English girls basketball qualifies for state tournament

English's Mashayla Johnson scored eight points during Thursday's win. (Item File Photo)

MEDFORD — The English girls basketball team punched its ticket to the state tournament with a 34-31 win at Medford Thursday night.

With a one-point lead and 21 seconds left freshman Kylia Reynoso (six points, seven rebounds and six steals) hauled in a key offensive rebound for the Bulldogs after a missed free throw. Reynoso tipped the loose ball to Juliana Perry (seven points) who hit four straight free throws in the closing seconds to seal the win.

“Kylia is a freshman so this is so new to her but she just plays so hard with high effort,” English coach Mackenzie Charles said. “She got four fouls so we had to sit her for a while because I know if I left her in there she was going to foul somebody. It’s just the way she plays so hard. That play was huge, that offensive rebound tipped back. She grew up a lot. Middle school seasons are like 12 games and this is her 19th game with a lot of practices. I’m really proud of these girls.”

The Bulldogs won their last four games of the season to make their push for a tournament bid, including a 27-26 win over Classical Wednesday.

“The message the last few games was to stay positive and not get down,” Charles said. “In all basketball the emotions go up and down. We used our timeouts well to really just keep them calm and understand that when a team makes a run that’s part of the game. We can’t get our heads down and they didn’t do that.

“This team just showed so much resilience,” Charles added. “I probably played six girls tonight. I said, ‘The girls that got us here are going to finish it for us.’ They were dead tired too. They played a tough game against Classical and for them to grit this out they showed a lot of mental toughness.”

Maylin Echevarria also had a solid night for the Bulldogs with eight points, eight rebounds and five steals. Mashayla Johnson (eight points) also hit key shots.

The Bulldogs ran out to an early lead in the first half. An early steal and layup in transition by Reynoso got the Bulldogs started on a 6-0 run. Later in the first quarter Johnson and Perry both hit 3-pointers to push the English lead to 14-4.

After Medford cut the lead to three in the second quarter Johnson hit another 3-pointer to get the Bulldogs back on track. Echevarria added two baskets to cap the second quarter for the Bulldogs, who took a 24-14 lead into the half.

“It was the same thing with the Classical game,” Charles said of the early lead. “That’s two games in a row that we got a lead early and then we didn’t give up that lead. Very similar to last night we had the same message. Tonight we stayed resilient, positive and together.”

Through the second half the Mustangs chipped away at the Bulldogs’ lead. Sarah Bien-Aime led the way for Medford with a game-high 17 points. With two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Medford made it a one-point game at 30-29.

“Medford kept on coming,” Charles said. “I give their coach (Leo Burke) so much credit. He does a great job with those girls. (Bien-Aime) hurt us on the boards all night. She works so hard and she is a good player. We were just resilient. We didn’t give up and just kept fighting.”

But from there the Bulldogs buckled down on defense. Two travels hurt Medford’s momentum and the Bulldogs only allowed one basket, on the Mustangs’ final possession after Perry’s free throws sealed the game.

“We played good defense,” Charles said. “They are getting tough stops. I trusted them to stay in a zone. Usually in some situations I want to be in man but I trusted them to stay in the zone and they did it. They pulled it off and got the rebounds and the stops.”

More Stories From Lynn