(Lowell MA) “Oh my goodness!”
Those were the first words that came out of Coach Bob Romeo’s mouth immediately after the game.
The excitement was understandable.
North Reading had just defeated Pentucket, last year’s state champs, 41-36, at Tsongas Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Winning the D2 North puts the Hornets (16-8) into the D2 state semi-finals against Foxboro on Wednesday (5:30PM).
The Hornets were behind by eight in the first half, took the lead for good in the third quarter, and held off a Pentucket rush in the last minute to get the win.
“That last minute was the longest minute of my life,” exclaimed Coach Romeo.
North Reading had lost twice to Pentucket during the regular season and hadn’t scored more than ten points in any of the eight quarters played.
“We were such underdogs,” said Lauren Sullivan (16 points) afterwards. “We were looking for revenge for the two losses.”
“These kids have been special all year,” said Coach Romeo. “We were down eight and looked like we couldn’t score in this game, but we kept going.”
An Anna Wyner reverse layup gave Pentucket the eight-point lead (14-6) five minutes into the second quarter.
Full-court defense by both teams limited the half-court structure for both teams. One-on-one basketball was the order of the day.
Angelica Hurley (20 points) carried the Sachems as far as she could. Angelica had eight points, including two three’s, as Pentucket took that eight-point lead.
Even with the lead, Pentucket was not playing well.
“We never got into synch,” said Pentucket coach John McNamara, “and that’s a credit to North Reading. Bob Romeo and his staff did a great job getting them ready. They deserved to beat us today.”
The Sachems’ defense created twenty-one turnovers, by my count, but most of them were in the front court. Pentucket is well known for turning miscues into quick points. But they didn’t have that going for them today.
Credit the ballhandling and passing of senior guard Ali Grasso for much of that. She saw the court really well today. When trapped, she’d find open teammates. Guarded one-on-one, she would bring the ball up without losing it.
Pentucket had the eight-point lead but eight minutes of playing time later they trailed, 18-14. That’s twelve unanswered. The Sachems would never get the lead back.
Lauren Sullivan started the run of good NR offense with two 3’s in the closing 1 ½ minutes of the second period.
The Hornets’ streak of points continued with Ali Grasso setting up Nasha Arnold for a layup. Lauren Sullivan then had an old-fashioned 3-point play and Sarah Gerber added a free throw.
Angelica Hurley stopped the bleeding with a layup off a turnover, narrowing things to 18-16 with three minutes left in the third quarter.
The Sachems stayed within one-possession range until the end of the quarter when a free throw and a last-second, NBA-distance three by Kiley McCarthy (12 points) sent NR to a 27-21 edge.
Kiley’s triple was one of four she made on this afternoon. She had made two earlier but on several had missed everything. “I tried to get the ones I missed out of my head,” said Kiley.
That she did because the next points scored were yet another three by Kiley. This one went off the backboard and in. The NR lead was now a game-high nine points (30-21) with 6 ½ minutes left in the game.
You waited for Pentucket to put some defense/offense together and they did at the very end.
The Sachems started getting to the basket for layups in the final quarter but on this afternoon the Hornets had responses.
NR was still up by eight (39-31) after Lauren Sullivan’s two free throws with 1:10 left.
A Mackenzie Currie layup followed and, after Ali Grasso missed the front end of a one-and-one, Angelica Hurley nailed a long 3-pointer. Pentucket was back within a possession with fifteen seconds left.
But North Reading was able to get the ball into Lauren Sullivan’s hands and she was fouled. The senior cashed two pressure free throws with ten seconds left and the Hornets had the win and the D3 North title.
“We came back but they made plays,” said Coach McNamara.
“I didn’t sub,” said Coach Romeo. “All five played thirty-two minutes. Lauren, Ali, and Kiley took turns making big shots.”
“It was an amazing team effort,” said Ali Grasso. “We worked so hard to get here. We scouted them. We came in so prepared.”
Coach McNamara: “We didn’t seem to have a lot of energy. I don’t know why. We didn’t play our usual aggressive defense. We missed a lot of shots and we didn’t dribble very well. It was just one of those days. We didn’t play as good as we could, and they did…a recipe for a loss.”
Coach Romeo: “Credit to Pentucket. They’re state champs. They weren’t going to go away easy in this game. That last minute was the longest minute of my life.”
Kiley McCarthy: “I wasn’t going to let this be our last game. We’re a team. That’s how we won.”
Lauren Sullivan: “In the second quarter we knew we could do it. We just had to hang on. The five of us did amazing. We never stopped.”
Pentucket will graduate four seniors. “They have won a state championship and been to Tsongas three times,” said Coach McNamara, “and they’re better people off the court than they are on it.”
Coach Romeo on being the underdog: “It’s a game. That’s why we play. Anything can happen.”
The MIAA. Who can figure them out? They decided that photographers should not be allowed in the area around the court until there was two minutes left. What were they afraid of? That we’d take pictures?? The result was that I ended up in the penalty box before I had even committed an infraction! But I digress.
(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)