ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Entering the state tournament, Attleboro had been struggling to find the consistent form that got the Bombardiers off to an 8-0 start to the season. Blown leads and close losses in rematches against Franklin and North Attleboro in the final week highlighted what was a 7-7 run over the last 14 games.
In the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s playoff opener against Brockton, it seemed like Attleboro would once again struggle to pull out a win in a close game. The Boxers rallied from as many as nine points down in the second half to take the lead on a Jade Wilt (10 points) jumper with a minute remaining.
This time, Attleboro did not fold. Senior guard Julia Strachan capped off a 24-point night by driving up the court and pulling up for a jumper with her toe on the three-point line that put the Bombardiers ahead 59-58 with 57.4 on the clock.
A pair of free throws from Sam Pierce (11 points, six rebounds) and two from Jordyn Lako (six points) sealed a 63-58 victory for Attleboro, which avenged a first round playoff loss to the Boxers in 2014 and sets up a third meeting with league champion Mansfield, the top seed in Div. 1 South.
“I thought they did a great job handling the adversity this time,” said Attleboro coach Rick Patch. “When Brockton took the lead, we didn’t wilt. Strachan came down and made a big shot.”
Patch was asked about the difference it makes for Attleboro when Strachan (five three-pointers) starts knocking down shots from the outside. He responded, “Just for her to get her confidence like that, she is a bona fide shooter. She likes to shoot the ball, she’s very good at it and she feels like she can’t be stopped.”
He added, “That’s a kid who wants to win and who is an offensive threat inside and out.”
The Bombardiers needed Strachan to be on fire early, as Attleboro was slow out of the gates against an aggressive Brockton team that dominated on the glass and in hustle plays for much of the first half. Strachan had nine of Attleboro’s 14 first quarter points, but the Boxers held an 18-14 lead after one.
In the middle of the quarter, Patch called a timeout and laid into his team to try and wake the Bombardiers up. He explained, “We were getting beat to every loose ball, every rebound. They must have had six offensive rebounds in the first four minutes and that was the discouraging part. We called timeout to challenge them.”
The challenge was not accepted right away and, after a layup by freshman Alexandra Giannaros (team-high 14 points), Brockton led 28-20 in the closing stages of the second quarter. Attleboro finally responded with eight straight points to end the half tied.
“As a staff, we were going into half thrilled that it was 28-28,” said Patch. “Last time we played them, they were up two. We knew if we could come out in the second half and get two or three positive possessions it would help.”
The Bombardiers came out of halftime determined to grab the lead and to gain control of the glass. Deyo scored 10 of her 18 points in the third, twice scoring on offensive rebounds and also a three-point play on another Mayer assist. Deyo started to dominate the boards and finished with 19 rebounds.
“Sarah is literally a rebounding machine,” Patch said. “She gets anything within six or eight feet of her, which is great. It’s what I was emphasizing to everyone else to just get your five rebounds this half, get the rebound.”
Strachan nailed her third three to put Attleboro ahead by five, then Pierce scored off an inbounds pass by Mish Logie, and Madison Brown came off the bench to snag her only rebound and turn it into her only basket to push the Bombardiers in front by as many as nine.
The lead was six heading to the fourth, as the Boxers just would not go away. Jalani Jackson (12 points) assisted on a three by Makayla Robinson to start the final quarter, but that was quickly answered by a long-range shot by Strachan, who also matched a three by Wint to keep the lead at eight points.
Brockton crept back into the game at the line. The Boxers went on a 9-0 run to take the lead for the first time in the second half and were helped by going 7-for-8 at the line, including two clutch free throws by Giannaros that cut the Attleboro lead to one.
Strachan provided the heroics for the Bombardiers and sent Attleboro into the next round for a heavily-anticipated third meeting with Mansfield. The Hornets won both meetings in the regular season and there is little mystery between these rivals.
“The good thing is we have one day to prepare for them and we’ll see what happens,” said Patch. “We have our work cut out for us.”
He smiled when asked if there was anything specific that the Bombardiers would try to do differently the third time around. “Score more points than they do,” he quipped.
Patch added, “We’ve tried a lot of different things and the last couple times they seemed to be a step ahead of us, so we expect a great challenge ahead of for sure.”
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