BOSTON -- The Hull High School girls’ basketball team was no stranger to challenges, even before they faced a pesky New Mission team Friday in the Division 4 State Final at the TD Garden.
It came into the state tournament as No. 16 seed in the South and had to win five games, including one against No. 1 seeded Old Colony, to get a shot at the championship. It won two of those games by four points, which proved it had the grit to survive a fourth quarter run by New Mission to come out on top, 59-55.
Hull (16-10) lead a majority of the game and held a 40-31 lead after three quarters. Up until that point, it had been using its size and inside game to draw fouls and get to the free throw line.
“We play against teams in our league that are tall and very physical down low, so to play against a team that had amazing three-point shooters and is not very strong down low is opposite from what we’re used to,” said Nicole Heavern, who had 27 points and 11 rebounds. “We took advantage of our height and kept going down low and it worked out for us.”
New Mission (18-6) would not be held down however, and brought the deficit down to two points. Even though it was not as tall as Hull, it was much quicker, so it closed the gap on the scoreboard with transition baskets and by creating turnovers. In the last minute, Jazuela Larguente hit two clutch three-pointers, keeping her team within two whenever it appeared Hull might be putting the game away.
She finished with 23 points for New Mission, including a 14-point fourth quarter that just wasn’t enough to get the score even to Hull’s.
“(Hull) pretty much knew exactly what to do, but we fought hard though,” said New Mission coach Greg Berry. “We tried to make it a fast-paced game and sometimes when you late rally, the glass slipper comes off and Cinderella goes back to her normal self. That’s how I take this game today.”
When it seemed like Hull had its back agains the ropes, it was its mental toughness than kept them from giving up the lead. With the seconds waning and New Mission forced to foul, Amy MacDonald and Lauren Geary made the necessary free throws to keep the game in their team’s favor.
“I just told them to stay mentally tough, don’t break down, don’t panic, don’t turn the ball over,” said Hull coach Elizabeth Londergan. “We were up, so there was no need for us to panic. I told them to just stay under control.”
MacDonald’s were particularly crucial, with her final two coming with 19 seconds left. She was 4-of-4 from the line in the fourth. She finished the game with 8 points, all of which came in the final frame.
Geary was 5-of-6 from the line in the fourth, and 8-of-10 for the game. She finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
As a team, Hull was 27-of-39 from the line, as opposed to New Mission, who was only 4-of-9 from the line. The discrepancy came from Hull’s continued inside game. Heavern went to the line 17 times in the game, converting 11. She got to the line 10 times in the first quarter as New Mission tried to find an answer to her team’s size advantage.
“Free throws were key,” said Geary. “We work on them every day at practice and we knew this game was going to come down to a few points and we made them when it counted.
Hull survived what would be a debilitating problem for many athletic programs: a lack of financial support from the school’s budget. Rather than use it as an excuse, it became a rallying point.
“This is our second year in a row with no money,” said Londergan. “We have no money in the athletic budget.”
“When I was coaching two years ago they said we might not have sports and I’m thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ How can you not have sports? I just didn’t get it. Now with the tough times they said everyone needed to fundraise and everyone had to do it or we might not have been able to play.”
“The boosters, the mothers and fathers, all the student athletes, they all stepped up.”
Now they have a state championship.