D1 North: Billerica 66, Lincoln-Sudbury 49

BILLERICA, Mass. -– After losing in the first round of the 2012 MIAA state tournament Billerica senior leaders Brittany Lomanno and Danielle Nickerson knew that this year had to be different.

“Having eight returners back this year, we all knew the heartbreak we had when lost to a lower seed in the first round last year,” Nickerson said after the game.

No. 2 Billerica (19-2) took one step closer to their ultimate goal as they defeated a tough No. 15 Lincoln-Sudbury (11-10) team 66-49 on Wednesday night in the First Round of the Division 1 North sectional.

“Every day at practice we are focused,” Lomanno added. “We are keying on our defense, which has been really good for us this year. We made huge stops, got the rebounds, got the ball up in transition and were patient on offense.”

Billerica came out of the gate poised as they executed possessions and moved the ball efficiently to take a 21-10 lead after one quarter of play.

L-S would not back down, however, as they kept the game within reach, trailing 35-30 at the half and narrowing the gap early in the third quarter.

Lomanno would steady the game for Billerica, as they battled through a third quarter rut that saw L-S draw to within two points at 39-37 with 3:15 remaining in the quarter.

“I tried to keep the poised out there tonight and run the offense effectively,” Lomanno said.

Billerica went on an 8-2 run to end the third quarter and lead 47-39 heading to the fourth.

“We needed to be more patient on offense,” Billerica head coach Chris Doneski said. “We are pretty good at running the flex offense and by the third or fourth quarter we start to grind teams down but we have to get there. I talked to them about just being patient and I think we did that.”

The fourth quarter belonged to Billerica, as they outscored L-S 19-10 the final eight minutes of play. Nickerson and Lomanno would both nail shot clock-beating 3-pointers down the stretch to seal the victory and help Billerica advance to the Division 1 North quarterfinals.

Nickerson scored a game-high 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds while Lomanno added 13 points to go with four assists.

“Brittany really controls the game for us,” Doneski said. “Nellie really does a great job underneath the basket. She is able to step out and hit some shots if she needs to and when we really needed baskets in the game the ball seemed to find her.”

Senior center Joslyn King and senior guard Kayla Leverone also contributed to the strong Billerica defensive effort as both seniors stepped up in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line.

“We knew they were going to be tough,” Doneski said. “They have a lot of girls who are athletic and they were an extremely difficult team to play against.”

Ashley Lutz led L-S on the night as the Lafayette-bound senior scored 14 points, pulled down eight rebounds and blocked two shots.

Billerica will take on No. 7 Masconomet seed, which defeated No. 10 seed Cambridge, 64-62 on Wednesday night. Game time is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Billerica Memorial High School.

All-Purpose Effort: Billerica junior guard Shannon Hayes scored 10 of 14 points in the first half and also drew the challenging task of guarding Ashley Lutz.

“Shannon is always a presence out there for us,” Lomanno said of Hayes. “She hit a few shots but was obviously a big defensive presence out their for us tonight.”

The 5-foot-6 Hayes followed the 6-foot-1 Lutz around the court and gave her a different, smaller look on the perimeter and in the post.

Role Players: Billerica’s bench has improved drastically over the course of the season. The trust that Doneski has in them is evident as they gave the team a lift during the middle quarters of the game.

Billerica received strong efforts from sophomore forward Lilly Coppinger, junior forward Alex Napoli, and sophomore guards Caroline Gillis and Lexie Mattar.

“That was our big question this year, our depth,” Nickerson said. “They proved it they we are deep. We have trust in them as they have trust in us.”

Bright Future: Despite losing Ashley Lutz to graduation, L-S returns most of its core unit, led by a strong sophomore class.

L-S returns four of their five starters as sophomore point guard Kristen Ngan (four steals), sophomore center Olivia Canning (five rebounds), junior guard Jody Henkels (six points) and sophomore guard Emma Lutz (12 points) lead a group of 10 returnees next season for head coach Liza Feldman.