TOPSFIELD — The Pentucket girls basketball team took on the Grey Ghosts of Westford Academy last night and found themselves wanting in the consistency department.
The Sachems jumped on top of the Ghosts in the first half of the consolation game of the Masconomet Girls Basketball Holiday Invitational, then imploded in the second to let Westford escape with a 60-58 victory.
"We're thrilled to sneak out one against Pentucket," said Westford coach Russ Coward. "They beat us last year, they're an excellent team and we're just happy with a win."
The game got under way in the first quarter with both teams evenly matched. First Westford jumped out, 4-1, then Pentucket tied them, then did it again, 11-11, and eventually the Sachems tied the Grey Ghosts 14-14 to end the quarter.
The second quarter saw Pentucket turning things around a bit, jumping ahead on a two-pointer from Tess Nogueira right out of the gate and the Sachems would lead the rest of the way. Officials were particularly vigilant, calling fouls well into the double digits on both teams. Even the coaches got into the fouling action as Coward was called on a technical for contact with a player in the second quarter.
"That was the first technical I've ever gotten in my career, or in life as a basketball coach," said Coward. "But as far as I'm concerned, (the officials) did a fine job."
Eventually Pentucket went into the half with a 30-27 lead. But the Ghosts weren't done, coming out hot in the third quarter and chasing the Sachems up and down the court, matching them basket for basket, till they had tied things up again at the buzzer, 41-41.
The fourth quarter started off with another foul, this time drawn on Westford's Meghan Kibblehouse, who nailed both free throws, and the Ghosts never looked back as Pentucket began free-falling into a 50-43 hole. The Sachems would find some new life with less than two minutes left, when Nicole Viselli nailed a textbook three-pointer to bring the score to 55-53, touching off a furious finish. But Westford hung tight and took second place in the tournament.
"We've been talking about playing 30 minutes of basketball and we haven't done that," said Pentucket coach John McNamara. "We play in spurts. And in our third quarter, we kind of did what we did the other night. We just got flat and stood around and weren't active."
McNamara saw this loss as a good opportunity to find what his team is missing right now as they slide to 3-2 on the season.
"For us to be good, we need five kids on the floor being active defensively, crashing the boards," said McNamara. "We're a small team. We need that life and I think we lost that in the third quarter. I think we got it back a bit toward the end, but you dig yourself the hole and it's hard to come back. I thought our team played hard but not consistently.
"We had opportunities, two nights in a row now, and we didn't get a good look," continued McNamara. "So, we've got to work on that. We've had two games that we could have won if we executed at the end, but we didn't, so it's something to work on. That's why we're playing these Division 1 teams, to get ready for the tournament."
Coward, for his part, saw a lot to like from both teams.
"Pentucket's so tough, I like to think that we play like them. I'd like to have a program like them," said Coward. "The girls really took it upon themselves to really play a lot harder. I think they've played harder in this game than I've seen them play in a season and a half. So, I was really proud of them tonight."