EMMA SHINNEY had a game-high 17 points along with 5 rebounds and 2 assists in Wakefield’s opening round victory over Grafton on Friday night. The No. 3 Warriors host No. 14 Whitman-Hanson in a Round of 16 matchup tonight at 6 p.m. (Brian Cusack File Photo)
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
WAKEFIELD — The Wakefield High girls’ basketball team hosted Grafton on Friday night for a Div. 2 first round state tournament game.
The Warriors led from start to finish and held off a late 3rd quarter run from the Gators. Wakefield finished strong with 17 points in the final quarter to run away with it.
Senior captain Emma Shinney set the tone in this one, scoring 12 of her game-high 17 points in the first quarter. Shinney also added 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
Wakefield’s main rotation, including senior captain Mia Forti (6 pts, 9 reb, 2 stl), junior Savannah Cummings (6 pts, 6 reb, 3 stl, 3 blk) junior captain Emma Quinn (5 pts, 3 reb, 2 stl), sophomore Brooklyn Calder (5 pts, 4 reb, 5 stl) and sophomore Shea Suntken (3 pts, 5 stl, 2 ast), all played phenomenal defense as the team has throughout the season. The Warriors have now surrendered an average of 30.2 points per game in 21 contests.
“I thought we were a little rusty for sure,” said Wakefield head coach Jason Pavey. “Our last game was Valentine’s Day and no matter how many scrimmages or practices you have, it’s tough to replicate game intensity.”
Wakefield’s offense certainly had lulls, specifically in the 2nd and 3rd quarters when they combined for 11 points. But leaning on their calling card of relentless pressure, the defense soon led to open looks and the Warriors wore out the Gators by the time the 4th quarter rolled around.
“I thought our offense stalled out a few times but the kids always know that it’s defense first,” said Pavey. “We got multiple stops and that got us some transition baskets.”
Shinney got the first basket on a hesitation, spin and lefty layup. She later hit a 3 and after Grafton tied it at 7-7, Shinney broke it with another layup and followed with an and-one after a nice dish from Suntken.
“I thought Emma Shinney set the tone for us,” said Pavey. “She was super aggressive offensively and did a great job pressuring the ball.”
The quarter ended with Shinney and Suntken hounding Grafton’s point guard as the Wakefield bench erupted, but both teams were hustling with Wakefield up 14-9 after one.
The 2nd quarter featured just 11 combined points between the two teams. Forti had 4 points in the 2nd including a put-back after an offensive rebound which gave the home team an 18-11 lead and forced a Grafton timeout.
Wakefield led 21-13 at the half.
The 3rd quarter belonged to Grafton as the Warriors scored just 4 points, 3 from another Shinney and-one. The Gators played a tough zone defense and points were at a premium again as the Warriors took a more tense 25-21 lead into the final frame.
Wakefield shot 9-for-13 from the free throw line in the 4th quarter with Quinn and Suntken both 2-for-2 early on to create a 29-22 advantage.
The biggest swing of the game came when Shinney found Cummings running the floor, the center making a great catch and finishing through a foul for a 31-24 lead. Cummings also had 3 blocks and altered drives along with forwards Forti and Calder all game.
“Savannah Cummings did what she’s done all year for us: provide energy and a defensive presence off the bench,” said Pavey.
Wakefield picked up another point after a technical foul was called on a Grafton player and the combination of an 8-point lead along with Wakefield’s still-fiery defense and an electric Red Sea creating an imposing home court advantage, made it clear that Wakefield would be near-impossible to beat with under six minutes to play.
Of course, the Warriors finished strong as is required in the tournament where anything can happen.
Calder followed with an emphatic block, Suntken and Shinney continued to force turnovers and Quinn gave fans a reason to exhale, returning from an injury sustained earlier in the game and proving she was ok on a steal and coast-to-coast finish which put the game out of reach at 36-24.
“Brooklyn Calder and Shea Suntken locked people up; Mia Forti was great on the boards and Emma Quinn battled through an injury and was clutch in the fourth quarter,” said Pavey.
Together, the Warriors shook off the rust of a 17-day break between games and began a journey toward their goal of making a deep tournament run.
That journey continues back at home tonight in the Round of 16 where the 3rd-ranked Warriors will host No. 14 Whitman-Hanson at 6 p.m. The Panthers (14-7) beat No. 19 Leominster 52-46 in the first round. Whitman-Hanson is a tough opponent. The Panthers made it to the Div. 2 state semifinals last year where they were edged by Norwood 51-46. The team is led by senior point guard Caitlin Leahy, Whitman-Hanson’s lone senior returning from last year’s Final Four team.
The winner of tonight’s game will advance to the state quarterfinals where they will meet the winner of No. 6 Dracut vs. No. 11 Nashoba who are also playing tonight. If Wakefield can beat Whitman-Hanson, the Warriors would host that quarterfinal matchup, possibly as soon as Friday or Saturday.