ROXBURY, Mass. -- The journey to the Boston City League Girls' Championship didn’t start mid-season for O'Bryant. Or, for that matter, at any point of the game.
The quest for the title, which was attained after a 50-43 victory over Fenway on Friday night at Madison Park High School, started over the summer, where the players would meet and learn how to play with each other. That work was instrumental for a team that features seven underclassmen, including an eighth grade point guard who runs the show.
“(We) worked hard ever since last season,” said senior Pierline Durand, who finished with 10 points and the tournament MVP honors. “We played over the summer together. We played in preseason on Saturdays. It’s a great feeling.”
The Lady Panthers (16-4) would need all that extra work together to hold off a late charge by the Panthers in the title game. Tajanay Veiga came to life with five of her 17 points in the final minute of play to pull the game to three points.
But O’Bryant (16-3) was able to close out the game, mostly because of the work on the glass that was showcased in the fourth quarter, in the games most crucial moments.
After Veiga converted a continuation bucket to pull the score to 46-43, the Panthers pressed the inbounders and came away with the steal. Chandlor Lyles picked off the inbounds pass and darted towards the net, but her attempt came up short. Raven Kelsey collected the rebound -- one of her 14 -- and dished it off to Durand, who was immediately fouled.
Durand made 1-of-2, but Kelsey was there again for a rebound and she dished it off to Kiana Dailey for a lay-up and the and-1 with six seconds left to go to seal it.
The tandem of Kelsey and Dailey collected 24 rebounds, including eight offensive boards in the fourth quarter to keep the Lady Tigers ahead.
“I told them to make sure they got the rebounds, because we were up and all we needed was the ball,” said head coach Trudy Fisher.
PRESS FOR SUCCESS
The Panthers could have been down and out in the game after they failed to convert a field goal in the games first seven minutes. The Lady Tigers could only mount a 10-1 lead in that time, and by the fourth quarter, Fenway was able to grab a 27-26 lead thanks to a lethal press that forced several turnovers.
Kayla Cox forced three straight turnovers in the third quarter, and her work with Veiga on the press made life miserable at times.
“We were trying to create our offense with our defense,” Panthers head coach Steve Drayton said. “We couldn’t hit anything. We couldn’t make anything. It was like we were drained. So I put pressure on them to try and get some offense out of it to get some easy ones.”
A BUDDING FUTURE
One of the subplots of the game was the great rivalry that is budding between two very young guards. Veiga has been a name to be reckoned with all season for Fenway, but Araion Bradshaw made a case to join those accolades with a strong tournament.
The beauty of this rivalry is that the two are friends off the court, and they are also just beginning their respective high school careers. Veiga is a sophomore, while Bradshaw is just an eighth grader.
“It’s great for the city, that’s what it is all about,” said Drayton. “It’s city kids getting an opportunity on the biggest stage to show their talents.
Added Fisher: “They respect each other. They are going to fighting each other for years to come.”
The two were constantly matched up against each other, and although they have much different games, the competitiveness to one-up the other is alive and well.
“Off the court she is my friend, but on the court she’s on the opposite team,” Bradshaw said. “I have respect for (Veiga). She’s a great player and we just go at it.”
Added Veiga, “When we get on the court we aren’t friends anymore, so we just have to go at it and go after each other."