Midway through the second quarter, the trailed Newton North 32-14 in a game that looked like the Tigers would put away by halftime.
But the Black Knights went to a press defense and went on a 23-3 run, tying the game at 35 with 1:51 left in the third and taking the lead a little more than a minute later on a Chrystal Holland layup.
Stoughton trailed by one, 38-37, going into the fourth, but held a 45-42 lead with 3:42 left to play.
It was Newton North’s turn for a comeback, and the Tigers responded, holding the without a point the rest of the way, closing the game on a 7-0 run and winning the opening round MIAA Division 1 South Sectional girls’ basketball tournament matchup between the two teams, 49-45, Wednesday night at Newton North.
The Black Knights went without a basket for six-plus minutes to end the game, in what was a defensive-oriented fourth quarter.
Newton North (15-6), the #8 seed, now advances to play top-seeded Friday in Franklin. Meanwhile, the season comes to a sudden end for ninth-seeded Stoughton (13-7).
“We had great effort through the middle of the game and then we completely lost our composure down the end,” Stoughton coach Janet Sullivan said. “I’m so disappointed in our play down the stretch. We started off slow, which we’ve done many times and then in this game got ourselves the lead…and then six, seven minutes straight we don’t score a basket…[Newton North] finished composed and that’s why they won the game.”
Newton North coach Linda Martindale said her team’s win came down to defense.
“The first half of the game offensively we were very, very strong. It wasn’t until it was close to the second half that we struggled offensively. We just couldn’t get shots in…so luckily for us we went into halftime up by 10 and I said to the kids offensively we’re struggling, therefore the second half has to be about defense,” Martindale said.
“[Stoughton] was a really strong team. I was really, really impressed…they were very even across the board and anybody could put up a shot for them. They crash the boards well so in the 4th quarter I think it came down to defense.”
Martindale said her team was ready to play in a close game down the stretch.
“This is a team that’s lost six games, three of them by [one or two] points,” she said. “We’ve been in situations like this. Those loses had us prepared to play when a game is a two-point or three-point game and I think those loses gave us an advantage…We weren’t sweating it out like I think we would have 10 games ago.”
Newton North jumped out to a 23-9 lead after the first quarter, after they hit pretty much every shot they put up. Gracie Rolfe and Madison Beatrice scored eight points each in the opening eight minutes.
The Tigers continued to dictate play in the opening minutes of the second quarter, building an 18-point lead. But then Stoughton closed the quarter on an 8-0 run, trailing 32-22 at the half.
Stoughton continued its strong play in the third, and trailed by just one point heading into the final quarter, after briefly taking the lead near the end of the third.
“The kids did a great job on the press, took [Newton North] out of their rhythm so they weren’t comfortable, weren’t running their sets, weren’t getting off nice, comfortable shots—they were forcing things up,” Sullivan said.
Stoughton held Newton North to just six points over a 12-plus minute stretch of play.
Emma Zuk hit a three-pointer in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, and Holland stole the ensuing inbounds pass and converted a layup to give Stoughton their largest lead of the game, 42-38.
A Holland free throw made it a 45-42 game with 3:42 to play.
Maddie Bledsoe then made it a one-point game with 2:35 left. Infiniti Thomas-Waheed came up with a steal and was fouled, hitting both of her free throw shots to give the Tigers a 46-45 lead with 1:06 left. Bledsoe and Thomas-Waheed combined to hit three more free throws in the final minute to secure the win.
Holland led all scorers with 19 points, and was instrumental in Stoughton’s comeback in the second and third quarters. Nicole Daniels had 11; Katherine Chlus had 4; Zuk, Jackie Kuhn and Mackenzie McGrath each added a three-point basket; and Ariene Ohimor had 2 points.
Bledsoe led a balanced Newton North scoring attack, finishing with 10 points. Beatrice and Jillian Doherty each had 9; Rolfe had 8; and Thomas-Waheed had 7.
“It was a great turnaround. In the regular season, I’m extremely happy,” Sullivan said of a Stoughton squad that went from a a year ago to a this season.
“But this is the playoffs. Everyone comes in 0-0 and we’re going home. So we’re very disappointed. We had a great season. I have wonderful kids but I think we let one get away from us [Wednesday night].”