(Framingham MA) How would Amesbury handle adversity?
For all three tournament games, the comfortable leads came early, and the game endings were anti-climactic.
Then there was tonight!
Amesbury was down by nine (28-19) one minute into the second half and then in the fourth quarter Avery Hallinan fouled out with five minutes left.
But Amesbury showed comeback skills and survival skills and defeated South Hadley, 61-57, to gain the Division 4 state finals to be held this weekend at Tsongas Arena (Lowell).
Avery Hallinan (29 points) was the key piece in Amesbury’s turnaround third quarter.
South Hadley played man-to-man defense so Amesbury responded by spreading the court keeping Avery close to the lane. Avery started to take advantage of the inside coverage and put a 16-point quarter together.
Her traditional 3-point play with 1:50 left in the quarter put the Indians in the lead (35-33) and completed a comeback from a 28-19 deficit at the start of the quarter.
“My first half wasn’t good at all,” said Avery, “but in the third quarter we pulled it together.”
“Our third-quarter run was key,” said Amesbury coach Gregg Dollas.
After the Tigers (17-8) tied the score at 37-37 on two Olivia Marion free throws, Avery was able to pick up a remarkable six points in the final nineteen seconds.
To get the points Avery spun into a layup and made two free throws on Amesbury’s next possession. When the Tigers tried a last-second shot from the other end there was a traveling call with 1.5 seconds left. That gave McKenna Hallinan time to get a pass in close to her sister near the basket for another layin.
The Indians (20-4) led, 43-37, after three quarters.
Things got even better for Amesbury in the first two minutes of the final quarter. A three by Avery and a left-all-alone layup by Liv DeLong and the Amesbury lead was ten points (48-38).
The margin started feeling a bit comfortable but that comfort was short-lived.
With five minutes left Amesbury’s 29-point scorer fouled out. Where would the Amesbury offense come from the rest of the way?
Junior Sami Kimball was twice set up for layups, first by Gabby Redford and then by McKenna Hallinan. After McKenna added two free throws Amesbury had increased its lead (54-43) by a point without Avery and there were less than two minutes left.
Comfortable lead now? Hardly!
The team from the Suburban Conference began to drain three’s and send Amesbury to the foul line.
Two of the three-pointers were Kacie Levrault’s (17 points) and the other two came from Alex Jackson and Olivia Marion.
But the Indians had answers. They made free throws. In the final 1:44, Amesbury made nine-of-ten from the line. McKenna was seven-for-eight in the final quarter.
“It was a little nerve-wracking without Avery out there,” said McKenna (10 points). “I was really focusing on my foul shots.”
“Everyone stepped up without Avery,” said Coach Dollas. “Maybe doing that will help us in the next game.”
The Tigers ran off twelve unanswered points starting at the end of the first half and extending into the third quarter. Amesbury’s 19-16 lead turned into a, 28-19, deficit.
This collection of good offense and defense featured three’s by Alex Jackson and Kacie Levrault as well as inside scores by Drew Alley, Talia Uribe, and Kacie Levrault.
“We got beat by a good basketball team,” said South Hadley coach Paul Dubuc afterwards. “There was a three-minute span where it got dicey. Some things went against us, and we didn’t turn the tide.”
In fouling out, Avery did get a five-minute rest but it wasn’t one she enjoyed at all. “It was NOT fun getting a rest,” she said. “I like being on the court better. It was stressful. I think I almost had a heart attack!”
“But my teammates did a great job,” she added. “McKenna hit some big free throws at the end.”
Liv DeLong: “I’m so proud of our team. I had to keep my hands down because they were calling a lot of fouls. I was confident that we’d be okay after Avery fouled out. We were going to get the win for her.”
Gabby Redford: “We played together as a team. Our defense had to be solid to beat them. Avery had a very good game, but I was confident that we could do it without her.”
Sami Kimball: “My nerves were going on those layups I had. I was afraid that I would miss them, but I didn’t. South Hadley was short but very quick.”
Coach Dubuc: “We’re very proud of our kids. We’re just sorry that we don’t have another game.”
Coach Dollas: “We had to play with a lot of guts at the end of it. We just didn’t shoot well for the majority of the game. We needed all of that ten-point lead at the end.”
Senior Olivia Marion (14 points) had all of her points in the second half.
The Tigers were very good at running organized offense against Amesbury’s man-to-man defense and turning up quality inside shots.
Amesbury had the size and passing skills to keep South Hadley’s full-court pressure from bothering them too much.
There was plenty of active crowd support for both teams. And both sides had things to cheer about.
Amesbury 13 6 24 18 = 61
South Hadley 10 13 14 20 = 57
(The pictures will enlarge.)