BOSTON — The winter sports season for the River Rival Region is now officially over.
Yesterday afternoon, inside a bustling TD Banknorth Garden, the season's best team, the Pentucket Sachems, lost a hard-fought contest against perhaps the best girls basketball team in the state, Archbishop Williams, 59-53.
A collective spirit of 10 experienced underclassmen and three passionate seniors, the Sachems finished their season 21-3.
Though the girls fell one game short of the state-title game for a second consecutive season to a talented AW team, this close-knit group has had a score of great memories, in this season alone, that many student-athletes may never experience.
And despite leaving without a victory, it was the way they lost that foreshadows future prominence.
Honorable in defeat, coach John McNamara acknowledged which team played best.
"You have to give Archbishop credit," said McNamara. "Their seniors played great; (Christine) Duffy made some tough drives at the end, and though we had them on the ropes, I have to believe they're the top team in the state."
The Archies came out that way, roaring out of the gates to a quick 13-4 lead, prompting McNamara to call a quick timeout.
The break in momentum worked, as Pentucket junior center Kirsten Daamen (16 points, 17 rebounds, 7 blocks) helped her team claw back into the mix by grabbing rebounds, and nailing free throws and soft turn-around jumpers.
Though nerves were certainly a factor at the game's start, the players were beginning to adjust. Sophomore guard Erin McNamara (15 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals) swished home a 3-pointer, giving the Sachems hope of an upset with the Archies up, 15-12.
The second quarter saw the Sachem defense begin to tighten, as Daamen, junior forward Andrea Attenasio (5 rebounds) and sophomore guard Holly Jakobsons (2 points) made the Bishop offense think twice about every possession.
The tandem of Daamen and McNamara continued their onslaught, with McNamara burying two more 3-pointers and Daamen swatting shots and finishing layups to eventually tie it 20-20. However a resilient Duffy (12 points, 9 assists), the Archies point guard, continued to attack the basket and made a lead change a difficult task.
At the quarter's end, the Sachems slashed a point off the Bishop lead and went into the half trailing 24-22.
An unbelievable stat was that leading scorer Ashley Viselli was held scoreless during the first half. However, such score sheet oddities were about to drastically change.
Viselli (20 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) had a second-half stretch in which she tallied 17 consecutive points.
Her efforts didn't go unnoticed or unanswered as a hardy cast of Archies, including Courtney McNamara (8 points), Meghan Black (9 points) and Valerie Driscoll (14 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks), matched the sweet-shooting Viselli every step of the way.
The Archies were beginning to regain some momentum and were looking like the team that jumped out to their early lead, but a still-hot Viselli banked home a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to snip a seven point lead down to four, giving the Sachems another boost in heart.
The fourth quarter was one all basketball fans should relish — a back and forth match of attrition.
The Archies began to play it safe, milking the clock and grinding out each possession, and the Sachems, still playing catch-up, finally did just that when at 6:05 of the fourth, they picked up their first lead of the game, 45-43.
Sadly enough for Pentucket, it would ultimately be its last.
With both teams in the bonus and plenty of time to spare, the Archies executed best and continued their march to glory by hitting timely layups and sinking clutch free throws.
Though the trinity of Viselli, Daamen, and McNamara tried their best to sink baskets, shots didn't fall, some calls were missed, and in the end, the Sachems finally made their exit.
With the season over, the inevitable departure of the team's three seniors will be sorely missed.
"My two captains Lyndsay Beaton and Kelly Murphy, and Colleen McGoldrick," McNamara said. "They're the heart and soul of my team.
"They may not get a ton of minutes and average the most points, but they keep the team together," said McNamara. "It's a long season. If they weren't so close it can be an extra long season. But by coming to practice together, having breakfast as a group, these captains have just done an expert job of making our team exactly what it should be.
"You don't have to be on the court to be a key contributor to the team," McNamara said. "And with grace, these girls have done an excellent job."
Erin McNamara, the team's energetic point guard, can at least go home and reflect on a season filled with lasting memories.
"We've had a great season," the point guard said. "Everyone's really stepped up and we've come together as a team. We're all really good friends, and though we're upset right now about our loss, we're still really proud of how far we've come. Making it to the Garden two years in a row is a great accomplishment. We just have to let the shock of the loss wear off."
Viselli understands that playing catch-up in a championship game is a difficult task.
"If we had just controlled those first two minutes, it would have been a different game," Viselli said.
Though the burden of the loss was still strong, the season's myriad of good times was still unclouded.
"Going into Boston as a team and going out to dinner, those memories have overpowered the loss," explained Viselli. "The (Boston College) game and the Breast Cancer Night in the pouring rain, I just think we grew together so much during the season. Though we're going to miss our seniors so much, all of this time on the court has really strengthened our friendships and we're going to go farther next year."
Daamen, who may have had her biggest game as a Sachem yet, is glad to be right where she is.
"I love my team. They're great," smiled Daamen. "I wouldn't want to play with anyone else. We complete each other. If I'm not doing so great, Ashley or Erin or anyone on this team will step up and make sure they're there for me."