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Braintree girls down Westford Academy for Division 1 state title

Posted by Metro Desk  March 15, 2014 09:39 PM

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Braintree's girls basketball team poses with the Division 1 state championship trophy after beating Westford Academy 57-46 Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester. (Robert E. Klein / For the Boston Globe)

WORCESTER — Braintree has been tested a lot during the tournament. And each time the Wamps' girls basketball team was faced with adversity, they held their composure. Saturday at the DCU Center was no different as the top-ranked Wamps held off a late rally from No. 9 Westford Academy, 57-46, to win the Division 1 state championship.

"I think we had a tough nonleague schedule this year," Braintree coach Kristen McDonnell said. "Our league has improved a lot, I think there’s a lot of good competition in the Bay State conference, but our nonleague games definitely set us up to be able to compete in games like this. And the other four teams we had to get through to get here, including the first round King Phillip."

From the start of the game, Braintree (24-1) dominated every phase of the game. The Wamps stormed out the gate, pulling away early to lead 19-6 after the first quarter.

“I think playing Newton North last Saturday at UMass Boston, was definitely a turning point for us in the tournament because we’ve never been that close to losing this season, besides Christ the King, we lost to,” Ashley Russell, who finished with 17 points, said. “It was kind of a reality check, if we let up like we did in the first half of that game, we could easily be kicked out of the tournament.”

Just as they did throughout the entire season, Braintree used its defensive attack to boost its offense. And the Wamps, who aren't widely known for their outside shooting as much as their swarming defense, connected on five 3-pointers in the first half; 3 of which were from Bridget Herlihy, who finished with 14 points.

When it looked like Westford (22-5) would crawl back into the game in the second quarter after Samantha Hyslip (24 points) scored her 10th point of the game to cut the Grey Ghosts’ deficit to 12, McDonnell called a timeout to end any run that Westford might go on. And the Wamps quickly responded defensively, ending the first half 34-19.

Hyslip scored 14 of Westford’s 19 points in the first half.

“We have been the underdogs all throughout the tournament," Hyslip said. "Before every game, we would print put things that people would say and it would say, ‘this team is not expected to win.’ And so I think that got me amped up.”

Though Westford trailed by as many as 14 in the second half, they continued to fight.

“I think that’s kind of what we’re known for," Hyslip said. "I think that’s something that Westford is known for, not even just us.

“My personal model is I don’t look at the score. I don’t pay attention to it; I don’t look at the scoreboard, why bother? There’s no need to, whether we’re down or up, I’m going to play the same way."

Westford chipped away at Braintree's lead, but it seemed as if every time Westford pulled within 10, Braintree drained a 3-pointer to extend its lead. Westford would trail 45-34 after three.

In the final quarter Hyslip’s lay up 5 minutes into the period helped Westford cut Braintree’s lead to 6.

“We knew six points is nothing, because against Newton North we were down by six points going into the fourth quarter and we brought it back,” Russell said. “So we said we can’t let them come back like we did and used that as motivation.”

Six points was as close as the Grey Ghosts would get after Braintree held its composure and extended the lead back to double digits.

“We knew that this was going to be a close game, regardless of what they score was the game before when we played them, and I think our team showed a lot of grit and a lot of resiliency in coming back the way they did,” McDonnell said.

“They never got down on themselves, even at timeouts it was very positive, very encouraging. So, every time you left, you felt like you were in very good hands, leaving those kids out on the court.”

Originally published on the blog The High School Sports Blog.

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