AMHERST, Mass. -- "This is a special group of girls," said Drury girls basketball coach Brian Flagg. "They have been together for such a long time and they've been aching to find an identity. All I did was say, 'Girls, we've got five seniors, you're Drury High School and Drury is known for their defense. Let's just play defense and the rest will take care of itself. They bought into it and I just told them in the locker room that in my 27 years of coaching I have not coached a group that has worked harder than these girls."
Taking pride in their defense showed as the Drury girls advanced to the Western Massachusetts Division 3 finals with a 41-38 victory over Mount Greylock on Tuesday night at the Curry Hicks Cage. Defense was the difference as the Lady Devils held the Mounties to four points in the fourth quarter after just giving up 14 in the third.
Drury senior Jenna Moulton's defense was instrumental in the waning moments of the game as she stole the ball with just 8.4 seconds on the clock after Greylock had just grabbed an offensive rebound trailing 40-38. As the Mounties looked to kick the ball out to create another shot, Moulton stepped in front of the pass and secured the ball in the corner.
The Blue Devils faced full court pressure from Mount Greylock, but senior Molly Moulton sealed the game by catching the long inbounds pass over the defense before being fouled with 7.1 seconds remaining. Molly went to the line facing a one-and-one and sank the first shot to extend her team's lead to three.
The second missed, and the Mounties got the rebound but could not get the ball to half court and call a timeout until there was 1.8 seconds on the clock. Greylock bobbled the inbounds pass, and the buzzer sounded before they had a chance to put up a game-tying shot.
The win was the third this year over the Mounties for the Drury girls, which is no easy feat.
"Our approach was that you have a ninth-seeded team who just knocked off a 19-1 number one seeded South Hadley. They've won six games in a row. They've got a lot of good players. We have to play a nearly perfect game," Flagg said. "We knew the coming in the team that had the ball last was going to win. We said it all week in practice. The one who took the last shot was probably going to win this game. If there were a few more seconds left on the clock it could've been the other way."
The toughest assignment for the Devils' defense was Mount Greylock's Jenna Benzinger, who ended with a game-high 17 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks. After an 8-0 run by Drury opened up a 13-5 lead with 2:31 to go in the first quarter, Mounties coach John Jacobbe used a timeout to get his team together.
After the timeout, it was clear that the plan was to get the ball inside to Benzinger as she scored the next six points of the quarter to cut the lead down to 11-15. Then to start the second quarter sophomore Elena Cerveira stole a pass and took the ball coast to coast and finished the basket as she was fouled. She went to the line and sank the free throw to complete the old school three point play, cutting the Drury lead to just one.
The Blue Devils responded, though, as they fired back with a 9-0 run to push their lead up to 10 at 24-14. Again though it would be Benzinger who stepped up for her team as she stopped the run by getting fouled in the post and sinking two free throws. She then assisted teammate Arianna Walden for another Greylock basket before grabbing an offensive rebound with less than a minute to go and finishing the put back to cut the lead to just four. Drury's Olivia Carlson sank an elbow jumper though just before half to put the score at 26-20 heading into halftime.
Coming out of halftime it was Benzinger again. She scored eight of her team's next 12 points as the Mounties went on a 12-0 run to start the second half. Greylock now had the lead 34-30 and held onto that lead all the way to the end of the third as they entered the final quarter up, 34-33.
"You can't keep looking at previous plays that happened and didn't go your way. You just have to keep looking forward to the next play and the next basket. Score. Stop. Score. Stop," said Molly Moulton about how her team overcame that 14-4 run by the Mounties.
"We knew we started off the game with a a little bit of a run so we knew they would have one too. We just had to get our heads back in the game," added senior Katie Toomey about the key to overcoming that Greylock run.
Toomey and junior Sarah Lamarre played a big part in keeping the Devils in the game during that tough third quarter. They combined for all eight of Drury's points in the quarter that included a big 3-pointer from Lamarre to start the quarter as well as a clutch lay-up off an out of bounds play under the Devils' basket with 43 seconds left in the quarter.
Lamarre continued to play strong into the fourth as she hit two of the biggest shots of the game when she knocked down back to back free throws with 4:43 left in the game to tie the game for the first time since the Mounties' 12-0 run right after halftime.
Two minutes later Toomey got back in on the action as she drove down the right side of the lane and as she went up to score she lost the ball but had the piece of mind to see her classmate Olivia Carlson on the opposite block and deflect the ball to her for a open lay-up to take the lead, one they kept the rest of the game. Toomey pushed the lead up to three by hitting the front end of a one-and-one with one minute, 19 seconds left.
Drury's Toomey finished with eight points and nine rebounds, Lamarre with nine points, and Molly Moulton with a team-high 13 points to go along with five rebounds. Carlson chipped in with four points and played a big part on the boards with seven rebounds on top of her duties of stopping and boxing out Benzinger later in the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils will wait to find out their opponent in Saturday's final when second-seeded Hoosac Valley takes on three-seeded Hampshire Regional at 6 p.m. Wednesday night.
More photos of this game here.