WORCESTER, Mass. -– For the second straight year, there is a girls basketball state champion from the reputable Tri-Valley League. It just wasn’t the most obvious candidate.
Perceived to be underdogs in the Division 4 field at 10-10, the 15th and final seed of the Central district, Millis instead blew away the field. Culminating in tonight’s 57-36 victory over New Mission for its second D4 state title in six seasons, the Mohawks won each of their six MIAA State Tournament games by double-digits, with an average margin of victory of 17.8 points.
“I honestly thought we would be here,” Mohawks head coach Dave Fallon said. “We lost in the South Sectional last year, and we returned everyone, so I felt confident that we could be right here at this moment.
“I don’t know if I could have guaranteed a victory – they [New Mission] are an excellent team, they come out of the city and they’re fast – but I expected this. It was validation for the kids that worked so hard, I’m glad they have this moment.”
The Mohawks outscored the Titans 11-2 in the second quarter to take a 25-10 halftime lead, heating up the ball with a variety of 2-2-1, 1-2-2 and 1-3-1 press defenses and creating baskets in transition, led by their catalyst, junior forward Amy Assad (15 points, 14 rebounds).
“I was worried a lot about their speed, but right away we came out defensively and I thought we bothered them without pressuring them, which has been our hallmark the entire playoffs,” Fallon said. “It started right from the beginning, I felt confident we’d be pretty effective against them.”
But the Titans came barreling out of the gates to start the third quarter. De’Andra Humphries (14 points) scored the first six points of the half, followed by a free throw and transition basket by Jaszala Laracuente, to cut the lead to 26-19. Then in the fourth quarter, the Titans closed the lead to 31-26 after Humphries found 6-foot-2 sophomore center Denia Stewart underneath for a layup with 6:30 to go.
From therein, however, it was all Mohawks. Over the final six minutes of play, Millis outscored the Titans 26-10 to run away with the D4 state championship, getting quality play in the paint from Assad and Camden Morrison (14 points, seven rebounds) and a slew of free throws from Shayna Hopkins.
“[Amy] is our best player, and she makes our other players better,” Fallon said. “The last two games especially, she hasn’t shot the ball particularly great, but I think she just filled in on so many little things tonight, she’s tough.”