NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Heading into the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s Div. 2 Sweet Sixteen game at the Nixon Gym, Oliver Ames looked to be cruising to its third win of the season over Foxboro and a berth in the state quarterfinal.
As is so often the case in this rivalry between the teams that have combined to win all but one of the Davenport titles, the story of the game was far from over.
The Warriors, who managed only nine points in all of the first half, put together a 14-4 run that cut the Tigers lead down to just seven, which was as close as they had been since the score was 9-2. On the brink of allowing a 20-point lead slip away, the Tigers turned on the gas, got out on the break and, in the blink of an eye, put together a 10-0 run that put the game back out of reach.
Sophomore Jasmyn Cooper scored eight of her game-high 22 points in the fourth, including six of OA’s 10 points in the clinching run, to lead the Tigers to a 58-41 victory.
“We knew though that it wasn’t going to last,” OA coach Laney Clement-Holbrook said of the big early lead that the Tigers built. “It was just a question of trying to keep the momentum going and they came out in the third quarter and they were a different team. From a defensive standpoint, I think they made it more difficult for us and sometimes I think we made it more difficult for ourselves, but that’s what happens when you have youth and first time in the bright lights like this.”
Senior Caroline Peper added, “Defense has really contributed. When we get stops, it really helps the offense. They (the three sophomores in the starting lineup) go with that momentum and they were the ones that were leading that fourth quarter charge, so I’m really proud of them.”
The first half was one-sided. OA locked down on defense, allowing only three made baskets and nine points in the first half, while knocking down five threes as a team. Foxboro looked like a team that was getting its first taste of a hostile road playoff environment.
“We definitely played scared, we played young in the first quarter,” Foxboro coach Lisa Downs admitted. “That’s going to happen, but they’re going to mature after games like that, so those are valuable memories for these younger kids to have.”
Peper (17 points) seemed to carry momentum over from her 30-point outburst against North Middlesex in the first round (which included the 1,000th point of her career). She buried a pair of threes and had eight points in the first. Cooper also got off to a strong start with six points, including a layup after Hailey Bourne went up for an offensive rebound and tipped it to Cooper on the opposite block rather than catch it.
Ava Hill (seven points) knocked down a three off the bench, but Foxboro trailed 16-5 after one. If anything, things got tougher for the Warriors’ offense in the second, as they opened the quarter with a pair of free throws from Camryn Collins (11 points and six rebounds), but didn’t score again until Kailey Sullivan (seven points) banked in a jumper with 30 seconds left in the half.
OA wasn’t exactly lighting it up for much of the second, but the Tigers were able to score in bunches. Sarah Hilliard (six points and 13 rebounds) had a put-back for two and Kaydance Derba (13 points and six assists) hit a pair from beyond the arc, the second even deeper than the first. Peper added her third triple of the night and it was a 29-9 lead heading into the locker room.
Foxboro came out of the break a totally different team. The Warriors erased seven points off the deficit in about 90 seconds. Hannah Blake (nine points and eight rebounds) drilled one from the outside, Collins turned a steal into a short pull-up jumper, and Sullivan was able to bank in a runner plus the foul.
Cooper grabbed one of her 14 rebounds to get an easy bucket and Peper drove down the lane for a finish to push the lead back up to 15. As the clock wound down in the quarter, Peper made a nice catch in the lane of a Derba pass and scored at the buzzer to make it 39-22.
It looked like the Tigers had taken Foxboro’s best punch and survived, but the Warriors were far from finished. Sullivan scored with a drive and assisted on a Blake jumper. Erin Foley followed with a three from the wing to get the lead down to just a dozen. Collins got into the lane for two and Hill took an assist from Foley for an easy bucket. After Collins grabbed an offensive rebound and scored, Foxboro had pulled within seven at 43-36.
Downs said, “I give them a lot of credit because at halftime all I could say was you dug yourself a hole and now we need to focus on every possession, one stop at time, one basket at a time. They fought back.”
Collins fouled out with 4:02 on the clock and it seemed to halt the visitors’ momentum just as the Tigers were finding another gear. OA would close the game on a 15-5 run and for the second time this season would turn a close game with Foxboro in the Nixon Gym into a seemingly comfortable victory.
“That fourth quarter run, we leaked out and that’s what we hoped was going to happen,” Clement-Holbrook explained. “The conversation was ball control, make sure you’re boxing out, make sure you’re rebounding, and turn it into a break and make a run.”
Cooper provided the spark, getting an easy layup off a Derba assist. After Hilliard drove baseline for a pair, Cooper got a feed on the block from Hilliard to make it a 13-point game. She then grabbed a defensive rebound and looked over the top on a long outlet to find Derba for a layup.
Bourne kept a possession alive with an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Derba for her third three of the night and it was suddenly an 18-point game again.
Clement-Holbrook said, “I’m just so incredibly proud of all of them because they’ve worked so hard in practice and everyone of them, not just the kids who play, this is about all of us in preparation for this game because it’s not easy to beat a really good team three times.”
With underclassmen filling both lineups on Tuesday, the expectation is these teams will continue to square off in big games for the foreseeable future. Downs relishes that opportunity, “That’s good for us. They’ll make us tournament-ready. Facing them twice in the regular season and now Mansfield twice during the season, the Hockomock League is quite a league and I’m very proud of what they accomplished this season.”