WEST BRIDGEWATER — Geographically, it’s not an obvious rivalry.
But in the reality of Mayflower League high school girls basketball, Westport versus West Bridgewater has become the hot ticket in the past few years. Tuesday night was the latest chapter, as the two teams, both called Wildcats, faced off in the Mayflower League’s final.
WB won 54-31 to claim the league tournament championship.
Game night factors included the nine-player WB roster being reduced to just eight, as senior Kelsey Connors was sidelined. Just to make matters more suspenseful, sophomore Dorothea McGrath twisted an ankle in the first period, but came back to finish the game. WB senior Colleen O’Toole came down wrong on a knee in the third period, and was limited thereafter.
But a sterling defensive effort, and the long-range sharpshooting of eighth-grader Sophia Florio overcame all the numerical advantages in healthy bodies Westport may have had, and WB pulled away.
Florio may be an eighth grader, but she had ice water in her veins as a shooter in the biggest game of WB’s season, as she drained 7 3-pointers en route to her 23-point game-high total. None of Florio’s treys were particularly close to the line, and none of them seemed to hit anything but net, and after a slow start she connected on 7 of 13 shots over the final three periods.
“West Bridgewater is a great team with a great coach,” said a disappointed Westport coach Michael Ponte. “We’ll get back and work hard, and look forward to next season. We were just happy to have a season this year.”
“We have gotten into this rivalry with Westport,” said Connors. “In the past few years in our league they’ve beaten us a lot, it seems. Last year we played really well in the final, and lost to them, so to come back this season and be able to beat them three times is really satisfying.”
WB had won the first two meetings of the Wildcats, running away to a 50-28 victory in its home opener, only to have to eke out a 34-30 win a couple nights later at Westport. Westport came in at 9-2 with just those two losses to WB, and had steadily improved as the season progressed, in no small part because junior Lily Pichette blossomed into a dominant low-post scoring threat. The WB squad, meanwhile had kept chugging along, and posted a dozen wins, only losing a non-league matchup to East Bridgewater.
“I didn’t really talk about that three-times-in-a-season thing at all,” said WB coach Tim Doherty, “but it was in the back of my mind. And they had played really well at Westport, so I was very happy to see us get homecourt for this game.”
It looked shaky for the home team in the first quarter, as both teams tried to clamp down with full-court pressure. WB committed 8 turnovers, and found themselves trailing 10-9, only being that close because Westport was having its own shooting woes. WB’s ability to front Pichette and deny her the ball wreaked havoc with the visitor’s offense.
O’Toole, Sarah Corey, and McGrath were the main culprits tasked with trying to slow Pichette down.
“We really worked hard against (Pichette),” said Corey. “We knew we had to try and defend well against her if we were going to be successful tonight.”
“We had been concentrating on Pichette all game,” said Doherty. “We were well aware she’s been Player of the Week, and been scoring 20 points a game every time out. We wanted to front her, with help coming on the weak side, and it was a team effort.”
The WB defense reached its zenith in the second period, forcing 8 turnovers from their guests, who had problems even getting shots off. WB outshot Westport 16-9 in that period. With Florio heating up for 8 points, and the home team staging a 12-2 run over the final 3:33, WB went into halftime with a 26-15 lead.
After being held to 4 points in the first half, WB denied Pichette of any points in the second half. Jess Carney’s 3-pointer was the lone field goal for Westport in the third quarter, as 1-for-11 shooting left them in a 39-20 ditch going into the final frame.
On the other side, as WB’s lead expanded, the home team relaxed and began patiently looking for its shots. Westport held their hosts to just 8 attempts in that third frame, but WB hit four of them, including treys from Florio and McGrath. When Florio opened the final quarter with another 3-pointer, it seemed like time to circle the wagons.
But Westport didn’t get this far without having plenty of grit, and the visitors quickly scored 8 unanswered points, 7 of them from Sarah Perry, whose determination in the lane inspired her team to one final comeback effort. But those shooting woes continued to haunt the visitors, and the game’s last five minutes saw WB cap it off with a 12-3 run.
Beyond Florio’s 23 points, McGrath netted 14 with a trio of treys herself, and Corey added 7. Perry led Westport with 9 points, with Zoe Sylvain adding 8, and Carney 7.
Doherty, who had previously been the JV coach, had the unenviable job of replacing the legendary Steve Barrett, who had over 600 career wins, at the helm this year. A league title and a 13-1 record in this most challenging 2021 season is surely a laudable debut.
“I just wanted to keep the winning tradition going,” said Doherty. “It is never easy to replace a legend like Steve Barrett, but I just wanted to come in and do my best. I also have to give a lot of credit to our athletic director Jennifer Hammel, who did an amazing job just to allow us to keep the season intact. There was a lot of time and effort involved in being able to overcome all the obstacles this year, and she deserves credit for that, as do all our players. It certainly wasn’t an easy year.”
WB graduates three seniors this year, but the rest of the team is all underclassmen, without even one junior. For the WB senior trio, the usual mentoring role of team leaders was really emphasized, with three sophomores, two freshmen, and the precociously skilled eighth grader.
“It was awesome to be able to play with them and see them grow,” said Connors. “With the way they’ve developed already, and the way they will continue to improve, I’d say our team’s future looks really good for the next two or three years at least.”
“I am really proud of our younger teammates, for how far they’ve come this season,” said Corey. “It’s just been great being part of this team with them, a lot of fun.”