LOWELL — Masconomet girls basketball coach Bob Romeo specifically devised this season's schedule to best get his team ready for where it was Saturday night — in the Division 1 North tournament final.
The Chieftains played regular season games at Central Catholic, on the road against Taunton, in the highly competitive Comcast Tournament, and even squared off against Cambridge twice. It was all done to prepare Romeo's players for a shot at playing at the TD Garden in Boston in a state semifinal.
Unfortunately, none of those non-league opponents they faced had a player quite like Andover's Nicole Boudreau.
The two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Massachusetts torched Masconomet in the first half Saturday, and the two-time defending state champ Golden Warriors escaped with a 61-53 win.
Boudreau scored 21 of her game-high 29 points in the opening half, but the game was much closer than when the two teams met in the postseason two years ago and Andover trumped the Chieftains by 40 points.
"These kids are all grown up now. They were young sophomores back then and pretty inexperienced. This year's team had a different maturity and set out from day one to get at least to this level," said Romeo, whose team ended its season at 20-4. "This was the hardest schedule I put together in 10 years. It was all to get ready for this."
Masco opened the game in a 1-3-1 zone that had worked splendidly against Lincoln-Sudbury in the semifinals Thursday night, but Andover head coach (and Romeo's good friend) Jim Tildsley had been at that game and devised a few offensive sets in practice Friday to open up his perimeter shooters.
Boudreau, a 2,000-point scorer for the Golden Warriors, responded emphatically with four 3-pointers to start the game as Andover's first six field goals went from long distance.
"That was impressive," Romeo said of Boudreau's dead-eye shooting. "She's the two-time Gatorade Player of the Year — and she showed everyone in the building why."
Romeo scrapped the zone in favor of an aggressive man-to-man look, but foul trouble and a lack of rebounding in the third quarter ultimately sent the Chieftains home just a game shy of a shot to play on the Garden parquet.
Masconomet's Claudia Marsh, Chelsea Nason and Brooke Stewart all split time face-guarding Boudreau in the second half, during which time the mightiest Golden Warrior only had a pair of field goals, but it was all she'd need. All three Chieftain defenders played most of the second half in foul trouble, while the Golden Warriors milked the benefit of an early bonus and were able to convert at the free throw line when needed.
"I kind of figured they'd come out in zone ... and we shot lights out in the first period," said Tildsley, whose team has now won 65 of its last 66 games. "But when they went to man-to-man, they were pretty tough. We struggled for every point we had."
Senior captains Danielle Davis (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Stewart (18 points) carried Masco offensively until the latter picked up her fifth and final foul late in the fourth quietly. But the Chieftains never went quietly, even narrowing the Andover lead to just six points in the final minute.
Fellow senior captains Nason (9 points) and Taylor Evans (5 points, 7 rebounds) also played with passion in their final games in Masconomet red.
"I told them, 'Nobody lost this game; one team won,' and that's really what it comes down to," Romeo said. "We got behind the eight ball when they had that crazy first quarter and hit all those shots, but basically played them even from there."
Andover 61, Masconomet 53
Division 1 North final
at Tsongas Center, Lowell
Masconomet: Stewart 5-6-18, Davis 4-4-12, Marsh 4-1-9, Evans 2-1-5, Nason
4-0-9. Totals 19-12-53.
Andover: N. Boudreau 9-7-29, Caveney 3-3-12, Fazio 3-1-10, Gonzalez
2-2-7, J. Alios 1-0-2, R. Alios 0-1-1 Totals 18-14-61.
Halftime: Andover, 33-21.
3-pointers: M, Stewart 2, Nason; A, N. Boudreau 4, Caveney 3, Fazio 3, Gonzalez.
Records: M, 20-4; A, 25-0.