Nee leads AC to first-ever D2 state title

WORCESTER, Mass. -- Arlington Catholic's Erin Nee may give Jim Carrey a run for the starring role in any future sequels to "The Mask."

After suffering a fractured nose during the Cougars state semifinal victory over Hopkinton, Nee was forced to don a facemask to protect the injury. Apparently, she got comfortable with it pretty quickly, as the senior opened the second quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers during a 21-0 run that helped Arlington Catholic pull away from Millbury, for what resulted in a 49-28 victory and the Cougars' first Division 2 state championship, at the DCU Center Saturday.

"It was interesting. it was a different feeling but I got used to it after a while," Nee said of wearing the protective mask. "The shots felt really good. I was just open so I shot and they went in. I think we fed off that energy and the crowd going wild. It was awesome. I think it really helped us to go back and have intensity on defense and the offense came from the defense."

Those two shots were huge as AC (21-6) went a paltry 2-for-11 from the field in the opening stanza. Nee got the crowd going and her teammates fed off that energy -- Emma Roberson in particular.

The Cougars' star scored 10 of her game-high 16 points during that spurt, as AC turned a 7-2 deficit into a 23-7 lead. With Nee getting hot, it gave the Woolies (23-2) an additional threat to watch for in addition to normal 3-point gunner Nicole Catizone (11 points).

"Erin definitely got our momentum going," Robersopn said. "We were a little down on ourselves after the first quarter. None of our shots were going in and we weren't playing great. So Erin coming out and hitting those two big threes got us going."

The Cougars got amped up in the defensive zone as well, forcing eight Millbury turnovers in the second that led to a number of transition buckets.

"I thought we came out of the box good but in the second quarter the floodgates opened up," admitted Millbury coach Steve Reno. "We couldn't make a shot and we couldn't get anywhere near the hoop for a rebound. Sometimes we couldn't even get across halfcourt because their pressure was so relentless."

"To make things worse, they started heating up," Reno continued. "They were making threes and they got a couple of turnovers where they were able to convert on runouts. It was the nightmare scenario."

Having found themselves in a similar spot against Hopkinton where AC had to rally from an 18-point hole to win, the Cougars never took their collective foot off the gas pedal, roaring out of halftime with an 11-0 run.

"I think defense comes from the heart," Catizone said. "You really have to keep working at it. We all work extra hard as a team with helping and talking. We knew that if they started getting on a run they could come back easily. We didn’t want that to happen."

And they didn't let it happen. Catizone drained a pair of treys while Nee and Kayla Awizsus also hit from beyond. Defensively, the Cougars held the Woolies to a mere five field goals on 30 attempts and AC took a 44-16 lead into the fourth.

"They’ve come so far as a team," said a proud AC coach Dave Brady of his Cougars. "The basketball language at the beginning of the year, they didn’t even know what a backdoor was. Now, they are out there teaching me things. These girls deserve so much. They’ve really come so far."