and seven rebounds) took the ball to the hole and scored off glass to make it a 10-point game heading to the fourth quarter. The energy seemed to be with the Foxboro bench and fans, as though they could sense there was more to come.
Tamulionis fought for a tough offensive rebound and swung a pass out to Sykes for her third three-pointer of the game to cut the lead to single digits. After a Pentucket basket and a Sampson free throw, Sykes knocked down a step-back three and then buried another, after a Sampson offensive rebound, to get Foxboro within just two points.
“That was not us the first half,” said Sampson about the difference after the break. “We’ve never played like that and we just knew that we had to step it up in the second half and get back to our game.”
Now the Warriors were firing on all cylinders and the crowd was roaring them on. Tamulionis had two chances to give Foxboro the lead and both shots were halfway down but kicked out and Sykes had a steal and fast break for the tie, only to have the layup roll off the rim. Hurley (15 points) made them pay with a three that restored a five-point lead and a momentary respite.
Sampson answered, scoring on a drive plus the foul with a minute remaining on the clock. Again Foxboro had chances to tie or take the lead but couldn’t get that crucial bucket. After two missed shots with 11 seconds to play, Sykes saved a Foxboro possession by diving on the floor to force a jump ball.
There was no surprise who would get the ball in the final seconds. “I did because I don’t think I had really scored until then,” said Sampson when asked if she expected to get the ball at the end of the game. “I was frustrated with myself but there were other people stepping up. That’s all you can ask for.”
The ball swung around to Hassman in the corner who took a dribble towards the top and then flipped it back to Sampson on the baseline. She took one dribble to the rim and scored to make it 43-43. The officials put 2.6 on the clock and Pentucket got a shot off but it hit the backboard and bounced away.
— Josh Perry (@Josh_Perry10) March 15, 2018
In overtime, Sampson took over. She hit a three from the right wing to give Foxboro the lead and then made it 49-45 with another three on the left. She responded to a Sachems basket with one of her own and then was perfect at the line in the final minute. In the process, she became just the third Foxboro player to pass the 1,500-point mark for her career (Jennifer Brown was the last in 1998).
Sampson said, “I’m pumped. This is what we were working for all season, so now we’ve got our chance to get it.”
“I don’t even know. I don’t know how we did it, but I’m so excited,” added Tamulionis. When asked about how far these seniors have come, from playing as freshmen against Duxbury in a South final to now having the chance to play for a state title, she said, “We’ve played together since we were in fifth grade, so I think to get this chance is just such a good opportunity and we’re all wicked excited.”
Foxboro (25-2) will face Central champion Hopkinton for the third time this season on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. The teams split two games in the regular season.
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