ROXBURY, Mass. -– Tajanay Veiga-Lee was all too familiar with the sinking feeling of letting a game slip through her fingers. Not this time.
The junior point guard scored 23 points with six rebounds and three steals to propel Fenway to a 57-34 victory over defending Boston City League champions, O’Bryant, at Madison Park High School.
With the win, Fenway erased last season’s 50-43 loss at the hands of the same O’Bryant squad, and Veiga-Lee didn’t dispel that last year’s loss provided some needed motivation.
“I knew we had to come out and play hard. Last year we lost to them and this year we didn’t want to lose so we just kept going and going and we won,” said the junior guard, who was named the tournament's MVP. “ It just felt great to win if you ask me. Made us feel good to know that we can win.”
Veiga-Lee and the Lady Panthers now move on to the states after winning their last 13 out of 14 games.
“We come to play every night –- who ever has us is going to have a tough game (because) we come to play and we like to play good competition and we enjoy it so we look forward to it,” said Fenway first-year head coach John Rice. “We had a good group coming in and we just changed up our system and we put defense first.”
Defense was the name of the game for the first four minutes of play as Fenway jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead behind the interior defense of 6-foot-2 freshman center Jalissa Ross. Ross, who just missed on a double-double with eight points and 11 rebounds, dominated the paint limiting the Lady Tigers to a free throw in the first 3:57 of play as Fenway led 10-1 midway through the first quarter.
Vieiga-Lee was just warming up as the tournament MVP hit three-of-four three pointers in the first half alone. Viega-Lee’s second three-pointer of the first stanza started off the second quarter and after Cadieja Matthews (16 points; 6-of-7 from charity stripe) hit two free throws, Fenway led comfortably 20-6 with six minutes left to play in the first half.
“(Veiga-Lee)’s one of the best players in the state and all coaches try to push their players but you can clearly see she is going to play Division 1 basketball and she has no weaknesses in her game at all,” said Rice. “She’s unselfish, she scores when she has to, handles (the ball), she’s quick – great all-around game under the pressure.”
O’Bryant had plenty of opportunities on the glass all game. As a team, the Lady Tigers ripped down 24 offensive rebounds but still trailed at the half 27-11. The Lady Tigers didn’t roll over though and opened the second half with outstanding defense of their own as Ayana Green swiped two steals on Fenway’s first two possessions to spark an 8-0 run out of the gates to cut the Lady Panthers lead in half, 27-19, with 4:11 left in the third quarter.
“Talent has (always) been here and we expected a tough battle,” said Rice.
But Veiga-Lee’s magic was at it again as an offensive rebound put-back swung the pendulum back the Lady Panthers’ way. After Viega-Lee reached the 20-point mark with seven minutes left to play in regulation, Fenway was back out in front 41-22 early in the fourth quarter.
Veiga-Lee deferred to her team and head coach for turning last season’s loss into a victory in 2012.
“We just played as a team, my team stepped up and we did it,” said Veiga-Lee. “Oh, he’s the best coach, he really helped us out and you listen to him – you win.”