(Video courtesy of Eric Esteeves)
BROCKTON, Mass. -- Archbishop Williams' Sara Ryan watched as her layup clanked off the front of the rim, then exhaled when sophomore Leah Spencer swooped in from the backside, and floated in the rebound for a go-ahead score against Coyle-Cassidy with 15 seconds left.
And for those final 15 ticks, Ryan was on pins and needles. For the first time since stepping on the TD Garden floor two years ago for the Division 3 Eastern Mass Championship, she said, "my heart was beating out of my chest."
"Literally," she added. "It was so nerve-wracking. But we kept it together."
The Bishops came out of the ensuing timeout and thwarted Coyle from getting a decent look in either of their two final possessions, stuffing a would-be layup at one end and funneling the ballcarrier into a sideline trap at the other end, with some help from Ryan. The Bishops (20-5) held on for a 46-44 comeback victory over the Warriors before a capacity crowd at Massasoit Community College, avenging last year's Division 3 South final loss and punching their ticket to return trip in the process.
"It's happened before, where we've come back and won," Ryan said. "We never let our heads down. The fans are crazy, we never let them get to us. We do what we have to do."
Ryan (11 points, three steals, two blocks) tied it up at 44-all with three minutes to go, snatching an inbounds pass in the corner deep in Coyle (20-2) territory and dishing to a wide-open Spencer charging the lane.
For the next 2:45, neither team could manage a point, not even a free throw. Instead, the raucous crowds were treated to forced turnover after first turnover, neither team allowing the other much in the way of good approaches to the basket.
Archies head coach Jim Bancroft called a timeout with 1:24 to play. Out of that, Michaela Flanagan swung behind a screen to the top of the key and launched a three-point shot that rolled in and then out.
Coyle's Tricia Quinn was there for the rebound, but down at the other end the Warriors ran into more trouble. Andreya DeSousa lost control of her dribble in front of an Archies defender, but caught a break when a jump ball was called, keeping possession at Coyle's end. But with two seconds remaining on the shot clock, Quinn was forced to heave up an off-balance three-point attempt from the left wing.
Kayla Papazian scooped up the ball at the weakside post and tossed it off to Ryan, who came dribbling up the middle of the court as the Bishops set up for an isolation. Ryan rolled around a screen on the right wing, drove in between two Coyle defenders and tried to kiss the glass with a right-handed layup, only to see it pop off the front iron.
Luckily Spencer (11 points, nine rebounds), who had just cut across to the left elbow on the clearout, was in good position for the put-back from the weak side.
"I was thinking, she might miss it, so I had to be in there for the rebound," Spencer said. "I was in the right place at the right time."
A timeout was immediately called. Out of it, Quinn was stuffed by 6-foot-2 sophomore Olivia Conrad driving down the left side, resulting in a jump ball, Archies possession, and another timeout called by Bancroft. Spencer was fouled when play resumed, but she missed both her shots.
But the Bishops' bothersome press defense was there to seal the deal. After the inbounds, Coyle's ballcarrier was funneled to the sideline by Ryan, and met with a trap. Coyle was unable to get a last-second shot off.
"We thought we'd be able to wear them down, but they just kept coming back and back," Bancroft said of Coyle. "I've got to give them a lot of credit for playing a tough game."
Quinn, a 6-foot-2 senior, finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and six blocks in her final game for Coyle. DeSousa led the Warriors with 15 points, while 6-foot sophomore Lindsay Bumila had a double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds).
Bishops on the Swarm: Bancroft kidded that on most nights, he waits "too long" to apply full-court pressure. But on this night, trailing 12-7 after one quarter and 21-12 midway through the second, time was of the essence.
"I decided, screw it, we've got to go for it," Bancroft said. "We were down by six, I think, and it didn't feel like we were going to get back in the game unless we put some pressure on them with some trapping. I figured that was the only way we were going to get back into it."
With its combination of length and lateral quickness -- and its depth off the bench in both categories -- the Archies press can be suffocating when applied correctly. With Ryan leading the way, backcourt pressure was intense and immediate, with the junior captain usually picking up the ballcarrier immediately after the inbound, staying on her hip and sealing her off to either sideline.
When they went with a 2-2-1 look, a defender or two often converged on a ballhandler deep in their own end.
Down 37-33 to start the fourth quarter, Ryan quickly evened it up with two quick steals for baskets. By the waning minutes of the fourth, Coyle players were pressured so deep in their territory they were dribbling the ball back and forth along their own baseline.
Just how much do these girls work on that lateral quickness?
"Probably for the whole practice," Ryan said, laughing, with a hint of sarcasm. "Just kidding. But no, we do it a lot. We've got to stay in shape. Games like these, it comes in handy, too."
Up Next: The Bishops will be making their sixth straight appearance in the Division 3 South Final when they face off with Fairhaven on Saturday at UMass-Boston. Archies won the South four years in a row, winning back-to-back state titles in 2007 and 2008, before bowing out to Coyle in last year's final.
Fairhaven cruised to an easy 56-41 win over Martha's Vineyard in the semifinal immediately preceding Archies' battle with Coyle at Massasoit.