WORCESTER, Mass. -- It isn't often when the Andover girls basketball team runs into an opponent that can match its speed and quickness. But as they so often have proved over an amazing three-year run, the Golden Warriors' strict attention to defense knows no limitations.
Boston College-bound senior Nicole Boudreau led the way with 31 points, 11 rebounds and five steals, while fellow senior Ally Fazio chipped in with nine points -- and turned in a stellar defensive performance guarding two-time reigning Western Mass. Player of the Year, Monique Heard -- to lead Andover to its third straight Div. 1 state championship, a 61-45 victory over Holyoke at the DCU Center Saturday night.
"They've had a target on their back all year, people talking about going undefeated and a three-peat," said Andover coach Jim Tildsley of his squad. "It's so much easier to say than to perform and that's why I'm so proud of these kids. We are just so mentally tough. We're good. I mean we're very talented but, mentally tough...we could have packed it in a couple of times and we didn't.
"That's the kind of kids I have. Nicole and Ally are such great leaders and the other kids feed right off them. I'm so proud. Three in a row, and the icing on the cake is going undefeated."
The Golden Warriors (27-0) had to work for this one as Holyoke (22-3) displayed speed and quickness unlike any they had seen this year. The Purple Knights took a 27-25 lead into halftime following a three-pointer by Kirsy Segarra and a free throw by Heard, while limiting Boudreau to just a pair of baskets in the second.
Rather than wilt under the pressure, Andover instead returned to its defensive roots with Fazio taking the lead role while outscoring the Knights, 16-3, in the frame. Both Fazio and Devon Caveney (13 points) knocked down clutch threes in the third, as did Boudreau to get herself back on track.
"We were down and coming out of halftime we were thinking about keeping our heads up," Fazio explained. "The only way you're going to win a game is to keep your head up and have heart. Everyone's always all over Nicole. Nicole will hit any shot from any distance, she can drive, she can do everything so they're going to be all over her and everyone tells us that we have to be ready to step up whenever the opportunity comes."
Holyoke attempted to claw its way back in the fourth and back to back buckets by Alison Littles (eight points, 15 rebounds) and Kelly Reardon cut the deficit to 10 at 51-41. That's when Boudreau came up with one of her biggest moments, draining a long three while getting slammed to the floor, sitting up and pumping her fist as the ball dropped cleanly through the hoop.
"All throughout the game I didn't really have much space," Boudreau admitted. "They played pretty close on me on defense. When I got a little bit of space, luckily I could hit the shot and at the time it was a pretty big shot because they had some momentum going their way and it kind of stopped."
That would be as close as the Knights would get the rest of the way as Boudreau, Caveney and Fazio combined to go 7-for-7 at the free throw line down the stretch.
Heard showed why she has been held in such high regard throughout her career, finishing with a team-high 17 points. But Fazio made her expend every ounce of energy she had and tired enough so that just seven of those points came in the second half.
"Ally said from the beginning that she wanted to cover (Heard) and we had total trust in Ally that she could do it," said Boudreau. "We knew she was going to make her points and make some plays but I think Ally contained her pretty well. As long as she didn't score 30 or 40, we did pretty well. Can't say enough about Ally."
Added Fazio, "Honestly she is the best player I've played against the whole entire season. I was not ready for that at all. I knew she was good but she was very very good. She is so fast. If you give her too much space, she'll just shoot it and if you get too close she'll just go right by you.
"This was the biggest challenge of my whole career. My job for this game was to stay on her. We knew going into it she was their best player so my job was to stay on her. I can't really force her left or right because she's good at both so I just had to play her straight up and play physical."