WORCESTER, Mass. -- It was a battle of an Eastern Mass. power and a Western Mass. one when the Archbishop Williams girls basketball team squared with Lee High at the DCU Center in Worcester in the Division 3 state championship game on Saturday morning. Lee has won seven state crowns in 14 appearances since 1989, but this morning it was Williams reigning supreme as they dispatched the Wildcats, 60-33, to win their fourth state championship.
“I have no words -– I mean, I’ve played on this team for four years working to win a state championship,” said Bishops captain Sara Ryan. “Leaving as a senior and state champion is unbelievable. I can’t even describe it.”
It was Ryan, a senior headed for Southern New Hampshire next year, who set the Bishops (23-5) in motion toward the crown on Saturday. The 5-foot-8 guard buried a deep three on Williams first possession, after which the Bishops led for the remainder of the contest.
“We’ve had strong leadership in the captain position for a while now,” said Bishops coach Jim Bancroft. “I hate to lose her, but it’s time for her to move on. This past year, she took everything she learned from her first three years and now she’s passing that on to the group.”
Added sophomore Alana Gilmer: “I really can’t even imagine school or basketball without her. She’s been amazing all year. I love her so much. She’s one of the best captains we’ve ever had.”
And just as the Bishops have followed their leader all season, they continued to in the final game of her career on Saturday.
Ryan’s 3-pointer was the beginning of a 13-0 run for AW, in which all five starters netted at least one basket.
“We just spread the ball around,” said junior point guard Leah Spencer. “We know we can’t be selfish. We can’t score without passing the ball and moving around the court.”
They certainly did that against Lee (19-6), with nine different players scoring in the win.
Jaylen Williams and Gilmer, both sophomores, each netted a team-high 14 points. Williams also had 10 rebounds and three blocks, while Gilmer chipped in five rebounds, three blocks and a pair of steal in the win.
Freshman Ednaija Lassiter joined the sophomores in double figures, scoring 11 points –- including nine during a 19-point third quarter for the Bishops.
Ryan finished with six points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals while Spencer added seven points, seven rebounds and four assists for the state champs.
Archbishop Williams used an obvious height advantage to boost its offense by providing plenty of second and third chance looks for the Bishops. They held a 51-24 rebounding advantage in the game, and a whopping 24 of theirs came on the offensive end.
Perhaps the only thing more impressive than their rebounding was a staunch defensive attack –- one which allowed less than 40 points in each of the last two games in what has to be considered among the Bishops top performances of the season.
“Defensively, yes it was,” said Archbishop Williams coach Jim Bancroft. “The last two games really –- this one and the game with Pentucket –- we preached defense and rebounds and metal preparedness for these games and I’m very happy with the way the girls performed.”
Only Lee senior Eileen Dooley was able to garner much success on offense, as she scored a game-high 16 points.
Gilmer was tasked with guarding Western Mass. Player of the Year Stephanie Young, who notched 30 points on Monday in Lee’s Central/Western Mass state semifinal game
The sophomore forward wreaked havoc on Young, holding her to just three points on a 1-for-16 shooting day.
“One of our goals was to get in her face, distract her and contest her shots,” said Bancroft. “I saw her during warm-ups and she was knocking down shot after shot after shot.”
END OF TWO ERAS
Lee coach Gary ‘Gig’ Wellington coached his last game for the Wildcats after six years on the bench, and there wasn’t another group of girls he’d have preferred to finish his career with.
“I’ve had a blast,” Wellington said. “I wouldn’t want to do it with any other team. If you told me I could have switched teams here today, I wouldn’t do it. This is my team. I’ll keep those kids. I’m very proud of those kids. They worked very hard to get here.”
Like Wellington, Bancroft has also coached his final game at the Division 3 level, but for very different reasons. Archbishop Williams is moving Division 1 next year as a means to find a new challenge.
“I don’t even know that it’ll be tougher than what we see now –- we face a lot of good teams in Division 3,” said Bancroft. “Sometimes the best teams are in Division 1, sometimes in Division 2 and sometimes in Division 3, but we’re always trying to challenge ourselves.”