LENOX, Mass. -- Lee senior Lena Simone went out in style and went out a winner on Saturday afternoon.
Simone scored 13 points in fourth-quarter comeback and made a key steal in the closing seconds to lift the Wildcats to a 54-49 win over Lenox in the final Berkshire County basketball game of 2021.
“She’s been doing it all year,” Lee coach Rick Puleri said of Simone, who finished with a game-high 20 points. “She finally started to believe in herself, and when she’s open, she can knock them down. She made some big shots.
“She got a steal, big steals. Quite honestly, she did what seniors are supposed to do. She was tough in the fourth quarter for sure.”
Caroline Maloney scored 17 points to finish just behind Simone in the scoring column. Maloney also pulled down eight rebounds.
Lenox got 13 points and 11 boards from Mia Giardina and 11 points apiece from Sophie Patella and Tabor Paul, who knocked down three 3-pointers.
The Millionaires led by as many as six in the first half and held narrow leads throughout.
Alex Lipton hit a jumper from the baseline in the closing seconds of the first half to send Lenox into the break ahead, 27-26.
Lee stormed out of the break with a 7-0 run that ended on a lay-up in transition from Simone to make it 33-27.
But Lenox went on a 14-4 run in the last four minutes of the third, closing with a triple from Mia Pignatelli and a long 2 from Patella to go into the fourth quarter ahead, 41-37.
Patella gave Lenox a seven-point cushion at 46-39 with 5 minutes, 59 seconds left to play.
That is when Lee took over.
Mia Puleri put back an offensive rebound in transition to start a 15-3 run to the end of the game.
Simone scored the final 13 points of that stretch, including a conventional three-point play with an assist from Brianna Kelly with 2:04 left to give Lee a 49-46 lead.
Lenox’s Paul knocked down a 3 to tie it on the ensuing possession, but Simone answered with a shot from behind the arc to give her team the lead for good with 1:12 left.
Coming out of a timeout, Lenox worked for a shot that was off the mark, but Patella got the offensive rebound and a fresh shot clock with 49 seconds left. After a Lee deflection out of bounds, the Millionaires got a sideline inbound play with 16 seconds left on the shot clock and 36 on the game clock.
They got the ball in, but a pass out of the corner was picked off by Simone at the top of the key, and Lee managed to avoid Lenox’s attempts to foul until the 8-second mark.
Simone then converted both ends of her one-and-one to put the game out of reach.
Lenox graduates just one senior, Anna Najimy, from a squad that waited longer than anyone else in Berkshire County to lace up their sneakers and made the most of the chance to do so.
“I know I’m extremely grateful, and I know the girls were grateful that they were able to get out here and play,” Millionaires coach Nicole Patella said. “Once our school committee approved it, our A.D. was all over it trying to get us in the gym, and our custodial staff was amazing clearing the gym so we’d be able to actually get some games in.
“It takes us a little while when a season gets going to jell and to click. And we didn’t have that opportunity. I expect things to be different next year. We’ve got a good group of girls coming back, we have a really good group on the JV level. The future looks promising. … But I was grateful they were able to get in here.”
Rick Puleri, likewise, was glad to have a few weeks with his team and proud of the way it competed to the final buzzer in its final game.
“It’s been a good year for us,” he said. “I think it’s been great for the kids just in that they get to be together and play together again as a team. In that way, it’s been great.
“Obviously, I think everyone would have preferred if we were under normal circumstances and had tournaments and all that. But, given the situation that we’re in, it’s a good thing.”