NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Offense was in short supply in the Kenneth Pickering Gym on Tuesday night, as for long stretches North Attleboro and Stoughton looked like there was a lid over both baskets.
In the end, the home team had just enough spurts of scoring coupled with a strong defensive effort to hold off the Black Knights and pull out a 45-26 victory that puts the Rocketeers within one win from clinching a spot in the state tournament.
The game was essentially decided in the first half. North Attleboro ran out to a 13-1 lead after the first quarter with five players getting on the board, including Ashley Ahern who scored five of her seven points on the night.
It did not get much better in the second. With 4:22 remaining in the half, Stoughton had the lone point of the quarter on a free throw by Ava Seigel, who also scored the Black Knights’ lone point of the first. With 3:07 left in the half, Stoughton got its first field goal on a jumper by Sarah Quattrucci to cut the lead to 10.
“I think we were a little hurried, a little anxious,” said Stoughton coach Charmaine Steele Jordan. “We only scored four points in the first half, so everyone is anxious to score and you’re doing things faster than you normally would.”
North put together a 9-0 run to close out the first half with all nine points coming in the final three minutes of the second. Caroline Collard (team-high nine points) knocked down three straight free throws and then the lid lifted for a couple of minutes to allow Emily Haskell and Julia Feid to knock down threes for their only points of the game.
“Right now, we play great defense, rebound, and just can’t score a basket,” said North coach Derek Herber. “I think we get a little frustrated because we’re not scoring.”
He continued, “The kids work really hard, just right now we got through those stretches where we have to hang our hat on defense and try to hang in…but we do need to get a little better on offense, more efficient.”
Stoughton came out of halftime and scored as many points in the opening 1:55 of the third quarter as it did in the entire first half.
“They fight,” said Steele Jordan. “We talked about that at halftime. It’s a clean slate; we’re not going to get it all back at once, but lets start in the third quarter and chip away. They just ran out of gas.”
Senior Alecia Quinones, who came in as the league’s leading scorer, suddenly found her groove driving to the basket and scored all of her game-high 11 points in the quarter and got the Black Knight as close as 12 twice.
Steele Jordan added, “We brought it to within 12 but we got shaky at our point guard position and when we’d turn it over they’d score or I felt like they got a million second chance opportunities. And the ball didn’t go in the basket and you need that too.”
Herber said, “Quinones is a matchup nightmare. You try to put a guard on her and she goes in the post and you put a post player out there and you’ve got some issues.”
North answered again. Emily Schromm picked up a steal and took it the length of the floor for a layup and Liz Morehouse came off the bench to score in the paint. Collard hit two free throws and then Samantha Taggart scored four quick points to end the quarter and send the Rocketeers to the fourth up by 16 (35-19).
The Rocketeers were like a boxer who knows when the end of the round is coming and always seemed to put together the spurt they needed to extend the lead.
Herber explained, “We can feed off of that defense and we can put in those runs. When we do find it then we can score some points, but it’s when we do find it.”
After Jordan Motley opened the fourth with a basket, Collard scored plus the foul and Schromm (six points) added a pair of layups to extend the lead out to 21.
Stoughton could not keep up with the Rocketeers offensively, but did hold its own on the boards. In a game with plenty of rebounds to be had, Val Whalen pulled down a game-high 16 and Motley added 10. North was led by senior Emily Peters who snagged 13 rebounds, while Collard had 11, Kiersten Bixby had nine and Haskell grabbed eight.
“They’re the team that’s most like us in the post,” said Herber. about the battle on the glass. “They’ve got three or four bodies that can go in there and they bang and there’s no one afraid of going in there.”
Stoughton will try to find its shooting touch before the visit of Canton on Friday. The Black Knights still need two wins to qualify for the postseason and Steele Jordan is confident the team will be able to put Tuesday night’s struggles behind it.
“They work hard, they fight, and I couldn’t be happier with where we are right now in the season.,” she said. “They all want it and I know they’ll be ready to go back to the drawing board tomorrow.”
Stoughton (7-6, 7-5) will be at Canton on Friday, while North Attleboro (9-5, 8-4) will be at Attleboro.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.