The Fenway High girls’ basketball team will not only be playing on the TD Garden parquet floor for its second straight Division 4 state title on Monday afternoon, the Panthers will be doing it against the same team they defeated to win their first title in program history last year.
Fenway will battle Greater New Bedford Voke, who they defeated 58-49 last year, at 2:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon.
“I think it’s pretty cool, I really do,” Fenway coach John Rice said of the rematch. “Both programs are obviously strong and dedicated and it’s just a testament to both programs hard work. We’re both familiar with each others style of play and I think it’s pretty cool and I’m looking forward to it.
“They will be licking their chops to try to get revenge on us. They probably have a little bit more motivating factors than us because we won. They’ll probably be up. So we have to try to get [our players] up.”
Last year the Panthers trailed by five points in the final quarter before coming back for the victory, mostly thanks to a 10-point fourth quarter by Cadejia Matthews.
“Our big [fouled] out and somebody had to step up and that was me, just hitting, a three, layups and my free throws,” Matthews said of last year’s Garden game after Saturday’s Whittier game. “So I’m hoping I can do that again with my team but we’ll try to have the bigs stay out of foul trouble.”
In Saturday night’s victory against Whittier in the Division 4 sectional final, Matthews hit two game-clinching free throws for Fenway with 19 seconds left to make it a two-possession game. The clutch shooting from the stripe came after the top-seeded Wildcats came back from a 16-point deficit in the third quarter to tie the game at 35 with 5:52 to play.
“I was just trying to stay focused in the game,” she said. “There was a lot of noise, too many things at once going on in my head so I just focused on making my shot or making my layups, that’s what I did basically.
“It really is a blessing to go back to Garden once again. It is just so shocking that we were able to do it another year ... we’re going back to the Garden and we’re going to push hard like we did.”
Fenway missed an opportunity to defend its title in the city championships this year after it forfeited four regular season games and failed to qualify for the city tournament.
But Rice said his girls aren’t playing with a chip on their shoulder.
“We haven’t even discussed it, we just come out and play,” he said of cities. “The kids have short memories .The girls are a little bit different types of athletes.”
A former Celtics draft pick, Rice said his advice to his team about playing in the Garden is just to enjoy themselves, play their hearts out and leave it all out on the floor.
"Oh man, one of the best feelings in the world, all the hard work, it’s just amazing,” he said of playing in the Garden. “You think about playing in the Garden as a kid and the athletes are excited, the players are excited, the coaches are excited. That’s what it’s all about.”
Rice said he isn't going to try to tamp down his players' excitement
“We’re all going to be excited,” he said. “You can’t erase that feeling and you don’t want to. They just have to come out and buckle down.”
Freshman Takora Mcintyre — who scored a team-high 13 points in the Whittier game, including a clutch layup before stealing the ball on the next possession — said she’s not afraid of her nerves either.
“I usually get nervous before a lot so I’ll just play through it,” she said. “It’s the best feeling [going to the Garden]. As a freshman I’m the youngest, we don’t usually come across this, so to experience this is amazing.”
The only better feeling would be to win back-to-back titles.
“Oh boy, I mean, the Fenway community, the leadership, the students are just wonderful, a wonderful organization,” Rice said. “That would just cap it off. That would be amazing.”
About Boston Public Schools Sports BlogMore »
- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.