(Worcester) Defense can only take a team so far. They must light up the scoreboard to win.
Pentucket (26-1) went incredibly cold in the final quarter and it cost them as they lost the D3 state finals to Lee, 56-42, on Saturday morning at the DCU Center in Worcester.
Lee (24-1) neutralized Pentucket’s normal defensive advantages by using the same approach (pressure defense) nearly as effectively.
It was on offense that the Wildcats won the game. Although Lee was only 15-for-47 (31.9%), and most teams don’t usually win shooting 31.9%, those numbers were good enough on this day because the Sachems were just 12-for-67 (17.9%).
However, despite all the subpar shooting, Pentucket was in contention even as late as two minutes into the last quarter. Sarah Higgins nailed a jumper to bring the Sachems to within a point, 39-38, and left the outcome very much in doubt. Unfortunately, after that, Pentucket connected on just 1-of-17 shots with three air balls in the mix.
During the fatal last six minutes, Pentucket’s ability to put together consistent offense vanished and their ability to control Lee defensively took a similar route. While the Sachems struggled to score, the Wildcats put up points in ten of their last thirteen possessions (17-4 run) and had more than enough offense to win the state title.
Both teams played fullcourt defense and the exertion required executing it and reacting to it may have taken the shooting legs out from under the Sachems late. Lee, on the other hand, had foul trouble in the first half and some of their players were benched and got some extra rest because of it. That unwanted rest may have been given Lee the extra energy they played with in the late, game-deciding minutes.
Pentucket started the game slowly (trailed 11-4) despite forcing six turnovers in the first three minutes. Katie Eckert (15 points) tallied Lee’s first nine points with a couple of 3’s.
Behind 13-6, the Sachems rallied for seven straight into the start of the second period to tie the score with Ashley Viselli (19 points) getting the last points on a three assisted by Erin McNamara.
Pentucket’s best show of offense was late in the second quarter when they put up ten unanswered points to take a 27-21 advantage with two minutes left in the half. Ashley Viselli scored five while sister Nicole had two free throws and Sarah Higgins hit a trey.
The Sachems had a 28-24 halftime margin.
When a team (Pentucket) has won 26 straight and leads at halftime, you can’t help but expect that they are on their way to a state title. However, the Lee girls’ basketball program has more state championships (now seven) than any other athletic program in the state. They had also reached the state semifinals in seven of the last eight years. Point? This team knows something about winning.