AC mounts amazing comeback to take D2 EMass

BOSTON -- Dave Brady was willing to use all five of his timeouts in the first half to try and snap his team out of an early funk in the Div. 2 Eastern Mass. semifinals on Monday night at the TD Garden.

Apparently he only needed three.

Arlington Catholic (20-6) finally got the message and overcame a 16-point first half deficit with a furious run in the second quarter to eliminate Hopkinton, 65-57. The Cougars will now move on to the state finals on Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester to play the winner of Millbury and Wahconah.

“The third timeout was them saying this is enough,” Brady said. “There was plenty of time and let’s just go out there and do what we do.”

The Cougars stopped settling for outside jumpers, which didn’t work in the first quarter as they launched seven three’s and only made one of them, and started penetrating the interior of the much bigger frontcourt of the Hillers (19-6).

Emma Roberson led the way with a team-high 25 points, and her ability to get in the lane and dish to open players was a key factor in the run.

“We weren’t attacking their zone, so they weren’t having to move at all to play defense,” said Roberson. “We couldn’t get any shots, so being able to penetrate and open up our shooters on the outside and even get them in foul trouble too definitely changed the game a lot.”

The Cougars went on a 23-4 run after falling behind by 16 points with 6:09 left in the second quarter, and they finally grabbed their first lead, 32-31, on a last-second deep ball from Nicole Catizone before the half.

The offensive flurry was spurred by a change in the defensive system for the Cougars. They went from a zone press to a man-to-man pressure, which probably wasn’t the game plan coming in to the game, because of the height advantage the Hillers held at every position. The Hillers shots a blistering 9-of-11 in the first quarter from the field, but came back down to earth with a 13-for-30 showing in the final three quarters.

The 5-foot-3-inch Erin Nee harassed every single ball-handler who made their way up the court and the Hillers didn’t respond well to that pressure.

“They played really physical and the referees let them play physical,” said Hopkinton head coach Rita Atkinson. “I really think that was the turning point.”

The game of runs turned in to a back-and-forth contest for most of the second half. There were 12 lead changes in the third quarter alone, and two in the opening moments of the fourth quarter.

Two free throws from Alee Leteria (26 points) gave the Hillers a 55-54 lead in the fourth, but the Cougars would used a dominating 11-2 stretch to close out the game. Roberson finished with eight points in the fourth quarter, and hit several clutch free throws to keep the Cougars ahead for good.

“All game I just did my routine and didn’t think anything differently,” said Roberson, who finished 9-of-12 from the line. “I just kind of kept the crowd out of my mind and just treated it like it was any other free throw in any other game.”