NEWTON, Mass. -- Kayla Burton had gone over this scenario countless times before with her frequent shooting partner, her father Steve.
When her Newton South teammate Jessa Rubera fought through a double-team to kick out a skip pass to Burton at the opposite wing, the Lehigh-bound senior point guard estimated she had about three seconds before a Newton North defender picked her up. Seemingly an ocean's length from the nearest defender, Burton repeated her father's advice -- "Take your time" -- as she let one rip.
From the sideline, South coach Sam Doner -- known for his loose reigns, a freelancing offense with few set plays -- recalled muttering, "That better go in." Like clockwork, it sank; and after a Lauren Levey three with 57 seconds left put the Lions up 49-43, the Lions' improbable overtime defeat of their cross-town archrivals was complete.
South, the No. 15 seed in MIAA Division 1 South, delivered one of the more surprising haymakers of a Thursday night full of upsets, knocking off No. 2 seed Newton North 49-45 before a capacity crowd at the Reggie Gymnasium.
"I actually looked at Jessa and she saw me," said Burton, who will continue her career next year at Lehigh. "I moved to an open spot, and she made that amazing skip pass...Jessa made such an amazing play, and made such an amazing pass."
Even more remarkable than the seedings is the fact that nearly two months ago, over the Holiday break in December, North cruised to an easy 53-28 victory over the Lions. The biggest difference from then to now? A renewed focus on the defensive end.
"What we learned as a team today, it's always 'Newton South versus Newton North', like this big whole ordeal" Burton said. "But really, it's just basketball. We made adjustments that we had to make, we listened to each other, and we knew we had to really box out on defense. I think that's what we did more today than last time."
North's frenetic slasher Infiniti Thomas-Waheed (19 points, 19 rebounds) tied the game at 43-43 with 29 seconds to go, first stopping a South player cold in their tracks with a vicious pick, then crashing to the rim and slipping in a second-effort put-back.
The Lions had a chance to win with 12 seconds left, Burton taking the ball in isolation against Thomas-Waheed. Burton drove baseline, but came up empty, with the 5-foot-10 Thomas-Waheed getting a small piece of it. Going the other way, the Tigers were unable to get a shot off before the buzzer, an entry pass getting lost in a scrum in the paint as time expired.
Halfway through the overtime, Burton came up with the go-ahead three, but it wasn't by design. The play was initially a high pick-and-roll, designed to clear out the left side and make room for sharp-shooting freshman Emily Chang (11 points, three 3-pointers), and thereunto divert the defense away from Burton and create a higher-percentage look at the basket. The play unraveled quickly, with Rubera getting trapped by two defenders along the baseline near the right block, but Rubera made a terrific second effort to extend the play, kicking the ball out.
"There's no really set plays for us, as far as half-court offense," Doner said. "Those plays, they're really just read and react. I'm just very proud of the kids reacting to and finding not just an open [player], but who I think is one of the better shooters on the team."
After South took a quick 7-0 lead to start the game, neither team ever led by more than five points, until Levey's three with less than a minute to go in overtime. The Tigers led 20-18 at the half, and South led 35-33 after three.
Infiniti and Beyond: Off to a 1-for-9 start from the field, North coach Linda Martindale briefly pulled Thomas-Waheed from the lineup early in the second quarter and told her, "If you want to get into a shooting contest with Kayla Burton, this isn't going to go down well for you."
"We play team basketball, and 1-for-9 means you better start doing something else, and that is start crashing boards," Martindale explained.
Thomas-Waheed heeded those words, and delivered, with 11 of her 19 boards coming on the defensive end.
"She rebounded beautifully for us, and we asked her to do that, and she did," Martindale said. "She did what she could do, and defensively we had her step up against Kayla. She's got good footwork. I was pretty happy overall. She's a team player, and when she did what we asked her to do she did it."
Thomas-Waheed, the daughter of Boston College men's basketball assistant coach Akbar Waheed, is regarded as one of the state's premier on-ball defenders. Part of the reason a variety of Division 1 schools have begun showing interest is for her defensive motor -- with her long arms, surgical footwork on the perimeter and ornery first-step explosion, the Tigers are one of the toughest outs in Eastern Mass. when she gets a full head of steam.
One particular sequence in the second quarter summed it all up nicely. From a stationary position near the scorer's table, Thomas-Waheed sprinted to a loose ball at the opposite sideline, submarining at the ball and taking out a South player in the process with a vicious undercut. The ball unable to be saved, Thomas-Waheed grabbed a loose board, gathering the ball with a loud slap of her left hand, and tossing a 50-foot outlet pass up-court to Amanda Ortiz for a 17-12 lead. The next time down, she completed North's 10-3 run with an up-and-under, for a 20-15 margin.
"She uses her athleticism -- big, strong, tall, and humble. I really respect her as a player," Burton said. "When I saw the change-up, and she was playing defense on me, I thought 'Oh shoot, this will be different from the last one'.
"Her long arms [are] really hard to get by. A lot of defenders are big like that, but her long arms are threatening and intimidating. She's really hard to go by."
Lion's Pride, But a Tiger at Heart: As a 1994 graduate of Newton North, Doner admits this victory, beating the Tigers in their own gym, comes a little bittersweet.
"I wish I could say it's a good feeling, but it's not," Doner said. "I owe most of my life to Newton North -- the teachers, the staff, the athletic director, the coaches, everyone. It's a good feeling coming in here obviously and beating this team, but inside I'm still Newton North.
"I'll always be Newton South as far as the coaching stuff. But life, growing up, there's nothing like Newton North. The good thing is, which I'm happy about, I've never played in this gym, this is a brand new building. I'll take this win and move on."