Peabody holds off Swampscott’s late surge in NEC battle

Peabody's Oluchi Okananwa scored 16 points in Tuesday's win. (Item File Photo)

SWAMPSCOTT– Thursday night’s Northeastern Conference game between the Peabody and Swampscott girls basketball teams was a clash between opposite gameplans.

The Big Blue opted to use their outside shots, netting seven 3-pointers. Peabody went with its inside game, led by forwards Catherine Manning and Liz Zaiter.

Perhaps the difference was a game-high 17 points from Tanners freshman Oluchi Okananwa as Peabody earned a hard-fought 50-40 win at Richard Lynch Gymnasium.

“Catherine had a big game, Liz had a big game and Oluchi had 17 points,” Peabody coach Stan McKeen said. “Most of the scoring was between them. This is a good win for us. This is probably the best team we’ve faced other than Natick at the beginning of the year. When the pressure’s been on, we’ve been able to hold on and our difference has been the defense. We had spots where the defense didn’t play well but we were tough down the stretch.”

Manning (16 points, 16 rebounds) and Zaiter (13 points, 11 rebounds) each logged double-doubles. Zaiter also dished five assists.

Swampscott’s Grace DiGrande (12 points) and Nikki Rosa (10 points) reached double-figures. Katie Watts added nine points and Sophie DiGrande finished with seven.

“We had that ‘no quit’ attitude,” Swampscott coach Katelyn Leonard said. “I know the score was 10 points but that doesn’t show how the game went. When you get in a hole it’s tough but we kept crawling back as much as we could.”

Peabody got back-to-back baskets and Manning added a free throw to give the Tanners a 5-0 lead out of the gate in the opening quarter. Okananwa came off the bench and found Manning with a smooth pass under the hoop for a layup, giving the Tanners a 7-4 lead halfway through the quarter. Swampscott found its footing from there. Rosa and Watts led Swampscott to a 7-0 rally with consecutive 3-pointers. Swampscott held an 11-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.

After Okananwa scored the first four points of the second quarter, Swampscott burned a timeout. The Tanners started to distance themselves toward the end of the half with a 20-14 lead after Okananwa swished a 3-pointer. Grace DiGrande netted a three of her own before the buzzer and Swampscott trailed 20-17 at recess.

“Most games we’ve been pretty on from the 3-point line,” Leonard said. “We have a lot of different kids that can hit them. When we have the green light we want to put them up.”

Zaiter came alive for six points in the early stages of the third quarter. With a 28-19 lead, the Tanners forced Swampscott to use another timeout. Okananwa’s 3-pointer with 2:06 remaining in the quarter bumped Peabody’s lead to double-digits at 36-25. A 6-2 Swampscott run put the Big Blue back within striking distance, as they trailed 38-31 heading into the fourth.

Showing no quit, the Big Blue put Peabody on its heels to start the fourth. Swampscott crawled back to within two points of the Tanners,40-38, and this time it was Peabody that burned a timeout in hopes of regrouping.

The Tanners did just that, holding Swampscott to just two points the rest of the way for the 50-40 win.

“We played good defense the rest of the way,” McKeen said. “Sometimes you have to pick and choose your timeouts. Swampscott’s a good team.

“Defensively we were in spurts tonight but we played good defense at the end,” he said. “It was a huge win for us, no question.”

Peabody (18-1) remained undefeated in NEC play. The Tanners visit Gloucester Friday (7) in their final game of the regular season.

“I’m hoping we can get a perfect record in the NEC,” McKeen said. “We have to come out and play. Anybody can beat anybody any given night.”

Swampscott (13-4) visits Danvers Saturday (11).

The Big Blue held a brief ceremony before Thursday’s game to honor their three seniors, Grace DiGrande, Rosa and Watts. All three are co-captains.

“I can’t say enough about them,” Leonard said. “They’re like family to me. They’ve brought everything and more this season and I couldn’t be prouder of them. I know they’re going to do great things.”

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