NORTH EASTON, Mass. – The first half was a shootout between the top scorers on each team with New Bedford sophomore Chiron Rose and Oliver Ames senior Kayla Raymond going head-to-head, scoring 15 points apiece. But, it is hard to win a playoff game on the back of one player, even someone like Raymond, the Stonehill-bound Hockomock MVP.
In the second half, the rest of the Tigers took over. Raymond still got her points in the third (before sitting for the entire fourth quarter) but it was OA’s depth that turned a six-point lead at the half into a 69-39 victory over the 12th seeded Whalers in the Tigers’ first postseason game since moving to Div. 1.
“They came out with fire in their eyeballs,” said OA coach Laney Clement-Holbrook. “It was amazing. In the third quarter, we were pushing the pace. We knew that was something that we had to do, we knew we had to run, and I thought the kids did a great job of allowing New Bedford just one shot.”
Rose came out firing and got the sizable traveling contingent from New Bedford excited from the opening whistle. She buried a pair of step-back threes and had eight points in the first to help the Whalers get off to a 8-2 start. The Tigers took a few minutes to get going but then Raymond started to take over and helped OA finish the first on a 14-2 run.
She scored on a feed from sophomore Erin Holmberg then added one of her six blocks on the defensive end, which was rebounded by Katie Flynn (10 rebounds) who then fired an outlet pass to Raymond for a transition basket. She assisted on a three-point play for Alex Sheldon (19 points and 13 rebounds), drilled a three and hit a long jumper.
Rose got off to a great start in the second, scoring the first seven points to put New Bedford back in front at 17-16, but Raymond answered right back with layup off a Meg Holleran assist. Abby Reardon (seven points) and Raymond both scored off two more of Holleran’s five assists and then Raymond added a layup around the out-stretched arms of New Bedford’s 6-foot-2 center Janice Leao (13 rebounds).
A three by Kyara Almeida-Sylvia cut the OA lead to six at the break and a Rose three and a pair from beyond the arc by Monica Eires kept the Whalers in the game, down just 34-29. The Tigers would score the game’s next 13 points and in total put together a 25-2 run that finally broke the game open.
“We had a couple match-up situations, but I thought we remedied them in the second half,” Clement-Holbrook said. “The unsung heroes like Katie Flynn inside just helping on Leao and just from a collective defensive principle I think that’s where we got the points from. We shut them down and just ran the floor.”
Freshman Caroline Flynn got it started with a drive to the rim and she added three assists in the second half. Holmberg scored all eight of her points in the third quarter, finding leak-out opportunities for transition buckets. Sheldon was also a force in the paint, scoring 11 of her 19 points in the second half.
Clement-Holbrook said of Sheldon’s contributions, “She was absolutely, positively key in all this because everyone’s trying to take away Kayla and the fact that we could get the ball inside…we’re just sending shuffle cuts and good movement and that allowed Alex to get the ball and she’s very physical and she’s very strong. She came to play today.”
Raymond, who finished with a line of 23 points, seven rebounds, six blocks, four assists and three steals, was still doing her thing in the third, capping the quarter by picking Rose clean at one end and swooping in for a finger roll at the other. The New Bedford guard, who was held to three points in the second half, was left with a wry smile on her face as she looked up to the rafters following the steal.
“Rose in the first half, she was money and we gave her a little too much room to wiggle,” Clement-Holbrook explained. “In the second half we did a much better job. When we switched Kayla on her, I thought Kayla’s length really bothered her.”
OA led 51-31 after three quarters. The Tigers scored one fewer point in the third than they had in the entire first half. That continued in the fourth quarter as Tate Hadges came off the bench and scored all six of her points, Sheldon continued to control the paint and a trip to the Div. 1 South quarterfinal was confirmed.
When it was mentioned to Clement-Holbrook that the move to Div. 1 seems to be going well, she smiled and replied, “Currently, but we’ll see how these things go.”
Oliver Ames (16-5) will travel to No. 4 seed Bridgewater-Raynham in the quarterfinal round on Saturday, barring a change because of the impending storm.