D2 Girls State Final: Arlington Cath. 43, Longmeadow 35 (OT)

WORCESTER, Mass. -- Senior Maura Buckley scored eight of her team-high 12 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to help Arlington Catholic (22-4) rally from a five-point deficit to claim the Division 2 state title 43-35 in a defensive battle against West champion Longmeadow (19-6) on Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester.

The Cougars were held to just 21 points over the opening 24 minutes of the game, but managed to score 22 points in the final 12 minutes of the game. Arlington Catholic coach Dave Brady could only credit the defensive effort of his team for being able to come away with the team’s second state title in four years.

“What happened when a shot didn’t fall or a turnover...They went right back and played hard defense and gave them nothing,” he explained. “They kept playing.”

Buckley added, “It was a really big offensive struggle for us today, obviously, [and] that’s not how it’s been for us in the tournament...I think we just pushed through it and knew that we couldn’t get down on ourselves. We just told ourselves that we can’t lose this game.”

Longmeadow took an early lead in the game thanks to the play of its two leading scorers, senior Tajmah’Nae Lewis and junior Allison Mishol (nine points). The pair combined for all 12 of the team’s points in the first quarter and all but four of the points in the first half as the Lancers jumped out to an 18-15 lead by halftime.

The teams would combine for just one made basket in the opening five minutes of the third, but Lewis would go on a personal run with six of the Lancers seven points in the quarter. Lewis would finish with a game-high 17 points and team-high of 12 rebounds, but two minutes into the fourth she was forced to join Mishol on the bench with her fourth foul.

“It’s tough when your two leading scorers are on the bench,” said Longmeadow coach Andrea Enright. “The other girls really stepped up and played some ‘D’ and…near the end we lost a little momentum and we got a little frustrated with what was going on and it was tough to comeback from.”

Down 31-26, Arlington Catholic would score the next seven points. Sophomore center Demiana Fogarty got a put-back and then Buckley scored four straight points to give the Cougars their first lead since the opening quarter at 32-31.

“They have some great players...I know that [Lewis] ended with a lot of points on us (17) and I think we actually did a pretty good job on her,” said Buckley, who added a game-high 17 rebounds to her 12 points. “What we figured out in the second half we had to not let them get those second and third chances.”

After a free throw by Melissa Rogers, Longmeadow went back to its star and Lewis came through with an offensive rebound and fall-away jumper off glass to tie the game at 33-33. A jumper by Presley Silva (six points) fell short and the game went to overtime.

“We talked about staying aggressive like we had been offensively,” said Brady about the message heading into the extra period. “They were obviously in foul trouble, so players had to play a lot of minutes so we tried to stay aggressive and wear them out a little bit.”

Fogarty received that message and the 6-foot-2 center scored the opening four points, as the Cougars went on a 10-2 run to clinch the championship.

“I knew I wasn’t having a good game at all and I think we were all just a little nervous,” said Fogarty, who finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. “Shots definitely started to fall but we just had to keep pushing and going to the basket and putting the most pressure that we could on them.”

Enright concluded, “We knew that it was going to be tough and near the end it was who made the fewer mistakes and unfortunately it wasn’t us tonight.”

Long path to second trophy for Buckley: Over the summer, Arlington Catholic’s senior forward tore her ACL. Rather than let it end her shot at a senior season, Maura Buckley looked at the calendar and circled a date six months out to make her return to the court.

After missing the first 10 games of the season, Buckley took the court for the Cougars and on Saturday afternoon she lifted her second state championship trophy.

“This was the goal all along,” she reflected in the Press Room at the DCU Center. “I circled that exact six months on the calendar and said that I need to get back on the court so we can do it again. So, that just makes this extra special for me because I’ve had such a struggle all year with my knee.”

Her coach also credited the senior with her leadership off the court during the 10-game period that she was not available.

“Maura Buckley has just been a tremendous player for us,” said Brady. “She did a great job building the leadership of these girls and [then] letting that develop rather than coming back and saying, ‘OK, this is my team.’”

Thinking about Buckley’s effort in the fourth quarter, he added, “After all that, you kind of expect it to be Buckley at the end -- and it was.”

After working hard for six months to get back to the team, Buckley remarked that Saturday was the perfect way to end not only a season, but a career.

She said, “It was the best feeling in the world to win freshman year and I feel even better right now. To end your high school career on a win is just something that so few teams get to do that it’s special.”