WORCESTER, Mass. -- Andover girls basketball: powered by defense, and state championship ready.
While that may sound like a good bumper sticker to jam on the back of Mom's minivan, it couldn't be more apropos when it comes to discussing the Golden Warriors' not-so-secret winning formula.
Taking the adage "defense wins championships" to another level during the 2011 Division 1 girls basketball tournament, Andover capped a great postseason by forcing 23 turnovers and getting clutch contributions on defense from Ally Fazio and offensively from sophomores Devon Caveney (14 points) and Jackie Alois (12), the Golden Warriors put the hammer down on Amherst in the fourth quarter and claimed their second consecutive Div. 1 title with a 61-51 over the Hurricanes Saturday at the DCU Center.
"We knew coming into the game that defense was how we were going to win," said senior guard Natalie Gomez-Martinez, who snared seven of Andover's 18 steals. "Offense just comes. Defensively, you have to have heart and physical aggression. When you have this close of a game, even if you’re exhausted, you have to go all out on defense. We made big steals, we made free throws and it showed how when you want to win a game, it’s all about defense."
Andover found itself trailing, 47-45, in the opening minute of the fourth quarter before going on a 10-2 run to not only grab the lead back, but pull away for good. After a Nicole Boudreau bucket, Caveney drilled a big 3-pointer that put the Golden Warriors out front, 50-47. She added another basket off a turnover, then added a free throw after a Boudreau runner.
Amherst stopped the run with a hoop, but Alois sealed the deal, taking a pretty feed from Boudreau off a pick-and-roll play that effectively sealed the victory.
"Devon and Jackie stepped up huge," said Boudreau, who scored a game-high 18 points. "We had total confidence that they could and we gave them the ball in situations, especially on pick and rolls for Jackie, where we knew we could get it to them and they would finish or get fouled. They won us that game in the fourth quarter."
Through the first game three quarters, the game was a downright battle. Both teams struggled from the field in the first half, but defense for Andover and the rebounding of Amherst's six-foot center Forbasaw Nkambo (13 boards in the first half) kept things tight.
In the third, it appeared as though Andover was starting to pull away, as a Boudreau three ignited a 9-2 spurt that pushed their lead to 41-33. Rather than wither under the pressure, the Hurricanes mounted a comeback courtesy of a 12-4 run over the final 2:43 of the third to tie the game at 45-all.
Ultimately however, it was the Golden Warriors relentless pressure defense that finally got the better of Amherst.
"That's our game. We know we’re small and we press hard on defense. We thrive off turnovers," said Andover coach Jim Tildsley. "We put Nicole on the back line because she’s a great anticipator and we have Natalie and Ally up front all over the ball. Devon and Jackie both read well so we have a great full court press. We’re also able to switch our presses and that confuses teams, which helps us a lot."
In addition to her outstanding defensive work, Gomez-Martinez chipped in with 10 points for Andover. Brianna Leonard paced Amherst with 16, while Nkambo added 15 points and 18 rebounds and Kristen Ferola finished with 10.