Devils Lose Big Lead But Hang On to Beat Tigers

By Ryan
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass —  Up by 16 points heading into the fourth quarter, the Drury girls' basketball team let its foot off of the gas against South Hadley, and it almost cost the Blue Devils' season to stall before they were able to pull out a 43-40 victory in the first round of the Division 2 Western Massachusetts tournament on Tuesday night. 

Drury (14-7), the No. 6 seed in the bracket, was sitting pretty all game long, jumping out to leads of 17-8 after the first quarter and 25-11 at the half. John Franzoni's squad had opened up a 35-19 advantage after three quarters in their home gym and the fourth quarter seemed to be nothing more than a formality when something funny happened along the way to the Western Mass. quarterfinals. The No. 12 Tigers refused to go down without a fight, reeling off an 11-0 run in the final quarter to pull within one possession in the closing moments of the game. 

Down by just three points, South Hadley (12-9) had a chance to tie the game in the final 15 seconds of the game, but the Devils clamped down on defense, making one last stand to pull out a win that no one ever thought would be that close. 

No one except Tigers head coach Paul Dubuc that is.

"We haven't quit all year," he said after the game. "I can't tell you how many points we're going to score in any given game, but I know we'll play hard eventually. We haven't played in two weeks, so it took us a little while to get out sea legs. [At halftime], we talked about cutting down on their second shots, playing defense and just playing with pride." 

After a dominating first-half performance by the hosts, South Hadley came out of the locker room with increased intensity and much higher energy level in the third quarter. They caught Drury off guard a bit, scoring eight of the first 10 points in the frame to close the Blue Devils' lead to 27-19. Drury responded quickly, however, scoring the final eight points of the quarter to build a commanding 16-point cushion with eight minutes to play. 

The Blue Devils might have gotten a little complacent in the fourth, though, and the visitors took advantage by going hard to the basket and getting Drury into the foul penalty early in the quarter. It was four straight free throws that sparked the 11-0 run, and the Tigers kept things going after that by making hustle plays on offensive rebounds and steals to keep the streak going. A deep 3-pointer by Janelle Seitz capped the run, pulling South Hadley to within five points and forcing Franzoni to take a timeout with 3:38 left on the clock. 

"In the second half, actually the last five minutes of the game, they were just more aggressive than we were," Franzoni said. "We almost thought they were just going to go away. Teams in the tournament are never going to go away because you're playing for your season. They played hard, they made some shots but to our kids' credit, we hung tough at the end. 

"We have to finish games a little bit stronger, but I'm very proud for our kids for hanging in there and winning the basketball game against a very tough team." 

Unlike the first half when they pulled down nine offensive rebounds and got many second-chance opportunities, the Blue Devils couldn't seem to get their offense going in the fourth quarter. They couldn't cash in on their open looks and any loose balls and long rebounds were going into the hands of a determined Tigers' team. Needing a shot to break up the visitors' momentum, Drury turned to freshman forward Morgan Lamarre, who drained a long jumper from the top of the key to push her team's lead back to seven points with three minutes to play. Lamarre finished with eight points on the night, scoring half of her total and her team's total of eight points in the fourth quarter alone.

"I just knew that I was open, and I'd have to take it," Lamarre said of her big shot late in the game. "[Coach told us during a timeout] that we just had to keep up playing hard. He said any tournament team would want to win and that they would keep coming at us. We just had to pick it up, and that's what we did." 

Senior forward Meagan McCarthy (eight points, 11 rebounds) followed Lamaree's jump shot with a floater of own, pushing the Blue Devils lead to nine points, but once again South Hadley came storming back. Seitz hit another triple from the right wing this time, and the physical play of the Tigers' full-court press forced the hosts into three turnovers in the final two minutes of the game. Meghan Ginley, who led the visitors with 11 points and 10 boards, went 3 for 4 from the foul line in the closing minutes to cut Drury's lead down to three. 

"Our defense absolutely got us back in the game," Dubuc said. "I thought when we went to that three-quarter court trap it worked great, and we knocked a couple of shots down. We tried to get a three on an inbounds play and everyone had a green light at the end there, but they played great D on that." 

Senior guard Cassie Lincoln (six points, five assists, three steals) was put on Seitz on the final play and she made sure she didn't get a good look at her third three of the game. Defense wasn't the problem for Drury on this night, however, as the Blue Devils smothered South Hadley for all of just one quarter of play. Sophomore guard Danielle Racette was a one-woman defensive wrecking crew out there, coming up with a team-high eight steals and seven blocks to go along with four points and five rebounds. She also held Tigers point guard Kara Callahan to just four points on the night. That was the same player who lit up the nets for 31 points in a game against Cathedral a few weeks ago. 

"Our perimeter kids, Danielle, Cassie and Morgan, are as good defensively as anybody and they showed it there on that last play by locking down," Franzoni said. "We said you can't foul because we don't want to send them to the line either. They moved their feet, they did a great job, we got the rebound and held on." 

The Blue Devils now advance to Friday night's quarterfinal matchup against No. 3 Wahconah in Dalton. Although technically the underdog playing on the road, Drury can take solace in the fact they beat the Warriors two out of three times this season, the last win coming by just one point in a game in Dalton last week. 

Franzoni is hoping the team that shows up in that game is the same team that came out on fire in the first half on Tuesday night. Led by a balanced scoring attack, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 10-0 lead and held South Hadley to just three points overall in the second quarter. Senior forward Kelsey Ouimet led the charge in the first half with seven points and seven rebounds on her way to a 13-point, 9-rebound night, while Drury also held sizable advantages in both rebounding (21-16) and turnovers (15-4). 

Chances are the Blue Devils won't have to worry about nursing a 16-point lead against a talented Wahconah team. If they do, however, Racette knows what her team needs to do avoid another scare next time. 

"I think they came back with a little more intensity, but we needed to be stronger with the ball," she said. "I think that was a big problem. We just have to stay tough. I think when they went on a little bit of a run that threw us off guard because we were like, 'Oh, we're up by 16 points,' but we should have known that they were coming back for us." 

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