D1 South: Braintree 58, Newton North 45

BOSTON -– Midway through the fourth quarter of the Division 1 South Sectional girls title game, Braintree center Molly Reagan shifted from the low block out past the 3-point line. She caught an Ashley Russell pass in the corner and connected on a deep 3-pointer to put the Wamps up four with 3:45 to play.

“For a post player not to just step out and take a three, but to step out and take a three at the most important time of the game takes a lot of confidence,” said Braintree coach Kristen McDonnell. “That was the momentum changer for us. The crowd really got behind us after that. Sometimes you need a big shot that you don’t necessarily plan on, that might not be in the game plan, but you someone to step up and hit those shots.”

Added Reagan: “I’m normally not a 3-point shooter. This season, I really haven’t done that at all. Today, I was just open.”

McDonnell doesn’t hesitate to dial up Reagan’s number when Braintree needs a basket, mostly because the center has given her coach nothing but reasons to be confident.

“Molly’s been that type of player for her entire career,” said McDonnell. “Two years ago, she hit the biggest free throws here, last year she hit a big three in an earlier round game. She’s used to being in that position.”

With momentum in hand, Braintree ran away with a 58-45 win that was a much tougher battle than the score would indicate.

In the third meeting of the year between the two, Newton North was able to execute it’s game plan to perfection in the early going. Midway through the first, everything that could go right for North did, and they found themselves on an improbable scoring run against a team that bested them twice during the regular season.

The Wamps were held without a point for nearly an entire quarter –- during which Newton North rattled off an incredible 24-0 run. Braintree snapped that streak with a free throw late in the second , but the Tigers immediately responded with a 3-pointer.

A 27-1 run put Newton North up by 23 points, but from there Braintree slowly started cutting into that deficit.

By halftime they had trimmed it to 16, hinting they might be capable of the monumental comeback.

Proud, Prophetic Coach: As McDonnell and her staff marched toward the locker room at half time, readying themselves to prepare the Wamps for a daunting second half task, some welcome words made found the coaches’ ears.

“Before I even got into the room at halftime, we could hear what they were saying to each other,” said McDonnell. “It was all positive. Nobody was on each other. It was all ‘what are we going to do going forward, we’re going to chip away.’ It was all the things I was going to come in and say. I felt so proud.”

McDonnell was able to build off what her team was already discussing, and laid out a clear plan of how Braintree could hope to climb back into this one.

“We talked about it at halftime that if we could get it to just six points by the end of the third quarter, we’d be fine,” said McDonnell. “We just needed to chip away. It was funny because it was actually six points. I looked like a genius in the timeout after the quarter. Our shots just started to fall and we were able to take it from there.”

The Wamps came out for the third ignited, scorching the Tigers for an impressive 21 points to close the gap the six that McDonnell had called for. One of the biggest difference, though, was being able to slow North’s offense for the first time all night.

“We just went back to what we’re good at and that’s play really good man-to-man defense, and I thought we did that in the second half,” McDonnell said. “We tried to throw a few different things at them, including a zone that actually wasn’t that effective.”

Keelah’s Breaking Out Party: Perhaps the biggest key to the comeback was the play of freshman Keelah Dixon, who finished with nine points, throughout the third quarter. On both ends of the floor she seemed to spark Braintree, coming up with several steals to bolster the defense and scoring five big points at the beginning of a 10-0 run for the Wamps.

“Keelah’s been doing this all season, so it’s not really a surprise to us,” said McDonnell. “But I would say she had her breakout game tonight. I think she’s going to be noticed for a very long time now.”

Dixon, who was on the floor almost the entirety of the second half, pushed past the nerves that came with the biggest stage of her life to play the part of hero and send the Wamps back to TD Garden.

“There’s always nerves, especially in the beginning of a game,” said Dixon. “You’re trying to get those butterflies out and you have anxiety but I knew if I made a mistake I’d just have to get back and my team would pick me up. You always have to have confidence in your in shot. As a shooter you have to believe your shot is going in.”

Added Dixon: “To her credit, she played with a ton of pressure on her and just came out and got it done. Sometimes that’s the nice thing about a freshman. They almost don’t know what they’re supposed to feel and just come out and play and take what the defense gives them.”