(Lowell) Andover didn’t score a point in the first 5 ½ minutes of the game.
Springfield Central didn’t score a point in the last 5 ½ minutes of the game.
Were they both flirting with disaster? You bet.
But that’s how it went in the girls Division 1 state finals between Andover and Springfield Central on Sunday at the Tsongas Center.
Springfield Central prevailed, 43-40.
The Eagles (21-1) had to hold their collective breaths at the end as the Warriors (21-2) had several possessions to earn a tie in the closing seconds.
“I thought that we had a good look on the second-to-last possession (three from the left corner),” said Andover coach Alan Hibino afterwards.
“I also thought that the last shot was going to fall,” he added. “It was right on line, just a little short.”
Springfield Central put on a basketball clinic for the first nine minutes. They scored from the inside and outside (four 3’s) as well as defending Andover into mistakes and missed shots.
Before the Warriors could put a stop to this avalanche of misfortune, the Eagles had a 24-2 lead one minute into the second quarter.
The finish of the first quarter was incredibly exhilarating for Springfield Central. Near to a shot-clock violation, Jordyn Robinson drained a three with four seconds left. Andover almost immediately committed a violation setting SC up for a final, long-range desperation heave by Amany Lopez. In it went as the buzzer sounded. That’s six points in four seconds!
“Their pressure, length, speed, and athleticism were hard for us to simulate in practice,” explained Coach Hibino. “I knew that in the game we would have to adjust to it, but I didn’t imagine it would take the first ten minutes to do it.”
The terrible start had Andover fast approaching the “Warm up the bus,” and/or “It’s all over” scenarios but they managed to stop the downward slide and make a game of it.
“We were resilient,” said Coach Hibino. “The team never lost hope.”
The rest-of-the game math will tell you that Andover outscored Springfield Central 38-19 from that 24-2 start.
The Warriors were methodical (one 3-pointer) in their chase for the lead. Anna Foley registered twenty-two points during the comeback.
Springfield Central coach James Gee said afterwards that fouls were a factor. “We got called for a lot of fouls in the second quarter. It slowed our game down and our aggressiveness.”
Andover tightened the game at halftime to 28-15. Morgan Shirley hit a jump shot and Anna Foley added three free throws for the Warriors in the last 1 ½ minutes.
Andover lessened the Springfield Central lead to 39-30 after three quarters. Anna Foley finished the last minute with a traditional 3-point play and a jump shot.
The Eagles seemed to regather themselves early in the final quarter. Junior Amany Lopez turned a steal into a layup and seconds later broke in for another layup.
Springfield Central now led 43-30 with 5 ½ minutes left. Shockingly, they would never score again but be able to hold on and win the D1 championship.
“We had some tough battles in the state tournament that prepared us,” said Coach Gee. “We were down by eleven at halftime in one of them. We’re used to fighting and battling.”
Andover scored ten straight points over the next five minutes to get within three points (43-40) with 1 ½ minutes left. Marissa Kobelski, Amelia Hanscom, Michaela Buckley, and Ann Foley all contributed.
But that was the best Andover could do.
Springfield Central missed front ends of two one-and-one’s in the final thirty seconds to give Andover extra opportunities.
“We got it down to one possession, but they made a couple more plays at the end,” said Coach Hibino.
“As coach told us, sometimes you dig a hole too deep and even if you fight back there isn’t enough time to get fully out of it,” said junior Amelia Hanscom post-game.
“These girls have been wanting this so bad,” said Coach Gee. “This is what we’ve been talking about all season.”
Junior Amany Lopez led the Eagles with sixteen points including the teams last four points in the final quarter. She had steals and deflections and didn’t turn the ball over.
“Amany loves to make the big shot,” said Coach Gee. “She’s not scared of it. She wants to do it for her team.”
“Winning feels so good right now,” said Amany. “Playing AAU I’m used to playing against tough competition. We thought that their weakness might be dribbling so we played good tight defense. We came together as a team in the close moments at the end.”
The Eagles finished the season with nineteen straight wins.
The Warriors did themselves no favors at the foul line making just nine of twenty attempts. Several of the misses were front ends of one-and-one’s.
“This one will sting for a few days but then we’ll move on,” concluded Coach Hibino. “Life goes on.”
Both teams return most of their players for next year. Could there be a rematch next March?
Springfield Central 20 8 11 4 = 43
Andover 2 13 15 10 = 40
(The pictures will enlarge.)