Spartans Stunned by Suzies
WORCESTER -- So close, yet just so far.
The Oakmont Regional girls’ basketball team’s ride to a Central Mass. title ended one step away from fruition Monday night, as the top-seeded Spartans had difficulty finding the bottom of the net in the second half as No. 4 Sutton pulled out a 40-37 upset victory in a Division 3 girls’ basketball semifinal at WPI’s Harrington Auditorium.
With the victory, the Suzies (21-2) advance to Saturday’s Central Mass. Final, where they’ll take on third-seeded Millis after the Mustangs knocked off No. 2 Millbury, 40-31, in Monday’s first semifinal.
Oakmont’s magical season ended at 22-1.
Spartans coach Jeff O’Neill was realistic as he emerged from the locker room just after 9:15 p.m.
“Tough one. A tough one,” O’Neill said. “We just couldn’t make a basket -- even at the end, we had three shots to win it. I felt one of those shots would fall; we just couldn’t do it.
“We knew (Sutton) would play strictly man-to-man, the big girl’s inside, and she altered shots a number of times, and that hurt us. Sometimes you have a good night, sometimes you don’t.”
Oakmont held a 23-13 lead at the break, but that changed with a 2 of 12 third quarter while the Suzies were 7 of 9 during that 8-minute span.
The Spartans were 5 of 20 from the field in the second half.
Four hoops by the Suzies came right out of the gate, as Margaret Green, Sarah Beachman, and Carmen Nieves all hit baskets, with Beachman and Nieves’s hoops coming off steals in transition.
Beachman (10 points) had a second, as she grabbed the defensive rebound and took it the other way for a layup, and before one could blink, Sutton had the deficit cut to two, 23-21 -- and O’Neill burned two time outs in order to settle his team down on the big Boynton Hill stage.
“I said at that point, ‘Girls, they’re not beating us; we’re beating ourselves. You’re not getting back on D,’ and so forth,” O’Neill said.
A Kylie Lison hoop gave Oakmont a little bit of breathing room, before a pair of Nieves jumpers -- the second one a 3-pointer -- to give the Suzies their first lead since 2:10 left in the first quarter.
A minute later, Lison (15 points) hit a shot before Rachel Sinclair hit a pair from the line.
But a 7-2 Sutton run to start the fourth swung the momentum toward the Suzies.
Sutton would hold a four-point, 38-34 lead with 1:14 left as Hannah Nichols scored, before Jessica Lee hit a big 3-pointer 11 seconds later to pull the Spartans to within one, 38-37.
Oakmont got the ball back with 32 seconds left as the Suzies missed a pair of critical free throws, and Sinclair (9 points) came up with the rebound. And after a time out, Oakmont cycled the ball outside the perimeter before trying to get inside.
But Nichols (8 points, 13 rebounds) cut the angle down, and stripped the ball away with only a handful of seconds left.
Oakmont was 9 of 24 from the field in the first half, and took advantage of 12 Sutton turnovers in order to get separation headed into the locker room.
And more to the point, Sutton held a 6-3 lead before Lison went off and helped silence the Suzies.
She scored a 14-footer in the lane to pull within one, 6-5, before Sutton’s Sarah Beachman hit the second freebie. Lison then tied it with a scoop-and-score.
Half a minute, she scored a 17-footer from the elbow on an inbound play to give the Spartans the lead.
On the next trip, Lison hit a big 3-pointer that took its time in falling through the cylinder, giving Oakmont a 12-7 lead.
She would hit a pair at the line early in the second before she helped on a Leah Pelkey bucket -- but that would be the last touches of the half for her, as she found herself saddled with her third foul.
“That changed the rhythm of the game,” O’Neill said.
Yet Oakmont wasn’t to be denied, even without the presence of their senior leader: freshman Katie Dolan, after Hannah Cravedi came up with the steal on the Suzies’ ninth turnover of the half, scored on the offensive rebound.
And while Sutton’s Meagan Burke scored a floater to account for the Suzies’ second and final basket of the half, Rachel Sinclair came up with two big hoops in consecutive trips to give Oakmont the lead headed into the break.
Sutton was 5 of 18 in the first half, and 2 of 10 in the second quarter.
“We ran a mix-up defense, and that worked very well for us,” O’Neill.