WELLESLEY, Mass. -– When the schedule was released for the Comcast IAABO Board 27 Classic, the opening game on the docket raised the eyebrows of many who follow Massachusetts high school girl’s basketball.
Catholic Central League champion No. 2 Archbishop Williams and Merrimack Valley Conference Large champion No. 4 Billerica opened Sunday’s tournament at Babson College in front of a packed house.
After 32 minutes of grinding, defensive basketball it was Archbishop Williams (17-4) who came out on top as they outlasted Billerica, 45-39, in the first girls semifinal game.
Archies started and finished the game strong despite Billerica hanging tough throughout. Both teams employed various zone and match-up defenses that helped dictate the pace of the low-scoring affair.
Archies junior guard Leah Spencer scored seven of her game-high 13 points in the opening quarter, as Archies took a 14-7 lead out of the gate.
Billerica (16-2) trailed for most of the game, until the final quarter of play when they battled back to tie it at 36-36. The Indians overcame a clear height advantage to get to loose balls and grind their way back into the contest.
“Some shots started to fall in the second half,” Billerica head coach Chris Doneski said after the game. “We are usually pretty good at being able to score on the interior but their size really took a lot of that away.”
With 4:37 remaining in the game and the game tied at 36-36, Archies ran off seven straight points in less than two minutes to give them the momentum and cushion to hold on for the win.
Archbishop Williams converted 10-of-13 free throws in the final quarter of play to hold off any final comeback attempt.
Playing their third game in four days, Archbishop Williams battled through some fatigue to get the necessary defensive stops down the stretch.
“This is our third game in four days against three good teams,” Archbishop Williams head coach Jim Bancroft said. “We will take the win and hopefully be ready to go for tomorrow.”
Archies sophomore forward Alana Gilmer scored eight points, grabbed nine rebounds and had four steals in the win. Junior forward Olivia Conrad (10 points) and sophomore center Jaylen Williams (10 rebounds, four blocks) were also key factors in the paint for Archies.
Billerica was led by senior center Joslyn King (10 points, 13 rebounds). King played her best basketball in Billerica’s fourth quarter comeback run. Senior guard Brittany Lomanno and senior forward Danielle Nickerson both had eight points for the Indians.
Clutch Senior: Archie’s senior guard Sara Ryan was big down the stretch with two steals and five points -- including a pivotal and-one conversion, in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to help seal the victory.
The Southern New Hampshire University-bound Ryan scored 10 points to go with four steals on the afternoon.
“She has been on Varsity for four years so she understands what we are trying to,” Bancroft added. “She steps in and talks to the team at the half and at timeouts and gives the team positive feedback. She has turned out to be a really good leader.”
Monday’s match-ups: No. 2 Archbishop Williams will take on No. 1 Reading in Monday’s final. The two top teams in ESPN Boston’s latest girls poll will tip at 2:30 p.m. at Babson.
Reading defeated Natick 64-40 n the second semi-final game. Richmond-bound forward Olivia Healy (30 points) and junior guard Bridget Clements (14 points, all in the first half) led the way for the Rockets.
The consolation game between Billerica and Natick starts the final day of action at 1 p.m.