ITEM PHOTO BY KATIE MORRISON
Jamila Constantine and the Tigers are tournament bound.
By KATIE MORRISON
LYNN — Needing a win in its final game to make the state tournament, the Lynn Tech girls basketball team had its collective back against the wall, down 25-19 to rival Chelsea at halftime Friday.
But the Tigers gave everything they had over the final 16 minutes of the last game of the regular season, outscoring Chelsea 27-12 in the second half to grab the come-from-behind win and clinch a tournament berth for the first time since 2008.
“I think I’m still in shock, but I’m just so, so happy for them,” Tech coach Kaitlyn Wechsler said. “It’s been a lot of hard work, and the team has been with me all along.
“At halftime, we talked, and we didn’t really change anything basketball-wise,” Wechsler added. “This is what we wanted, and if we’re going to get it, we had to do the little things and play with energy. That’s what we did, and turned the momentum around.”
Friday’s win was arguably the biggest victory for the Tech program in years. In fact, this week has been one for the ages for the Tigers. After a loss Tuesday dropped Tech to 8-10, the Tigers needed to win both of their final games to make the playoffs.
Wednesday on the road, the Tigers took on Minuteman, a team they’d already beaten twice. Wechsler knew that third win would be the toughest, and it was. Tech won in an overtime nail-biter, 40-39, to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The situation Friday couldn’t have been more dramatic. Tech hosted Chelsea, a natural rival being the geographically closest team the Tigers play. The two teams had split the season series to this point, with Tech winning the first game and the Red Devils taking the second.
But the game itself, thankfully for Wechsler and company, was less dramatic, though it did feature a huge second-half surge from Tech.
Chelsea jumped out to a 13-4 lead after a quarter. Senior captain Jamila Constantine, who led the Tigers with 18 points, knocked down the Tigers’ only two field goals of the quarter.
In the second, the Red Devils limited Constantine, but Arianna Anaya took over, laying in three 3-pointers and a layup in the quarter to help Tech close the gap to 25-19.
But Chelsea ran out of gas after halftime, and the Tigers began to dictate the pace of the game, opening up scoring opportunities in transition. Tech only scored nine points in the third, with five coming from Constantine, but it was enough to knot the score at 28 by the end of the period.
The fourth quarter is when Constantine really shined. The captain, who scored nine points in the final quarter, gave Tech its first lead at 30-28 early in the fourth, and the Tigers never looked back. Tech outscored Chelsea, 13-5, to close out the game.
Constantine logged a double-double, adding 12 rebounds with 18 points. Freshman Alondra Sanchez only scored two points, but grabbed 13 rebounds. Anaya added 15 points, and Yafreisis Ruiz provided a spark off the bench with eight rebounds and two blocks.
The win is especially sweet for Constantine and the rest of the Tech seniors. Constantine recalled that in years past, Chelsea used to beat the Tigers by 40 points in some games. This year, Tech took two of three in the season series.
“This feels great, this is everything we’ve worked for,” Constantine said. “This has been a hard, long journey, and I think we surprised a lot of people. This year, (the seniors) wanted to go out with a bang, and some people laughed at us. But we play with pride and love for each other, we have great chemistry. I love these girls like my own family.”
The win is pretty sweet for Wechsler, too. This year’s seniors are the first group the fourth-year coach had as freshmen, and making the tournament is a goal that’s been four years in the making.
“We talked about it as something we’d strive for in the future,” Wechsler said. “We were going to have to build toward it and work for it, and they knew that and stuck with me through all of it. This is for them, really.”