ATTLEBORO — Caitlyn Abela and Asia Mitchell remember March 13, 2010, like it was yesterday.
As freshman reserves at Oliver Ames, Abela and Mitchell ended up on the court at the DCU Center for the final seconds of the Tigers’ Division 2 state basketball championship win over Millbury after coach Elaine Clement-Holbrook replaced her starters out one by one.
Abela even made the final basket of the game — a put-back floater — to cap the win.
“I remember just being so excited . . . then coach putting me in and being like, ‘No, no, no’ and freaking out. It was so surreal,” Mitchell recalled last week. “I can just remember thinking senior year was forever away, and you blink and it’s there.”
Three years — or a blink, depending on your perspective — later, the two are the only members left from that championship squad, now senior captains who have helped the Tigers (14-0, 11-0 Hockomock League) thrash opponents roughly 25 points per game.
Much of the success is thanks to OA’s offensive prowess and balance.
Though the Sacred Heart-bound Abela is averaging 20.9 points per game, the second-highest figure in the Hockomock League, Mitchell (10.2 points per game running the point) and junior guard Michaela Lievi (10.7) have been very productive.
Abela also possesses the flexibility to play any position on the floor, depending on the needs of Clement-Holbrook.
That skill set was on display Tuesday in a 58-49 win over host Attleboro, in which Abela netted a game-high 21 points.
She took over and carried the team in the first half, nearly matching the Bombardiers’ point total (11) with nine of her own. She also used her sturdy 6-foot frame throughout the game to simply reach over most girls when looking for rebounds.
“She just has, I think, a better sense of self, which she’s now been able to transfer to this particular team, this particular year,” Clement-Holbrook said. “She’s really improved on defense. She’s gotten so much stronger physically. . . . She’s developed herself into an inside-outside threat.”
That last facet was also evident Tuesday — especially when the Tigers needed it most.
Abela capped a 13-1 run in the fourth quarter with a deep 3-pointer, the final dagger against a pesky Bombardier squad that trailed by just five headed into that quarter.
Attleboro challenged OA, but the Tigers stayed in control, and kept their poise.
Clement-Holbrook calls it a byproduct of maturity of her two captains.
She raved about Mitchell’s influence, off the court in particular. An aggressive, tenacious defender who looks for the right pass more than her own shot, Mitchell is nurturing, particularly with the younger players, off the court.
“She has a perfect personality,” Clement-Holbrook said. “She’s welcoming, she’s not judgmental, and she’s grown up a lot over the course of four years. We’re all reaping the benefits of that development as a person.”
With the regular season winding down — after a date with Milford Thursday, the Tigers have just two league games remaining — Clement-Holbrook is making a final push to teach her team a lesson similar to the one she has each of her previous 37 seasons on the bench: Play with a sense of urgency for, if nothing else, the seniors.
Too often, the coach contends, athletes don’t put in a full effort day in and day out and fully appreciate the opportunity until they receive their graduation caps .
But Mitchell is lucky. She says she has had that sense of urgency since she was a part of the team’s championship run.
“Every year since [freshman year], I’ve kind of known what I was fighting for,” Mitchell said. “And I’ve always wanted to be back in that position.”
At the moment, the seniors are asking themselves the question Clement-Holbrook asks the first day of practice every year: How do they want to be remembered?
Abela has a bit different perspective: her mother, Diann, played for Clement-Holbrook in the 1980s, winning three Hockomock League titles. Abela has an idea on how she wants to go out. It’s similar to how she came in.
“We’re not going to slow down now,” Abela said. “In practice we try to push as hard as we can, and obviously in games, too. Since [the younger girls] haven’t experienced a championship they obviously all want to — and we want to get back there — so we all have the same goal.”
Lancers catch fire
It has been another season of close games — and mostly wins — for the Norton High boys; and the last two weeks, the Lancers have picked up the pace.
The Lancers (13-3, 12-3 Tri-Valley League) have caught fire at the right time. After a 1-3 stretch in mid-January, they ripped off four straight wins, including a 53-50 win over Ashland thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from senior captain Paul Murphy and a 68-40 blowout of Millis.
Coach Marc Liberatore said his squad has leaned on three returning starters: Murphy, Zach Ruby, and Dan Rafuse , in addition to junior James Loring , a 6-foot-6 center who is averaging a team-leading 18 points per game.
The Lancers have a big test Tuesday against visiting Westwood, the team that ended their season last year and dealt Norton its first loss this season, 60-50, on Jan. 11.
“Even if we get down, because we’ve been in so many close games, we’re usually going to stick around to the end,” Liberatore said. “We learned our lesson [last season] to just concentrate on the game in front of you. . . . As long as we can do that for the next three, we’ll be in it to the end.”
With 10 days left in the regular season for most, the boys’ race in the Patriot League is down to the wire. The Fisher Division’s top two, Scituate and North Quincy, were separated by half a game before their scheduled matchup on Friday. The Keenan Division’s top two, Hingham and Silver Lake, are a game apart and will play each other Thursday. . . . Since suffering their only two losses of the year (Springfield, Ore., and Newton North), the Braintree girls ran off four straight wins, with a victory margin of 24.75 points per game.