Div. 1 Girls: Masconomet 55, L-S 43

WESTFORD, Mass. — Bob Romeo hinted to Claudia Marsh that she could be the key for Masconomet to get to the Div. 1 North finals before the Chieftains semi-final matchup against Lincoln-Sudbury (16-7).

Apparently the hint, and a little pep talk, did the trick.

Marsh finished with 19 rebounds, 11 of those coming on the offensive end, and helped spearhead the third-seeded Chieftians’ (20-3) defensive attack to take out No. 7 seed L-S, 55-43, on Thursday night at Westford Academy.

The head coach had an inkling that his junior forward could be the difference between a win and a loss, and he was all smiles after the game.

“This was the most active I’ve ever seen her,” said Romeo. “We talked to her before the game. We told her that she was the wild card and that she could go wherever she wanted to out there, and I thought she did a great job. She was so active, just constantly going after the ball.”

Marsh is the prototypical player for the Chieftains this season, as she has the length to guard bigger players and the quickness to match up against guards. But it was her nose for the ball tonight that helped Masconomet turn missed shots by the Warriors into transition buckets in bunches in this one.

“I got out there and (coach) told me before the game to just run on them and keep running,” said Marsh. “We all know if we lose then we are done. None of us want to go home yet.”

Stewart Gets Going: While Marsh was taking care of the defense and rebounding for the Chieftains, Brooke Stewart shook off a slow start, mostly because of the defense by Warriors’ freshman Kristen Ngan, to help awaken the offense in the second quarter.

Stewart canned back-to-back 3-pointers to account for the first eight points of the Chieftains 17-2 outburst in the second quarter. Masconomet grabbed a 29-22 lead at the half after scoring nine points in the first quarter and Stewart was responsible for 11 in the second frame.

“Once I hit one I’m pretty streaky when it comes to that kind of stuff,” said Stewart, who finished with 22 points on the night. “I kind of settled into my game. I know I kind of threw up a few crappy shots at first, but I got in a flow and it was a quick game, which we liked.”

Quick Release: Stewart keeps her hands low and almost pushes the ball towards the hoop with her left hand, which results in a very quick release. She showed off the ability to hit step-back 3-pointers and get them off with ease without a defender getting a hand in the way of throwing off her shot.

That quick release was on display at the end of the third quarter.

With 0.9 seconds on the clock before the end of the quarter, Masconomet had the ball near halfcourt and Stewart got the ball in bounds and rifled off a deep 3-pointer just in time to take a 45-36 lead.

Stewart was asked if she normally can get off a shot in 0.9 seconds and without hesitation, and further explanation, she smiled and said “yes.”

“She’s got that quick of a release,” said Romeo. “That’s why I called the play for her to just catch-and-shoot, because she can shoot it in less than 0.9 seconds. I thought it was a huge momentum (changer) when she buried that. It’s like one of those back-breakers.”

Next Up -- The Champs: Masconomet will now take on the two-time defending state champs Andover at the Tsongas Center on Saturday (3:45 p.m). The last time the two teams met in the playoffs it wasn’t a pretty sight for the Chieftains.

Andover handled a young, inexperience Masconomet team by 40 points, and Romeo is looking to see what time has done for his now experience core of players.

“We kind of said, ‘Hey, we are young. Let’s see what we can do in a couple of years when we are all grown up,’” said Romeo. “We are going to get our second chance, it will be interesting.”