BOSTON, Mass. – At the end of the third quarter, Oliver Ames was feeling pretty good about itself. The Tigers scored 19 points in the third and had jumped in front of North champion Watertown by a point in Tuesday night’s Eastern Mass. final at the TD Garden.
Momentum seemed to be on OA’s side. But, the Tigers could not sustain that in the fourth.
Watertown clamped down on defense and started stretching the lead, slowly pulling away as OA struggled to find the bottom of the net. The streak started with five points, then nine, then 11 and six minutes into the fourth the Tigers finally scored their first point.
It would be the only one that OA scored in the final quarter. Thanks to a 16-1 run in the fourth, the Raiders pulled away for a 48-34 victory and advanced to Saturday’s state title game in Springfield.
“I think they were thinking about the end and not that there was still enough time left to do something,” sad Clement-Holbrook about how the fourth quarter unraveled for the Tigers.
“You’ve got to put the ball in the basket and I think ultimately that was the thing we didn’t do,” she added. “I think that’s an example of being in this situation before (Watertown started four seniors) where we’re kind of newbies. I’m hoping this will help for next year and the year after that.”
Coming off a struggle offensively in the South final, the Tigers got off to a perfect start at the Garden with Francesca Calabraro scoring a lay-up directly from the opening tip. Hannah Carroll followed with a three and the Tigers led 5-0. Watertown went on a 7-0 run, but Kaitlyn McCarthy buried a straightaway three to make it 8-7 after one.
The inconsistent offense continued in the second, as OA only managed six points. Abby Reardon came off the bench to score four points and Brenna Burkett scored on an offensive rebound but the Raiders took control behind junior center Shannon Murphy.
The Holy Cross-commit scored eight of her game-high 20 points in the second and dominated the lane, finishing with six blocks and 10 rebounds. OA struggled in the paint, especially with Kayla Raymond being forced to the bench with two fouls.
“You can’t shoot over her, you have to move her away from the basket, move the ball, kind of what we were trying to do in some of our previous tournament games,” said Clement-Holbrook of Murphy. “They fought but I think we were overmatched today.”
The Tigers went into halftime trailing 21-14, but it could have been much worse. The Raiders were only 9-19 from the line in the first half.
In the third quarter, something clicked for OA. After a Watertown basket extended the lead to nine, Sam Bamford drilled a three from the corner. Calabraro (nine points) picked off a pass and raced for a lay-up and then Raymond added a three-point play off an inbounds pass to cut the lead to just one point.
The Raiders answered with five straight points, but again OA came back. Raymond (seven points) finished over the top of Murphy and Calabraro had another steal that led to a transition basket.
Raymond knocked down a turn around jumper on the left block and then on the next possession drove baseline but was caught in the air under the basket. Somehow the sophomore spotted Calabraro hanging out by the three-point line and kicked it out for the open look that gave OA its first lead of the second half.
With 45.7 left in the third, Raymond picked up her fourth foul trying to contain Murphy and was forced to go to the bench. She would sit for a while and Watertown took advantage.
“It was detrimental especially where we changed it up on offense and put her out on the high post and were able to get some scores out of that,” said Clement-Holbrook of Raymond’s absence. “We kind of lost our mojo early in the fourth and I think it was really hard for them to bring it back.”
Michaela Antonellis started the fourth with a short jumper in the lane to give the Raiders back the lead, then Felicia Korte stepped outside for a big three. Murphy scored on an offensive rebound and then Korte (11 points) finished a baseline drive and suddenly Watertown was up by eight.
“I don’t know if they did it to us or we did it to us,” Clement-Holbrook explained. “We just didn’t get that pace going fast enough and get out but I think a lot of it was that we didn’t rebound well. If you don’t rebound then it’s hard to run.”
A couple of free throws pushed the lead to 43-33 with fewer than two minutes remaining in the game. McCarthy was fouled and made one of two for the only OA point of the fourth. Murphy capped the game with a lay-up in transition and Clement-Holbrook pulled both her seniors off the court to give the traveling OA contingent a chance to salute them for their efforts.
Clement-Holbrook said, “I don’t want them walking around with their heads down because there’s a lot to be proud of. It’s sadness right now because they know this is the last game they play with Kaitlyn and Sammy and they just love them.”
Coming into the season, Clement-Holbrook knew that she had a good team that could challenge for the Davenport division title, but she had no idea that the Tigers would be capable of making a run to the Div. 2 South title.
She credited her two senior captains, McCarthy and Bamford, for providing the leadership that took a group of relatively inexperienced players on the program’s longest tournament run since winning it all in 2010.
“They’ve been great leaders,” she said, “and I hope and pray that the kids who come back next year have learned a lesson from both those girls in terms of what wonderful role models they have been both in and out of school, on and off the court.”
“I just challenged them…if you can be half the leaders that these two girls have been for you, then that will be success for all of us.
Clement-Holbrook noted that the Tigers would be challenged in other ways, as they prepare for next season with a majority of the team coming back, including top scorers Calabraro and Raymond. OA girls basketball will not be considered a sleeper next year, but a favorite even as it moves up into the Kelley-Rex division for the first time.
“What’s going to happen now is there’s going to be expectations,” said Clement-Holbrook, who joked, “Next year people will probably say I don’t know what I’m doing!”
“These kids have to take this as a challenge to come back more skilled and as better basketball players.”
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.