By Dan Harrison
---- — HAMILTON — The Hamilton-Wenham girls basketball team picked a bad time to have its worst defensive quarter of the season last night. The Generals gave up nearly two dozen points to visiting Stoneham in the first quarter of their Division 2 North first round game.
The road back was long and steep at first, but Hamilton-Wenham chipped away bit by bit and, with a spectacular fourth quarter effort, eventually sent Stoneham packing 58-53.
“Defensively we didn’t make our rotations and they hit some shots. They hit a few three-pointers and we tried to clamp down,” said H-W head coach Jon DeMarco, whose team trailed 22-10 after the first quarter.
“The big adjustment in the second half was we composed ourselves and we made our rotations.”
The Generals (16-5) will now get to host another playoff game (likely Saturday) in the Division 2 North quarterfinals against 13th seeded Dracut, which upset Wilmington last night.
Nerves can be tricky. Hamilton-Wenham looked shell-shocked in the opening eight minutes, turning the ball over to the Spartans’ press while allowing a lot of open looks at the basket.
But in the second half — and the fourth quarter in particular — the Generals were cool, calm and collected while Stoneham (10-11) turned the ball over and let the hosts take the momentum.
The Generals pressed the entire game and in the fourth quarter, the Spartans got tired. And when a basketball team gets tired, sloppiness follows.
Fifth-seeded Hamilton-Wenham cut an 11-point Stoneham lead at the half to just four points heading into the fourth quarter.
“I told the girls I felt like if we cut it to single digits going into the fourth quarter we were in good shape,” said DeMarco. “We wear teams down. Stoneham looked tired in the third and fourth quarter ... and that was to our advantage.”
It was no one player that turned things around for the Generals. In the fourth quarter especially, the comeback was a true team effort.
Senior Haley Willis, who couldn’t find her stroke throughout the game, scored nine of her 11 points in the final frame, including a perfect 6-for-6 performance from the charity stripe. She also hit an NBA-range three-pointer to bring H-W back within one point just after Stoneham’s Grace Macura hit her own three-pointer to put the Spartans up four.
Senior Lesley Bynum hit a big three-pointer and finished a strong drive to the basket that put H-W ahead by three points with just over a minute left.
Freshman Kelly Walsh converted two big layups, senior Sue Rose showed great ball security and was a calming presence when the Spartans did press. Catherine Ecker and Sam Charette limited second chance opportunities defensively and altered Stoneham shots in the lane.
Then there was junior Julia Fibbe (12 points), who didn’t score in the fourth but was instrumental in the comeback as the Generals most consistent offensive option especially on the fast break where she finished with poise.
“As a group, the girls really rallied around each other, supported each other and fought for each other,” explained DeMarco. “I know it’s cliche, but we told them not to leave anything out there. And they left it all out there.”
Hamilton-Wenham 58, Stoneham 53
at Hamilton-Wenham Regional H.S. Gym
Stoneham: Bramante 3-2-8, Macura 5-3-17, Gallahue 3-0-7, Norton 1-4-6, Brown 1-2-4, Fucci 2-2-6, Kelly 2-1-5. Totals 17-14-53.
Hamilton-Wenham: Walsh 6-1-13, Rose 0-2-2, Willis 2-6-11, Ecker 2-1-6, Charette 2-0-4, Eagar 0-1-1, Fibbe 5-2-12, Bynum 2-4-9. Totals 19-176-58.
Halftime: Stoneham, 33-20
3-pointers: S, Macura 4, Gallahue; HW, Willis, Ecker, Bynum.
Records: HW, 16-5; S, 10-11