Published in the March 4, 2016 edition

TOURNEY CHAMPS. Melrose 8th grade girls hoop celebrate their 2016 Eastern Basketball Tournament title. Front Row (left): Kira Mate', Olivia Scarpa, Mary-Kate Mahoney, Cate Keegan. Back Row: Asst Coach Ron Sen, Maggie Sullivan, Grace Davis, Jen Connolly, Arianna Tatiana, Erin Torpey, Nicole Abbott, Head Coach Ralph LaBella.

TOURNEY CHAMPS. Melrose 8th grade girls hoop celebrate their 2016 Eastern Basketball Tournament title. Front Row (left): Kira Mate’, Olivia Scarpa, Mary-Kate Mahoney, Cate Keegan. Back Row: Asst Coach Ron Sen, Maggie Sullivan, Grace Davis, Jen Connolly, Alianna Taitano, Erin Torpey, Nicole Abbott, Head Coach Ralph LaBella.

MELROSE — Another notch has been added to the Melrose eighth grade Lady Raiders’ basketball championship belt with the capture of the 2016 Eastern Basketball Tournament of Champions title.  Held from Feb. 16-20 at the Danvers Indoor Sports Complex, Melrose battled through their division on the way to the championship.

In the opening game, Melrose faced the Peabody Higgins Middle School team and fell on the short end of the scoreboard losing 60-56 in an extremely physical game that registered 51 fouls between the two teams.  Melrose got off to a slow start trailing throughout the first half before settling at a four point deficit at halftime.  Peabody took off in the second half behind Gabby Smith’s 17 points giving the Higgins Middle School girls an 18 point lead with eight minutes to play.  After a timeout, Melrose took the play away from Peabody running off 21 points in the next five minutes to build a three point lead with three minutes to play.  Peabody battled back on a near half court three point basket by Smith and foul shots by Emily MacDonald to secure the win for Peabody.  Mary-Kate Mahoney led the scoring for Melrose with 17 points in the loss followed by Jenn Connolly’s 15 points, Erin Torpey’s 10 points and Maggie Sullivan’s seven points.

In the second round, Melrose and Saugus battled in a close game before Melrose edged Saugus 42-36.  Torpey got the Melrose team out quickly hitting her first three shots on her way to a 17 point performance.  Nicole Abbott added four important points in the game with one of her baskets moving Melrose ahead with minutes to play.  Mahoney added nine points while Connolly and Sullivan rounded out the scoring with six points each.  Taylor Bogdanski had 12 points and Molly Granara scored 11 points for Saugus.

An inter-city battle developed in the third round as Melrose Middle School was scheduled to face the Melrose YMCA eighth grade girls.  It would be the first ever meeting between the two squads and the Middle School girls defeated the YMCA team 49-16.  The Middle School was led by Sullivan’s 10 point performance alongside Olivia Scarpa who pushed eight points through the net.  Kira Mate had five points while Cate Keegan scored four points for the winners.  On the YMCA side of the scoring book, Annie Little led the scoring with six points followed by Chloe Halligan’s three points and Maura Joyce, Selah Russell and Maria O’Donnell each registering two points.  Katie Tarpey controlled the YMCA offense from the point guard position and scored one point.  Olivia Boomhower, Jenna Thorpe and Lexi Turner played solid defense for the Melrose Y.

The win gave Melrose a 2-1 record and a trip to the finals against the rival 3-0 Peabody team.  Earlier in the year, Melrose defeated Peabody 52-34 in another bitterly contested battle in a Malden tournament. For the first half of the championship game, the two teams were evenly matched with Peabody jumping out to an early 19-11 lead before Melrose stormed back to end the first half one point behind Peabody 26-25.  Once again, the two teams were extremely physical with each other notching 45 fouls between the two lineups.  The game was fiercely fought under the basket with Alianna Taitano ripping down numerous rebounds on both ends of the floor allowing Melrose to set-up their 33 point second half and 58-34 win.  Mahoney led the scoring in the championship game with 20 points while Torpey had 13 points for the winners.  Connolly had 10 points for Melrose and Scarpa chipped in five points.  Grace Davis had her best game of the tournament grabbing numerous rebounds and adding four points to the victor’s tally.  Abbott netted four points in the second half to help give Melrose the edge over Peabody while Sullivan, Mate and Keegan played valuable minutes for the champions.

The title run began for the Melrose team in their first year together as the girls won the 2012 Woburn Holiday Classic Tournament and the 2012/2013 North Shore League championship in the fifth grade culminating in a game at the TD Garden with Jim Torpey and Tim Sullivan coaching the girls.

Ralph LaBella and Ron Sen took over the team coaching the girls starting in the sixth grade and still hold the coaching reins.  In 2014, the girls became champions of the Eastern Summer League followed by being crowned the 2014/2015 champions of the Metro West league.  This year’s victory in the Eastern Basketball Tournament of Champions gave the team back to back championships in the tournament as the girls won the same tournament in the 2015 season.  This recent championship gave the Melrose Middle School Lady Raiders eighth grade team an automatic bid in the Massachusetts State Championship to be played on March 19-20.

Editor’s note: special contribution of game recaps by Mike Mahoney