Recap: No. 11 Newton North 54, No. 1 Braintree 46

NEWTON, Mass. -- Newton North girls' basketball coach Linda Martindale scheduled a scrimmage with the Tigers' JV boys' basketball team for yesterday's practice.

As her girls faced a much more physical and lengthier squad than they had seen most of the season they quickly got sense of what they would face on Tuesday. North had been pushed around the court by top-seeded Braintree in a large early season loss and Martindale knew the boys would represent that same defensive toughness.

The new practice showed immediate results on Tuesday as host No. 11 Newton North (11-1, 5-1) gave Braintree (11-2, 5-1) its only instate loss this year and tied the Wamps atop the Bay State (Carey) division with a 54-46 victory.

“They came after us in such a big way in the first game,” said Martindale. “The boys come into the gym and they are just naturally physical. The kids got really beat up yesterday and they got pushed around and we wanted them not to be rattled by that.”

North started a 15 point streak at 3:33 in the first quarter to pull ahead for good. While falling to court, Tigers' junior Maddie Bledsoe flipped a pass out to senior Madison Beatrice for an 8-7 three-pointer to start the drive. Junior Infiniti Thomas-Waheed used a slight lean to hit a tre in coverage and finish the run at 20-7 with 5:27 remaining in the second quarter.

Thomas-Waheed lead North with 13 points and four three-pointers.

“They had their hands low (and) that is when you take a shot,” said Thomas-Waheed. “(The scrimmage) made us get used to playing against an athletic (and) long team. (Coach) is constantly making us dive for balls.”

Trailing 27-14 at half, the reigning Division 1 South champs slowly knocked away at the lead and grabbed their first single-digit deficit since the first quarter with 1:25 left in the third. After 6-foot sophomore Bridget Herlihy lobbed an assist to younger sister Brianna in the paint, the sophomore tipped in a rebound for the 34-25 margin.

“We were trying to double the ball a little bit,” said Braintree coach Kristen McDonnell. “We were face guarding girls in the full

court and taking some chances. They made some outside shots so it made us extend our defense.”

Six straight early in the final quarter, including a pair of free throws by Bledsoe, helped settle North with a 44-27 advantage at 5:19. Bridget Herlihy forced an old-fashion three to prompt an eight-point tear for Braintree and bring the score to 46-36 with 3:20 left in the game.

However, North forced eight points in free throws in the final three minutes to pull away.

“We knew we had to stop them from running their set offense,” said Martindale. “They are bigger than us and we knew if the ball went inside we would get beat. We tried to keep our feet moving so we did not get sealed.”

Two late three-pointers by Braintree's leading scorer senior Rachel Norton (15 points) cut the deficit back to single-digits for the 54-46 final.

“We wanted to get a little more physical with them,” said McDonnell. “They attack the basket really well and they showed that tonight. They have inside (and) outside game.”

A defensively-sound Braintree squad that touts four players at least 5-foot-11 or higher has held teams to an average of 27.7 points per game. It was North's combination of man-to-man and 2-3 zone defense that shined early against the Wamps on Tuesday.

“We predominately did a man (and) switched into a zone after timeouts to make sure they were not going to set any double screens on us,” said Martindale. “Zone under the basket (to) push the defenders out.”

Braintree and North have finished first and second, respectively, in the Bay State Conference's Carey division the previous two season. The Tigers are looking to grab their first division title in three years.

“We needed to prepare ourselves for toughness,” said Martindale. “I think it is more for us to keep momentum. It is really important for us to know that we can beat teams.”