NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Ali Tatro proved a valuable lesson to both herself and the Wahconah girls' basketball team on Friday night. It's not how you start the game, but how you finish it that matters the most.
Tatro had a first half to forget against the Warriors, missing numerous good looks around the hoop while also having to miss large portions of the first two quarters with foul trouble. There seemed to be an invisible lid on the basket whenever she shot the ball, but the senior forward kept on attacking the basket, eventually scoring her first point of the game on a free throw with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
Her foul shot tied the game at 19 points apiece, and Tatro took off from there, scoring 10 of her team's next 14 points to help Drury secure a 35-23 win at Bucky Bullett Gymnasium. Tatro's revitalized play and a near-perfect game by the Blue Devils' defense carried Drury to a pivotal North Division win and improved its season record to 5-1 this year.
"I was frustrated," Tatro said of her performance in the first half. "I think after realizing that the fouls really weren't going our way, I just tried to stay grounded and in front of my player. I tried to do smart things on offense, and everything played out after we just got together and came as a team."
After controlling the first half, the Blue Devils quickly found themselves behind early in the third quarter. Sophomore guard Emily Jordan banked in a 3-pointer from the left wing in the closing seconds of the first half to pull Wahconah (2-5) within three, and the visitors quickly took the lead out of the locker room thanks to a pair of free throws from Maddie Sprague and lay in from Shannon Lussier.
That's when Drury head coach John Franzoni called a timeout and Tatro and the rest of her teammates picked up their level of play. Tatro's free throw snapped a scoring drought that lasted nearly half of the third quarter, and senior point guard Danielle Racette followed that by scoring off an inbounds play and sinking a pair of foul shots. Tatro then scored her team's next five baskets, getting out in the open floor and finishing off several nice passes from Racette and junior guard Amber Iacuessa.
"It was definitely about running the floor for me," Tatro said of what got her going in the game. "When Danielle finds you, even if she doesn't, she eventually will. It gives you confidence and makes you want to make the better play when you're trying to create a play, not just a fast break. It really helps you get it going."
Tatro finished the game with 11 points and five rebounds, four which were offensive rebounds in the second half. Racette was even better, scoring nine of her game-high 13 points in the first quarter to help the hosts jump out to an 13-6 lead. Her fast start was important for the Blue Devils, who had to play most of the first half without Tatro and fellow starter Shannon Garvey, who also missed time with foul trouble.
Racette said she never lost confidence in Tatro, even though she was unable to cash in on several opportunities in the first half.
"Ali runs every single possession in transition," Racette said. "Not every team is going to run with her every single time. I kind of get the ball on the outlet and look for her every time. She gets up the court and knocks down her shots. You have to have confidence in your teammates, and I have a lot of confidence in Ali."
With the way some of other teammates are playing, Racette can feel confident in their abilities as well. With Tatro and Garvey on the bench, forwards Emily Moulton and Olivia Carlson made an impact in the frontcourt, combining for eight points and 10 rebounds in the first half. Both Racette and Moulton were key parts of the defensive effort on Friday night. Racette had six steals and three blocks, while Moulton finished with a game-high 14 rebounds, three steals and five blocks.
Racette and Tatro also did a good job of shadowing Gabby Lavinio, the Warriors' leading scorer who came into the game averaging nearly 16 points per game. The Wahconah guard managed just six points on Friday, while Lussier was also held to four points below her average.
"Absolutely," Franzoni said when asked if his team if his team was locked in on defense at this point in the season. "We're getting great leadership from our captains, and it was just a great effort tonight from Ali and Danielle in the second half. It's a team effort, and the thing I was most proud of is they scored those first two baskets to make it 19-18. We called a timeout, and they didn't score another basket the rest of the game.
"Wahconah has scored over 50 points the last two games. They're a good scoring team, but I just thought we were perfect defensively tonight."
Although she didn't have a lot of gaudy stats to boast of, Iacuessa's effort certainly didn't go unnoticed by both her coach and her teammates. She played major minutes, impressing the bench with solid hustle plays and hooking up with Tatro with two key baskets during Drury's 11-0 run in the second half.
"She played really well tonight," Racette said. "She gave us a spark when she came in. She comes in, swings the ball and finds Ali down low wide open."
The Warriors did a good job of competing in the first half, using six offensive rebounds to give them a number of second-chance points. They just couldn't generate any offense in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter when the visitors managed zero baskets and just four free throws.
"We had some offensive opportunities, especially on the boards in the first half," Wahconah head coach June Blake said. "I didn't think we capitalized enough on those. We could have easily been tied or ahead with our offensive rebounding in that half. It comes down to second-half basketball. We were held without a basket in the fourth quarter, and eight points in the second half just isn't going to get it done.
"I thought we did decent job defensively to hold them to 35 points, but we just didn't execute offensively when we needed to."
It's been a tough start with an even tougher schedule for the Warriors, but Blake said she remains confident about the potential of this team.
"It's been a tough schedule, but you have to play against teams like this," she said. "I think this makes us better, and I'm still really positive about our season and where we're going to go from here. We're still pushing to make the tournament."