SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Foxboro just couldn’t make it easy. After storming back from 20 points down in the second half to win a dramatic state semifinal in overtime against Pentucket, the Warriors found themselves down by 14 points to Hopkinton in the first half, having scored just nine points, in Saturday morning’s Div. 2 state championship at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
“I think they were feeling a little confident, more than they should’ve coming into the game and then they recognized the fact and were reminded of the fact that that’s a very good team,” said Foxboro coach Lisa Downs.
Just as it did in the semifinal, the Foxboro defense turned the game around in the second half. After allowing Hopkinton seniors Ivy Gogolin (13 points) and Regan Keavany (six points) to score 19 combined in the first half, the Warriors held the pair to only five after the break.
Behind a lockdown defense, Foxboro (26-2) used a 32-14 second half run to pull out a 49-41 victory and seal the program’s second state championship, and first since 1995.
“That just shows that we never give up,” said senior guard Ashley Sampson, who scored nine of her team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter. “We were down 10 to a good team but our defense, especially Lily pestering the guards, it got us back into it.”
Lily Sykes, who finished with 11 points, five steals, and two charges taken, added, “We knew that we played that 2-3 really well against Pentucket, so we were like okay we can work on it for Hopkinton too but obviously it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, clearly, because they hit every single outside shot. Man is our bread-and-butter so we just stuck to that and we know that defense creates offense.”
For Sampson, Sykes, and fellow seniors Grace Tamulionis and Shannon Smally, the state title was the culmination of their four years together at Foxboro. From playing together as freshmen in a South final to winning back-to-back Davenport division and Div. 2 South titles to getting redemption for last year’s loss at the TD Garden and reaching the title game, going on the journey together made the result that much sweeter.
“It’s the best thing that could ever happen,” said Sampson. “To end the season all together, it doesn’t feel real right now.”
Tamulionis added, “It means everything. We’ve been talking about it since freshman year, working towards it and I remember last year at the banquet she (Coach Downs) was like this is our goal this year just get here and to actually do it is…just awesome.”
The ultimate happy ending did not look promising in the first quarter. Foxboro managed just four points, on an Abby Hassman jumper to start the game and a Sampson jumper that cut the lead to 8-4. Hopkinton was hardly lighting up the scoreboard, but all four made field goals were threes (two by Keavany) for an early 12-4 lead after one.
In the second, the Hillers got the ball into the hands of Gogolin and the UNH-bound senior provided Hopkinton’s first 13 points in the quarter. The Hillers pushed the lead to 23-9 as Foxboro continued to struggle to find the range. Sykes (11 points) buried a three and Sampson followed with a pull-up jumper before Katelyn Mollica (eight points) got her first points on a tough finish at the rim.
With an 8-4 run, Foxboro got the lead down to 10 at the half and, just as they had done three days before, the Warriors refused to panic.
“I think it was nerves at first but it was the same as any place we’ve ever played,” Tamulionis said. “The game made us a little nervous and it took us a little while to warm up.”
Downs remarked, “Even if I had a shred of doubt in my mind, I was completely moved when I saw their eyes. There was a timeout and I just looked at each of them and they were just like, coach we’ve got this.
“They knew what they needed to do, they knew what their capabilities were compared to what they had already done out there and we knew it was just a matter of time and we needed to kick it into gear.”
The Warriors got going at the start of the second half. Sykes nailed her second three to start the third, Sampson hit a pair at the line, and Tamulionis finished a fast break off a Sykes assist. Sykes grabbed a steal and a layup to cut the lead to just one.
“Defense is always our thing because you can have an off-night shooting but the only time you’re going to have an off-night on defense if your effort isn’t there and my girls are always giving 100 percent,” said Downs.
Hopkinton scored the final four points of the quarter to extend the lead to five heading to the fourth, but the Warriors had stolen the momentum.
Tamulionis hit a pair of threes early in the fourth that kept Foxboro within three points. Sampson twice got the Warriors within one, once on a steal and layup and then on a pair of free throws. Sykes got another steal in the backcourt and went in for a layup that gave Foxboro a 38-37 lead, its first since the opening basket.
“It was a little bit of redemption because coach would’ve killed me,” said Sykes of the go-ahead basket. In the Pentucket game she had missed a layup that would have tied it late in the fourth quarter. She joked, “I hit it and was like, finally I hit a layup.”
Mollica scored with a drive to the rim and Sampson became more aggressive taking the ball to the basket and getting to the line. She went 7-of-9 down the stretch and Mollica added four from the charity stripe as well.
“I just wanted to win that game,” said Sampson of her mentality in the final quarter. “I was going up weak when I had the opportunity to go inside but I had to go up strong and, if not make it, then draw the foul and take the free throws.”
The seniors have played 99 games together during their high school careers. It has been a long journey to this moment and it was one that each of them wanted to savor.
“It’s wicked exciting. I don’t even know, it doesn’t feel real at all. It’s just awesome,” said Sampson. When asked what it meant to be a state champion, Tamulionis simply added, “I don’t believe it. It’s crazy.”
Sykes said, “It’s the best feeling ever. They’re my best friends off the court and to win this with them is huge.
“I’m speechless. I just knew that it was the senior leadership. Freshman year we were all on the court playing, all three of us, and to just come back and step up in this huge game is just amazing.”
Downs, who was an assistant coach in 1995, the last time that the Warriors won the state title, praised her seniors for their contributions to the program and admitted that along with the excitement of winning is the sadness of not having another practice or game with this group.
“It’s kind of surreal,” she explained. “It was 111 days ago, I counted on the calendar, that we started the season and we knew we had to put some tough games on our schedule because no one else would play us this year.
“I always kind of knew we’d get to this point, not that I’d let them know, but the Coyle game at their gym we won by one, I saw the exact same faces that I saw in that timeout [today]. Obviously, it’s bittersweet because I’ll never have a group like this one.”