Girls’ Hoops Advances to Garden in Dramatic Fashion
by Ryan Martin
At Braintree High School, the words “girls’ basketball team” and “losing” are rarely ever used in the same sentence. A team defined by passion, work ethic, and determination, they have made a name for themselves the past few years dominating a competitive Division 1 South field. On Saturday at UMass Boston, they continued their dominance, but in a way the Wamp Nation faithful is not used to. After trailing by 21 points midway through the second quarter, the Wamps made one of the most memorable comebacks fans had ever seen, winning the Division 1 South Sectional championship for the third straight year.
Fans piled into the gym for the 2 p.m. game featuring the Braintree Wamps and the Newton North Tigers. Despite an easier ride for Newton fans, Braintree clearly brought the better crowd. Wamp Nation’s “beach theme” created quite a spectacle, and a mass of Braintree parents and citizens all made the trek out to UMass for this wild game.
It began in familiar fashion with Braintree taking an 8-5 lead early, but then the Tigers of Newton North went on a remarkable 24-0 run giving them a 29-8 lead in the second quarter. The Wamps struggled with Newton’s half court trap and their turnovers gave the Tigers a number of fast break points. At the end of the half, Braintree trailed 32-18, and for maybe the first halftime this year, Wamps fans nervously awaited the second half of play.
The Lady Wamps didn’t feel the same though. They came out of the half clicking on all cylinders. Their shots were falling left and right and Newton North couldn’t seem to buy a basket. Clutch 3 pointers from Keelah Dixon, Bridget Herlihy, and Molly Reagan all sparked Braintree’s incredible comeback. Herlihy’s 3 to end the third quarter cut the lead down to 6, and sent Wamp Nation into a frenzy. In the fourth quarter the Wamps did not let up a single point, dominating every aspect of the game. They went on to win 58-45 and the celebration begun. Wamps fans and players alike all went crazy as their team was headed to the Garden for the third straight year.
Ashley Russell, star junior point guard for the Wamps, stayed calm and cool the entire game, manning the offense and distributing the ball. When asked about what was said at halftime that sparked such an amazing comeback Ashley said, “We knew we didn’t play that well in the first half, we knew we could do a lot better and we never thought we were going to lose.” She said the game plan was, “to focus on chipping away at the score and getting back into the game.” Ashley added that Coach McDonnell told them to, “never give up.”
Junior Maura Russell, Ashley’s cousin, hit a big 3 pointer near the end of the second quarter to cut the lead to 16. Maura said, “We knew that if we played the second half like the team we’ve been all season we could win it.”
Coach Kristin McDonnell of Braintree showed why she holds a 96-15 record during her five years at Braintree High. Throughout the game McDonnell was energetic but under control. She never panicked and helped to keep the team focused for their comeback. When asked if she doubted her team even for a second she said, “No, honestly, we never thought it was over. With the talent, competitiveness, and intensity that these kids play with, we knew it was possible. They showed a lot of guts and a ton of composure in chipping away at Newton North’s lead.”
The Wamps will be headed to the TD Garden for the third straight year. After losing to Andover and Central Catholic the past two seasons, Braintree will be hungrier than ever to earn a spot in the state championship at the DCU center. Ashley Russell commented on her third trip to the Garden saying, “I think the experience we have from playing there two years in a row will hopefully be on our side, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and obviously we don’t want to lose there again, so I think that motivation alone will help us throughout.”
Coach McDonnell added that the most important thing they have learned from their experiences is to play disciplined defense. She remarked that, “Regardless of what’s happening on offense, we can always stay close and play solid defense. And that is everything from pressuring the ball well, to good help rotations, to making sure to box out to end each defensive possession.”
There isn’t much time to celebrate as the Wamps have only one day to prepare for an impressive 23-0 Lynn English team. Maura Russell did have some time to express her excitement though, saying, “I can’t even think of any words to describe what it felt like when that buzzer went off.”
The girls will now play Lynn English Monday night at the TD Garden in Boston at 5:45 pm. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $10.95 on Ticketmaster or at the TD Garden prior to the game for $15.00.