WILMINGTON — It happens so often in sports. You do a great job holding the team’s best players in check only to have one of the supporting cast become the “X” factor.
That’s the fate that befell the No. 9 Classical girls basketball team Monday night at the Wilmington High gym. The Rams (11-10) played a zone defense set up to stop the Wildcats’ Kylie DuCharme and Jenna Tavanese. It worked, and they only had 22 points between them (11 each).
But the No. 8 Wildcats (13-8) got 20 points from Gabriella Bond — a lot of them on second-chance baskets — and Wilmington was the team to move on with a 51-46 win over the Rams in a Division 2 North first-round game. It’s the second year in a row the Wildcats have eliminated the Rams in the first round.
Wilmington will be at Pentucket Thursday (7) for a date with the top-seeded Sachems in the sectional quarterfinal.
“This was a great high school basketball game,” Classical coach Tom Sawyer said. “The girls battled all night long. We made a lot of plays, but we just needed to make a few more.”
As befitting a game between two teams a game apart in the rankings, neither team ever held a lead that extended beyond six points (the Wildcats led 28-22 in the third quarter). Classical led after one quarter, trailed by two (24-22) at the half and was ahead 37-36 after three.
But things got even more tense in the fourth quarter, as neither team could shake the other.
Sawyer stuck to his game plan on defense, which involved a triangle-and-two defense designed to stifle Wilmington’s top two scorers. Jean Gupton-Morrison, a guard, was assigned to DuCharme all night. Gupton-Morrison also had 10 points of her own on the other end.
“She (Gupton-Morrison) was their ‘X’ factor,” said Wilmington coach Jessica Robinson. “(Classical) played great defense and we really struggled. We really needed Bond’s points on a night when the rest of the team struggled like that.”
“Jean had a great game,” said Sawyer. “She made a lot of plays for us, and this is a play-making game.”
Classical had a slim 43-41 lead with just over three minutes to go, and from there it was thrill-a-minute basketball. Tavanese hit a big 3-pointer to put Wilmington up by one and that turned the tide for the Wildcats.
“Shooters shoot,” Robinson said. “You have to have a short memory. Shooters shoot, slashers slash … you just have to keep doing what you do.”
When Bond connected on one of her patented offensive rebounds moments later, Wilmington went up by three.
But Gupton-Morrison wasn’t going to let the Rams fall that easily. She drove the lane, got fouled, and hit one of two with 1:23 left, and then, after a Wilmington miss, came right back with a bucket in rush-hour traffic to tie the game with 44 seconds left.
Those were the last points Classical scored. Tavanese and Olivia Almeida went 0-for-4 from the line and the score remained tied. But Classical couldn’t pull down rebounds from either miss, and on the second one, Wilmington got the ball back to Almeida in the corner, and she drained a three-pointer with 11.5 seconds left to make it 49-46.
“That was nice hustle on her part to get out there,” Robinson said.
After a turnover, Bond came back with two free throws to ice the game.
Skyler Crayton led Classical with 14 points, and Amber Cayton had six. Kiara Edmonds proved to be a thorn in Wilmington’s side with eight points, including two threes late in the first half.
“When we scouted them, we certainly didn’t see that coming,” Robinson said.
Despite the loss, Sawyer is happy with the season. Classical finished at 11-10.
“We lost a lot of points, and a lot of playing time from last year (in which the Rams finished 19-2),” said Sawyer. “But these girls kept working on their games, and kept getting better. I am really proud of the way they played all season.”