Nashoba Wins Central Mass. Title in Thrilling Finish
WORCESTER -- With Caylie McMahon unavailable to play, the Nashoba Regional girls’ basketball team needed someone to fill her shoes.
Enter fellow junior Lexi Richard.
Richard took McMahon’s spot in the starting lineup and made her presence felt on both sides of the court. The junior scored six points, but none bigger than her free throw with 2.4 seconds left that lifted the top-seeded Chieftains to a thrilling 44-43 victory over second-seeded Groton-Dunstable in the Central Mass. Division 2 championship game Saturday morning at Worcester State University.
“Lexi’s entire family is a big basketball family, so for her to step up in that situation is huge,” said Nashoba head coach Tina Seabury. “She has been back and forth battling injuries all season, so this was a huge confidence-boaster for her going into her senior year. But again, she is a kid who I want on the line in this pressure situation.”
Nashoba ran its record to 20-3 overall, while Groton-Dunstable sees its season come to a halt at 17-6. The Chieftains will now play either Northampton or Taconic in the state semifinals at a date and location yet to be announced.
“As far as leadership and maturing over the last two years, the kids have done it,” Seabury said. “They have bought into my philosophy of playing defense first. Our defense leads into transition offense.”
Heading into the fourth quarter of a defensive battle, the Crusaders held a narrow 28-25 lead, as Nashoba cut deeply into a 26-14 halftime deficit by going on an 11-2 run. Senior captain Julia Roth (12 points) hit her second 3-pointer of the contest on the first possession of the fourth quarter to tie the game at 28.
Over the final eight minutes, the teams went back and forth, resulting in six lead changes. Senior Hannah Wynn (18 points) gave the Crusaders a slim 43-42 lead when she hit a baseline fallaway jumper with a minute to go. Richard tied the game up with a free throw with 13.8 seconds remaining, then calmly hit one of two from the charity stripe with 2.4 seconds left to the send the Nashoba faithful into a frenzy.
“Every day in practice we shoot free throws after every drill,” Richard said. “Our coach always pushes us and tells us that she wants us to be at 80 percent. She always tells us that free throws win games. Stepping up in that situation, I just knew that it was our time, because we didn’t want our season to end.”
Things didn’t start out so hot for the Chieftains, as they found themselves down 10-9 after eight minutes. Groton-Dunstable built a double-digit lead when Caroline Straw hit a free throw with 1:50 left in the half, as Crusaders were ahead 24-14. Groton-Dunstable held a 26-14 lead at the half.
But like all good teams do, the Chieftains responded. After watching Groton-Dunstable go on a 14-1 run in the first half, Nashoba turned the tables by going on a 9-0 run of its own to start the second half, cutting the deficit to 26-23.
“I just try to do what I can do as a captain,” Roth said. “I told the girls that we need to take it one basket and one possession at a time, so I tried to pick it up a little in what I was doing, and I think that got everyone going.”
Nashoba sophomore Jillian Payne also had several key hoops in this one, as she scored 10 points for the Chieftains.