WOBURN, Mass. -- Even though it held a lead, things seemed uneasy for the Gloucester girls’ basketball team in the last two minutes of Thursday's Division 2 North semifinal with No. 1 seed Reading.
After holding a 56-48 lead with four minutes remaining, the Rockets clawed back, thanks to a series of Gloucester turnovers they converted into baskets to cut the deficit to 58-56, with a minute and a half remaining.
Gloucester stretched its lead back to six, seemingly taking back the momentum. That was until Carlene Kluge stormed down the court and knocked down a three, making it 62-59 with 27 seconds left.
With Reading forced to foul to stop the clock, Gloucester converted timely free throws and held on to win 66-62, moving on to face Arlington Catholic Saturday at the Tsongas Center in the Division 2 North state sectional finals.
“This feels good,” said senior Hannah Cain (13 points, 14 rebounds). “Everyone said that we couldn’t do it, so this feels good.”
Cain’s sister, junior Heather, was also a star for Gloucester (17-6), finishing the game with 23 points. They, nor any of their teammates, were phased by the dominant No. 1 seed, or the pressure of the win-or-go-home scenario.
“Coach tells us to take every play like it’s its one game, so we just try to take it one play at a time,” said Cain.
Gloucester ran the court effectively, trying to combat Reading’s size advantage by not getting into a half-court game with them. It also played tremendous defense however, and finished with 11 steals as a team.
“We’ve been talking about this since the beginning of the year, that you have to come out with that kind of fire and you’ve got to believe that you can put yourself in a position to be successful,” said Gloucester coach Jon Flanagan. “Then down the stretch you’ve got to have the composure that we did.”
Reading (21-2) held a 17-12 lead after the first quarter, but Gloucester kept using its speed to create points. Reading played in a 1-2-2 zone and Gloucester continued to put up long-range shots. Even though the shots were not falling, the Cain’s and Katherine Ciaramitaro (eight points, four steals) created steals on the defensive end that resulted in transition points.
Junior guard Audrey Knowlton added 16 points, six rebounds, and two steals to the Gloucester offense.
Gloucester took a 34-31 lead into the half, but quickly gave it back early in the third when Reading combined a greater utilization of Kluge in the post and an increased defensive intensity to get the game even. The No. 5 seed kept its foot on the gas and got itself a 51-45 lead after three.
In the final frame, Reading had difficulty hitting shots and grabbing offensive rebounds early, which allowed Gloucester to extend its lead and eventually hold on to the tight victory.
“We got a little complacent offensively and we tried to slow things down a little more than we would have liked, but we were looking for better shots and perhaps we got a bit tentative instead of being aggressive as we were early,” said Flanagan.
Olivia Healy was a do-it-all player for Reading, scoring nine, grabbing seven rebounds, and getting five steals and two blocks. Melissa Dalpozzo was also a force for the Rockets, finishing with eight points and 13 rebounds.