(Amesbury MA) Amesbury was ahead 20-7 after 5 ½ minutes.
Pentucket was ahead 26-24 seven minutes later.
“It was back-and-forth a lot,” said Angelica Hurley afterwards.
That back-and-forth thing took time to materialize in the early going but in the final 2+ quarters it happened often. Seven ties. Eight lead changes.
In the end, it was Pentucket (14-1) making the big shots, at the line and from the floor, and turning defense into offense, that carried them to a tough 50-48 win on Tuesday night over Amesbury (12-2).
Pentucket has the best record in Massachusetts in Division 2.
“I’m proud of our girls,” said Amesbury coach Gregg Dollos after. “We hung in there. Pentucket is a good team.”
The Sachems took the lead for good (47-45) on a Liv Cross layin with 2:25 left.
Angelina Yacubacci (16 points) had a steal and made two resulting free throws a minute later to stretch the Sachems advantage to 50-46.
Freshman McKenna Hallinan (7 points) answered with a layup to close the gap to two with 1:04 left, but the Indians (12-2) couldn’t complete the comeback in their two possessions thereafter.
“It was a great high school girls’ game,” said Pentucket coach John McNamara. “We knew they were good coming in. They have maybe two of the best players in the Cape Ann League. Amesbury will be a tough out in Division 3.”
The Indians got off to a tremendous start. Shots were falling and uncontested layups were showing up.
Senior Flannery O’Connor (16 points) dominated the 20-7 getaway with twelve points. She had four layups, a free throw, and even a three.
“They were clearing out for her,” recalled Coach McNamara. “We had to adjust. We did everything we could in the second half to keep her from getting good looks inside.”
The adjustment worked because Flannery saw multiple defenders in the second half and ended up with just one free throw.
The other noticeable defensive effort was Maddie Doyle covering Alli Napoli. Significant size difference but Maddie kept the athletic Alli from direct routes to the basket. Alli had one full-court layup in the 2nd half.
How did Amesbury stay with Pentucket in the second half if Flannery and Alli weren’t putting up points? Solid man-to-man defense and terrific rebounding.
The Sachems had only one rebound basket the whole game – Arielle Cleveland at the very end of the first half.
“We wanted to stop fast breaks and second-chance points,” explained Coach Dollos.
The Indians led 24-17 at the 6:15 mark of the second quarter. The next three minutes? All Pentucket. While the Indians were defended into five turnovers, the Sachems put nine unanswered points together to take their first lead, 26-24.
Maddie Doyle and Angelina Yacubacci finished the nine-point comeback with 3’s.
I thought at the time that this might be the beginning of a long evening for the Indians, but I was wrong. Amesbury began to answer with points and “back-and-forth” was what we witnessed the exciting rest of the way.
Pentucket made 3-of-4 free throws in the end game. “Free throws are always important,” said senior Liv Cross. “Every coach I’ve ever had always says that these kinds of games come down to free throws.”
Ciara Sullivan gave Amesbury a quick 43-38 lead with five straight points to start the final quarter. Back came Pentucket, however, with two Angelica Hurley layups and two Liv Cross free throws. It was all part of that back-and-forth thing.
Amesbury had twenty-three turnovers and Pentucket nineteen. The 3-minute collection of five of them in the second period may well have cost Amesbury the game. Credit the Pentucket defense.
Coach McNamara: “The way we started we could have given up, so I give credit to our girls for recovering.”
On Maddie Doyle guarding Alli Napoli: “She gave away about two feet but she’s scrappy and tough.”
On Angelina Yacubacci’s steal late in the game: “She’s a very smart defensive player. She reads passes and lanes very well. Her steal was huge.”
Coach Dollos: “Foul trouble hurt us. I’m happy with what we did. Losing isn’t fun but I’ll say we played pretty well.”
Things to work on: “We needed to move the ball better to get it inside. We also could have used better shot selection at times.”
The best assessment of the game belonged to Coach Dollos, “It easily could have gone either way.”
Angelica Hurley had twelve points for Pentucket and teammate Arielle Cleveland added eleven. Alli Napoli collected ten points for Amesbury.
The victory extends the Pentucket winning streak to eleven. Only loss was to Westford Academy.
The Amesbury defeat stops their win streak at eleven. They had an early-season loss to North Reading that I covered.
Liv Cross on next year: “I got into Northeastern the other night. It’s my top school but expensive. Nursing is what interests me. I might go to UMass Lowell because I got into their nursing program.”
The intensity of the two coaches spread into the stands. It seemed as if every whistle was challenged by the side whistled against.
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