NA notches historic upset of No. 12 Pentucket

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- Amanda Foote, like the rest of her North Andover High teammates, admitted to some nerves throughout all of Friday morning and afternoon. Although, maybe that's typical of a Cape Ann League team when perennial Division 3 power No. 12 Pentucket Regional rolls through town. Emotions tend to run high on Sachems night.

Lucky for the senior guard, though, she has a lot of latitude from Knights head coach Sue Breen to shoot whenever she gets the space. And when she got a wide-open look behind the three-point line at the right wing with a little over two minutes to go, she didn't hesitate, swooshing a feathery, high-arching three-ball to make it a two-possession game. Her teammates did the rest with several key turnovers late, to seal an historic 38-31 win over the Sachems.

"Obviously, I'm not the number one shooter on the team," Foote smiled. "But it feels great to just come down and hit that and really secure the lead in the final minutes, to get us pumped up to win the game."

Said Breen, "Footie, she'll probably be kicking herself because she got alot of traveling calls, but that was probably the biggest play of the game."

For the Knights (4-2), it's the first win over Pentucket (6-1) since 2006. So yeah, emotions were running high in the post-game; it's just, they had trouble putting those feelings into words.

"It's crazy. It's amazing," senior forward Erika Zahoruiko (17 points, nine rebounds) said. "We all came to play, and...I don't even know what to say. I can't even explain the feeling right now."

Said Foote, "I feel like we're CAL champs right now. This feels great."

What the Sachems lack in experience -- having graduated several key stalwarts from last year's Division 3 state finalist squad, including Erin McNamara and Ashley Viselli -- they make up for in length and speed. Early on, they made their best efforts at dictating a quick pace, with junior Sarah Higgins and sophomores Alex Moore and Nicole Viselli leading the way. But with tight defensive pressure in both the halfcourt and in full-court -- routinely bringing as many as four players above half-court for man-to-man and diamond-and-one looks -- the Knights got called for alot of contact, but forced a slew of turnovers and bad shot selection.

The Knights' lead was slim, just 16-15 headed into the break. But looking at the offensive totals -- the teams combined for a miserable 9 of 48 from the field, with Pentucket making just four field goals -- a point had been made.

Then in the third, the Knights got it going with a series of ball reversals, making it a two-possession game with two perfectly-executed plays off a very familiar connection. Tied at 22-all with 3:30 to go in the quarter, Zahoruiko stepped up in the key and fed her familiar soccer teammate Alex Medlock with a bounce pass as she cut to the basket unguarded. The next time down, the roles reverse, Medlock took a jab step and threw an entry pass to Zahoruiko, who backed in and nailed a turnaround hook shot to make it 26-22.

"When we see each other on the court, we've just been playing together for so long, that we just find each other wherever," Zahoruiko said. "We're just connecting."

From there, the offense began to find its rhythm, culminating in Foote's key three.

"They're a very tough team, they're an awesome team, they have an awesome program," Breen said. "You know, I just think my kids played a little bit better."

Pentucket head coach John McNamara didn't dispute that.

"Give credit to North Andover," he said. "They outplayed us, they out-hustled us, they out-scrapped us, they wanted it more than us. We're kind of a young team, and I think hopefully we can use this as a learning experience. They dominated us in every phase of the game."