PEABODY — The magical ride of the Peabody girls basketball team came to an end Tuesday night at the hands of defending Division 1 champion and No. 3 seed Central Catholic.
The game was a defensive slugfest in the first half with neither team leading by more than five points.
But Central was deadly from 3-point land in the second half to pull away from the Tanners, 64-51.
Freshman Oluchi Okananwa and Catherine Manning had double-doubles for Peabody. Okananwa finished with a game-high 22 points with 10 rebounds, four steals and five blocked shots, while Manning had 11 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.
The Red Raiders were a three-player show, led by freshman Claire Finney, who drained four threes in the second half and finished with 20 points. Nadeshka Bridgewater was deadly off the offensive boards and and had 18 points, while Juliana Porto contributed 17 points.
“Their No. 5 (Claire Kinney) just hurt us,” said Peabody coach Stan McKeen. “We are not a good man-to-man team and our strength all year has been our 3-2 zone and not letting them get open shots in the corners.We were in it in the first half, but they hit six from the corners in the second half. They were setting picks down low to get that open shot and we just didn’t fight through the picks to get there, maybe fatigue was a factor, I don’t know. We also missed too many shots around the basket.”
“Going in, we had two keys and that was to box out and take care of the ball, and I think we did that against a group of tough Peabody players,” said Red Raiders coach Casey Grange. “We also worked on our zone offense and was kind of surprised they didn’t come out of it or press or change things up, but we were prepared for what they gave us.”
Neither team could get anything going in the first quarter, which ended at 8-8.
Things heated up in the second quarter. Central opened with a 5-0 run to build a 13-8 lead. A 3-pointer by Emily Carney, two free throws by Okananwa and a free throw by Liz Zaiter (7 points, game-high 12 rebounds) regained the lead for Peabody at 14-13 with 5:19 left in the half.
After a bucket by Porto and Okananwa free throw, Zaiter banked in a fall-away jumper to put Peabody back on top, 17-15. Finney swished a rainbow trey from the corner, but Okananwa answered right back with a three of her own to make it 20-18, Tanners, but Central closed out the half with a 5-2 run to take a 25-22 lead into the break.
Okananwa opened the second half with a put-back on an offensive rebound, but after that, it was all Central Catholic, courtesy of Finney, who made three straight threes in a 13-6 run in a 3-minute span to lead by 10, 38-28, with 3:45 left in the quarter.
Central led by 11, 45-34 with about 30 seconds to go, but the Tanners had a glimmer of hope after Manning made both ends of a one-and-one, then an Okananwa layup got the deficit back to single digits at 45-38 going into the final quarter.
But the Tanners were no match for the Central’s relentless offensive attack in the final quarter, who took its largest lead of the game, 61-45 with about a minute left.
Grange said her team found pre-game motivation from an unusual source.
“For a North semifinal game not to be played at a neutral site is just unfair, Grange said. “We used that as motivation fuel. Our boys team is a No. 2 seed and they are playing a No. 3 seed ata neutral site, so this is just unfair.
“They (the MIAA) need to take the list of predetermined sites and if you get to a game that is played on one of the teams home courts, just move to the next site on the list. It’s very easy to do that. I completely disagree with having to play on someone’s home court so we used that as fuel to prepare for the game.”
Peabody’s season ends at 21-2.
“I can’t leave here upset as it’s been a phenomenal season,” McKeen said. “To beat two tough Merrimack Valley teams and get to the semis was incredible but we just didn’t have enough tonight. I feel bad for the seniors as they were the nucleus of the team. But we have some good, younger players coming back and if we can keep them in Peabody, we should be alright. We haven’t given up 64 points all year, but hey did a better job finishing than we did.”