Nikki Rosa scored 12 points for the Big Blue, who improved to 9-9 with the win.
By GORDON VINCENT
MARBLEHEAD — Both the Swampscott and Marblehead girls basketball teams can qualify for the state tournament, but after last night’s 41-31 win, the Big Blue are in a more advantageous position.
Nikki Rosa and freshman Olivia Matella led Swampscott (9-9; 8-6 Northeastern Conference) with 12 points each Thursday as the Big Blue held off a late surge by the Magicians at Marblehead High. Swampscott can qualify by winning one of its last two games against Saugus, the first place team in the NEC South, Tuesday or English, the bottom team in the North division, on Wednesday.
“It helps,” said Swampscott coach Katelyn Leonard, of her team’s postseason chances after Thursday’s win. “We still have to win one of our last two. But this was a good one to get.”
The Magicians (9-10; 9-6) can qualify for the postseason by beating Classical tonight, or as the second place team in the South division if Swampscott drops its last two games. On Thursday, Lindsay Walker led Marblehead with 14 points, while Hannah Garthe added 10.
“It’ll be challenging,” Marblehead coach Wayne Hanscom said of his team’s matchup with Classical.
The Big Blue led by 17 points (37-20) when Rosa drained a 3-pointer from the right elbow with 3:07 left in the third quarter. Walker started the Magicians’ comeback with a 15-footer from the right wing and then Simone Litkerov swished a jumper from the foul line to close Marblehead’s deficit to 13 points going into the final period.
Walker scored seven straight points to bring the Magicians to within six with 4:33 to go, but Marblehead went the rest of the game without a point.
With Rosa (wrist) and Katie Watts (shoulder) leaving due to injuries, the Big Blue didn’t score in the fourth quarter until Ella Parker converted a layup off a rebound with 1:32 left to put them ahead, 39-31. Grace DiGrande sealed the game when she made a pair of free throws with 11.6 seconds remaining.
“I think we held them to one field goal in the fourth quarter,” Hanscom said. “I think they were getting a little tired, and they had some players get hurt, but I’m pleased with the way we stepped it up on defense in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, it was a little too late.”
Marblehead only led twice during the game, at 2-0 on a Garthe jumper from the right wing and 5-4 after a 3-point bomb from the top of the key by Montana Joyce. Swampscott closed out the opening quarter with a 10-2 run capped off by a couple of free throws by Jaymie Caponigro, and secured its first double-digit lead when Maggie DiGrande opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer from the left elbow to make the score 17-7.
A 3-point play by Walker midway through the second period got the Magicians as close as four, but Rosa and Matella combined for seven points later in the quarter as Swampscott took a 26-19 lead at halftime.
The Big Blue held Marblehead without a field goal and to just one point for the opening 7:02 of the third quarter, and built its biggest lead behind six points from Matella in the period.
“Our goal on defense was to not let them get comfortable in their offense,” Leonard said. “We wanted to contest shots and make them work for their points.”