NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The playoffs started a couple days early for Attleboro and North Attleboro. The two teams met in a winner-take-all regular season finale at the Pickering Gym on Wednesday afternoon, both looking to book a spot in the state tournament.
Attleboro broke open a close game with a 16-2 run to start the second half and never allowed the Rocketeers to pull any closer than nine points in the fourth quarter, pulling out a 55-42 victory and making the state tournament for the first time in four years.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our kids,” said Attleboro coach Marty Crowley. “First of all it’s a North game and a rivalry game and then on top of that you’re both playing to get into the tournament and our kids played hard start to finish today. We played well in the first half but our kids played harder in the second even after they made that last push on us.”
Senior Nyah Thomas (13 points, five rebounds, and four assists), who will be making her first tournament appearance, added, “This means everything. We had so much energy today. We talked about it all year, leading up to this, we knew we were making tournament and we didn’t want to go home today.”
Both teams got off to a slow start offensively in the first quarter. Thomas got to the rim off the dribble and then off an assist from Meghan Gordon. After a step-back three by Regan Fein (nine points) put North ahead, senior Liv McCall was able to hit on a reverse.
The Rocketeers ran a perfect set in the closing seconds to get an open three for Summer Doherty to grab an 11-9 lead after one.
McCall (team-high 17 points) had arguably her best game of the season and she sparked the Bombardiers to a halftime lead. She drove to the basket to tie it and then knocked down a three after Thomas got Attleboro out in transition. Thomas added three points in the second and also assisted on a basket for Gordon.
North looked tentative, especially on the boards where Attleboro dominated. Gordon (18 rebounds) and Ryan Johnson (11 rebounds) controlled the paint for the visitors.
“We did not play the way we can play,” admitted North coach Nikki Correia. “We let balls roll on the floor, they were the first to go get them, second , third, fourth to go get them. I think in the second half we picked it up, but it was too late of a run.”
Attleboro went into the break leading 23-19, but came out of the locker room intent on taking control of the contest. The Bombardier scored the first 11 points of the second half and had a 16-2 run to lead by as many as 18.
Crowley said, “We told them that it was a good first half but we need to play harder in the second half because they’re not going to go away. And they did, they listened. We put the pedal to the metal and got out in transition, we took better care of the ball in the second half, and better decisions with the ball get you better baskets.”
Gordon was the spark in the third, scoring nine of her 16 points in the quarter. She started it with an offensive rebound and putback, then Thomas got out on the break for two. Johnson kicked it out to Thomas, who banked in a three and suddenly the lead was 11. After five straight free throws (four from Gordon), Emma Reilly drove to the hoop and Gordon added two more points off yet another offensive board.
North’s only points came from a layup by Amanda Kaiserr. It was her first basket of the day, as she was shadowed by Gabby Bosh throughout the game. The Rocketeers had more success in the second half in getting Kaiser a few looks, but shots weren’t falling for the junior.
Trailing by 18, North put together a mini-rally to stay within arm’s reach heading to the fourth. Olivia Forbes (12 points and four steals) got an and-one and Fein knocked down a jumper. After an Attleboro free throw, Eliza Dion (six points and seven rebounds) got to the rim for two and cut the lead down to 40-28 after three.
Attleboro regained the edge with an 8-2 run to start the fourth quarter. Gordon scored four more, corralling a loose ball for a short jumper and then finishing after a drive and dish from Thomas.
“Meghan’s a special player,” said Crowley. “She’s been a double-double machine for us down the stretch. At a young age, she’s matured quickly and she’s a big part of what we’re doing.”
Thomas praised her teammates for taking on some of the scoring load, “It’s amazing because then the focus isn’t always on us. If they’re scoring then we’re deep. You can’t just cover me and Liv, you have to cover Meghan too and then Ryan on the boards, and we’re playing really well together.”
Kaiser (seven points) knocked down a jumper but McCall responded with a high-arcing three off a Thomas pass and the Bombardiers led by 18 again. Once again, with the season on the ropes, North answered back, going on a 9-0 run to get as close as nine points. Forbes buried a three, Doherty got a steal and an and-one, and Kaiser nailed her only three of the game to make it 48-39.
McCall hit two at the line and Johnson grabbed an offensive board and finished. McCall then drove right down the lane and scored to put Attleboro up 54-39. She scored eight points in the fourth to help put the game away.
“Liv McCall had her best game of the year today and we needed that from her,” said Crowley. “Both of our seniors played great and you need senior leadership, especially in a tournament-like game, basically a play-in game.”
Correia was obviously disappointed with the result, but was happy with the fight that her team showed in the second half.
“I’m extremely proud of my girls,” she said. “It’s my first year here and for them to get where they got to and give themselves chance to play one game to get in. They fought for me all year and I’m proud of them for that.”
Attleboro (10-10) will now await Friday’s seedings to see who it will face in the postseason.