Top Newburyport in semifinals; played Foxborough at Garden

Published March 12, 2020

THE HORNETS celebrate their historic Div. 2 North championship at the Tsongas Center. North Reading beat 2019 and 2018 D2 North champion Pentucket 41-36 on Saturday, March 7. (NRHS Athletics Photo)

By DAN NUNN

LOWELL — The NRHS girls’ basketball team achieved one of the greatest athletic feats in school history as they upset No. 1 seed and defending state champion Pentucket 41-36 in the Division 2 North Sectional Final at the Tsongas Center on Saturday afternoon.

It is the first D2 North Sectional title in the 65-year history of NRHS.

North Reading went on to play Foxborough in the Div. 2 State Semifinals on Wednesday after press time at the TD Garden. The winner meets the winner of Medway vs. Taconic in the finals.

The Hornets and Sachems met in CAL play twice this season with Pentucket enjoying two wins, the first by eight points and the second by 23.

The third time was much different as NRHS went toe-to-toe with the Sachems. The key to victory was North Reading’s 3-point shooting as they went 7-for-21 compared to only 3-for-17 for Pentucket.

THE NEST traveled to the Tsongas Center on Saturday to witness the Hornets win a sectional championship over state powerhouse and CAL rival Pentucket. (NRHS Photo)

“Our defense was outstanding the entire game,” said head coach Bob Romeo. “We rebounded the ball consistently, we made them work for every point and hit enough shots in the second half to pull out the win.”

Senior captain Lauren Sullivan led the North Reading scoring attack with 16 points to go along with eight rebounds, four steals, and two blocks.

Senior captain Kiley McCarthy (12 points), senior captain Ali Grasso (seven points, three rebounds, five assists, two steals), sophomore Nasha Arnold (five points, 17 rebounds) and junior Sarah Gerber (one point, seven rebounds) all provided great team defense.

Both teams got off to a slow start offensively and the Sachems clung to a 7-5 lead after one quarter. They extended the lead to 14-6 with 1:20 left in the first half before Sullivan buried back-to-back 3-pointers to send the game into halftime with Pentucket only ahead 14-12.

Neither team scored for the first four minutes of the third quarter. Eventually, the Hornets caught fire with a 15-7 run. McCarthy capped the run with a Steph Curry range 3-pointer as time expired and NRHS took a 27-21 lead into the final quarter.

North Reading opened the lead up to 39-31 with 48 seconds remaining. However, the Sachems refused to go quietly and hit a deep 3 with 15 seconds remaining to cut the lead down to 39-36. But on the ensuing possession, Sullivan took the inbounds pass, was immediately fouled, and calmly made two free throws to seal the game.

Sink Clippers in semifinals

Kiley McCarthy scored a career-high 20 points to help lead the 7th seeded Hornets to a thrilling 53-49 victory over the 6th-seeded Newburyport Clippers at St John’s Prep in the Division 2 North Semifinals on March 4.

McCarthy added four 3-pointers, five rebounds and six steals.

Lauren Sullivan (10 points, eight rebounds, three assists, four blocks), Ali Grasso (11 points, four assists, two steals), Nasha Arnold (nine points, nine rebounds) and Sarah Gerber (two points, 10 rebounds) all played significant roles in the win.

SENIOR CAPTAINS Kiley McCarthy (1), Ali Grasso (3) and Lauren Sullivan (4) celebrate a Grasso and-one against Newburyport on March 4 at St. John’s Prep. The three have led the Hornets on an incredible run that included a Div. 2 North Championship and a trip to the TD Garden. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

“After grinding our way back into the game in the first half, we were able to make enough plays in the second half to build and maintain a lead,” said Romeo. “Clutch foul shooting at the very end by Ali and Lauren sealed the win.”

North Reading led 5–2 early on but hot shooting from freshman Deidra McElhinney (game-high 24 points) fueled a 21–7 Clipper run and Newburyport raced out to a 23-12 lead midway through the second quarter.

It looked like Newburyport was going to take control of the game, but thanks to a 10-point run by McCarthy, North Reading closed the half with a 12–3 burst to trim the deficit to 26-24.

The Hornets took the opening possession of the third quarter and Sullivan evened up the contest with a driving layup. McCarthy continued her hot shooting and NRHS finished the quarter clinging to a slim 40-36 lead.

In the final quarter, the Hornets built the lead all the way up to 48-39 on a Sullivan fastbreak layup but the Clippers would not go quietly and worked it back to a 51-49 game before Sullivan hit two huge foul shots with five seconds remaining to seal the win.