WORCESTER — Last Saturday was the end of an era of sorts for the Archbishop Williams girls’ basketball team.
With a 60-33 win over Lee in the Division 3 state championship game at the DCU Center, the Bishops said goodbye to Sara Ryan, a four-year member of the varsity, Archie’s unequivocal leader, and a Southern New Hampshire University commit.
But with the Quincy resident’s six-point, seven-rebound, five-assist, and two-steal effort in the last game of her scholastic career came an unofficial passing of the torch.
Sophomore forwards Alana Gilmer and Jaylen Williams, both of Easton, netted a team-high 14 points apiece to lead the Bishops (23-5) to their fourth state title.
It sent a message to the rest of the South Shore: The Bishops will be good — still — even without Ryan next season, and if you didn’t take notice of 6-0 Gilmer and 6-3 Williams before, you probably have now.
Lee coach Gig Wellington sure did.
“You can’t teach height, you can’t teach it,” Wellington said. “Let me tell you, they know where the ball is going. They know where those people are. They play together well.
“The strength of that team is making those cross-court passes. They looked like Nolan Ryan a couple of times. I was amazed at the strength of those girls.”
The all-around big game for Williams (10 rebounds, three blocks) and Gilmer (five rebounds, three blocks, two steals) capped a season in which the pair blossomed together in the Archbishop Williams front court.
Following a freshman season in which they were mere role players — Gilmer first off the bench, Williams second — for an Archies team ousted in the South sectional finals by Fairhaven, the forwards took on full-blown starring roles as sophomores.
Much to the delight of 10-year Bishops coach Jim Bancroft.
“[Gilmer] played strong from day one,” Bancroft said of the forward who averaged a team-high 13 points to go with her seven rebounds per game. “Her consistency was tremendous for a sophomore, from the first game right through the season.”
Bancroft said he expects Williams (7.5 points, eight rebounds per game) to truly break out next season. She had her best two games of the season first in the EMass final against Pentucket, then against Lee in the state final.
“She started putting everything together,” the coach said. “She started knocking down baseline jumpers, taking it to the hoop and rebounding. . . . That’s a preview of things to come.”
That the two girls are becoming leaders on a perennial state contender — a contender slated to move up to Division 1 next year, no less — is a far cry from what they were a decade ago: rivals.
Getting their basketball feet wet in the ranks of Easton youth leagues, Gilmer and Williams crossed each other’s paths on opposing teams. Now, though, they look back on their early days fondly.
“It’s weird we’re best friends now,” said a smiling Williams. “We were really competitive when we were 6 or 7.”
Bancroft caught glimpses of the pair over the years when he coached on the AAU circuit with the Bay State Magic, and he knew early on they would be special players.
“Just watching, you could tell who were the players and who weren’t,” he said.
In a way, Bancroft is lucky to have snagged two talents like Williams, already committed to Penn State, and Gilmer, who has drawn offers from Quinnipiac, UMass, and the University of Rhode Island and interest from Boston College, Villanova, and Georgetown.
Williams in particular comes from a family with quite the athletic pedigree.
Her father, Brent , spent time with the Patriots during his 11-year NFL career. Her brother Brennan just finished a four-year football career at the University of North Carolina, while another older brother, Camren , played 10 games as a freshman linebacker at Ohio State in the fall.
Gilmer and Williams both grew up about 30 minutes south of the Braintree school, and could have easily gone to the high school in town, Oliver Ames.
OA itself has a strong girls’ basketball tradition, with longtime coach Elaine Clement-Holbrook and Sacred Heart-bound forward Caitlyn Abela leading this year’s Tigers team to a 19-1 regular season.
But when Gilmer and Williams visited Archies before their freshman year, they were sold. They weren’t a package deal necessarily, but that they were making the jump together made it an easier decision.
The girls credited Bancroft in both swaying them to come to Archies and helping them grow in the two seasons since.
“He’s an outstanding coach,” Gilmer said. “I love him.”
Thus far the journey has led them to a state championship, but they still have two long years ahead of them. So are they looking to carry the torch and continue the Archbishop Williams girls’ basketball winning tradition?
“Yeah, definitely,” they answered in unison.
“We only have two years left,” Williams then added. “But we’re going to try our best to get this every single time.”
Braintree wraps up strong season
With 7.8 seconds left in last Monday’s Division 1 state semifinal at TD Garden, Braintree girls’ basketball senior captain Rachel Norton checked back into the game.
The Wamps were down, 53-51, with Central Catholic’s Courtney Walsh at the line for two. Limping and wincing, Norton wanted to be a part of the comeback, if there was going to be one.
But Braintree didn’t come back. Walsh made both free throws, and the Wamps lost, 55-51.
For the second season in a row, their season ended on Causeway Street.
“She’s just an extremely tough kid and a great competitor,” said Braintree coach Kristen McDonnell , adding that Norton was battling back and knee pain, as she has for much of the season.
McDonnell said Central Catholic did a good job of varying its defense, which contributed to the Wamps getting out of their game. They only made one shot from more than 10 feet.
“If you can’t make a shot that’s going to extend the defense, you’re not going to win any game,” the coach said. “[But] we’re really happy with the season we had. Getting so close to the champs and coming up short is tough to accept. As I told our kids, we are happy with the season we had. I was proud of the kids even when things weren’t going our way.”
Indeed, Braintree had much to be proud off, wrapping up its 2012-13 campaign with a 24-3 record.
The Wamps were without senior captain Taylor Russell , who missed the entire season with a torn ACL, and started three sophomores: point guard Ashley Russell , forward Molly Reagan, and forward Bridget Herlihy .
Those three, plus Bridget’s freshman sister, Brianna , will all be back next season — and hungrier than ever.
McDonnell said she had already met with the returning players Thursday to talk about next season.
“You take a bunch of competitors and put them real close to making the championship game,” McDonnell said. “And they’re going to be hungry to get back there.”
And as for the key to getting over the state semifinal hump?
“I’m still trying to figure that out,” McDonnell said. “I think they were well prepared for [Monday’s] game. In a game where you’re playing against a team you haven’t seen a lot of, it takes more discipline down the stretch and being smarter and making good decisions.
The young players “bring such a high basketball IQ for kids that are at such a young age, and they’ve taken such a big leadership role this year. I’m looking forward to seeing them develop and getting over that hump.”
Mansfield to return strength next year
The Mansfield boys find themselves in a situation similar to that of the Braintree girls:
short on their state title hopes, but returning plenty of talent and reasons to be hopeful going forward.
The Hornets (25-3) fell to Putnam, 50-48, in overtime in the Division 1 state championship game against Palmer Voc-Tech High March 16 with 9 points from sophomore guard Ryan Boulter’s clutch 3-point shooting in the extra time not enough.
But coach Mike Vaughan’s squad will graduate just one starter, captain Greg Romanko.
Sophomore forward Brendan Hill (13.3 points per game), Boulter (11.3), and sophomore forward Micahel Boen still have half of their high school careers ahead of them. Junior point guard Rocky DeAndrade (10.7) and junior guard Kyle Wisniewski will also be back.