TOPSFIELD — If the Masconomet girls basketball team didn’t feel the pressure against Pentucket last Monday night, it most definitely felt it last night against Newburyport.
The undefeated Chieftains faced their largest halftime deficit of the season, down by 10 at the break. A fourth quarter push, however, was the difference as Masco got the better of the Clippers, 56-48.
The victory, the Chieftains’ 16th of the season, not only kept their perfect record intact, but also gave them their first Cape Ann League Large championship since 2008.
“This is just a good win for us, it keeps us going in the right direction,” said Masconomet coach Bob Romeo. “It was nice that we were able to get the CAL title on Senior Night. That was one of our preseason goals. Our five seniors, Nicole Femino, Hannah Kiernan, Lexi Nason, Janelle Shea and Megan Letvinchuk — its a credit to them. They weren’t going to let this not happen.”
Masco held Newburyport (12-6) to just six fourth quarter points to secure the win.
“We didn’t crack defensively. In the fourth quarter I thought we were all over the place. Our girls are in shape. The running in practice makes a difference. They might not like it, but it’s for a reason,” Romeo said.
The Clippers led 42-36 at the end of the third quarter. The Chieftains had no answer for Morgan Johnston and Mary Pettigrew, who combined for 13 points in the third.
It was a different situation in the fourth, however, as Femino made two free throws to tie the game at 44-all with four minutes to play. Newburyport turned the ball over on the next possession and Kiernan buried a three to give the Chieftains their first lead since the first quarter. Masco took advantage of Newburyport’s turnovers and got to the line more than a dozen times in all.
“Ten points isn’t a big lead against Masco,” said Newburyport head coach Gregg Dollas. “It’s hard to keep Masco down. The lead is never safe with the way they can hit threes. We had a lead, they would clamp down on us. It’s just about finishing mentally and physically.
“I think we’ve had four games like this one this season and on all four of them we’ve been on the losing end. It’s unfortunate to lose those games, but it’s nice to see the girls continue to fight throughout.”
Kiernan (six rebounds, three assists) was on fire in the second half, scoring 19 of her game-high 24 points. She scored 11 points in the fourth quarter alone.
The Chieftains went 11-for-14 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. Masco never relinquished the lead after Kiernan’s go-ahead three with four minutes to play.
“I believe we were able to wear them down because they began to miss shots that they had been making,” added Romeo. “They turned the ball over on plays that they weren’t earlier and I think we were able to get some easier baskets at our end because their feet were a little slower moving in the fourth quarter.
“Hannah took advantage at getting to the rim, making free throws and setting other players up. I thought as a senior she stepped up huge on Senior Night to kind of pull one out of fire for us, because we were in trouble. We were losing at every checkpoint.”
Femino also added to the rally in the fourth quarter, pouring in eight of 16 points down the stretch. Point guard Meghan Collins added six points, six rebounds and six assists, while Nason pulled down a team-high nine rebounds.
Freshman Stephanie Mini finished with six rebounds and two points. Junior guard Kate Kitsakos added five points, three rebounds and four steals off the bench.
Masco got to the basket more in the second half. The Chieftains had a difficult time doing that in the first half and as a result they were settling for long shots.
“We had a difficult time getting into the paint in the first half because we haven’t seen a lot of one-two-two zone defense,” noted Romeo. “We just started working on some zone offense stuff, we’re not quite there yet. We have a week to really practice it, but most teams have played us man-to-man.”
Newburyport’s Johnston finished with 11 points, Mary Pettigrew and sister Emily each finished contributed with a team-high 12 points and Alyssa Leahy chipped in with nine.