Falls to Tewksbury, 52-49, in semifinal heartbreaker
Published March 15, 2019
By JENNIFER GENTILE
MELROSE—The Melrose High girl’s basketball team saw their Div. 2 North tournament run end in semifinals on Wednesday, March 6 at Tewksbury High against #2 seed Tewksbury (19-3) in a down-to-the-wire thriller, 52-49. The Middlesex Freedom Champs went into the bracket as the third seed, advanced past Danvers in round one, and now finish their very successful season at 17-4.
The game boiled down to a last minute battle, and a stolen Melrose inbounds pass with 2.6-seconds left that denied the Lady Raiders a chance to attempt a three-pointer to tie it up.
Tewksbury senior Elizabeth Gallella had a game high 21 points, while Melrose senior captain Peri MacDonald was a force with a 14 point double-double effort that saw her take command of the floor. Melrose sophomore center Samantha Dewey scored 11 points in a double-double effort.
The two teams switched leads 21 times and were locked in ten ties.
“We expected a battle and it was,” said Melrose coach Bill Hirschfeld after the game. “It was a hard-fought game and I liked what we did defensively. Towards the end, it was pretty much, whoever had the ball last. Unfortunately it wasn’t us.”
Tewksbury coach Mark Bradley noted the fight-to-the-end effort. “I’ve got to hand it to Melrose. It was a gutty performance by both teams. This is how you want to see high school basketball games played.”
Melrose took a quick 13-8 lead thanks to two three-pointers from Sam Smith and a layup from Sam Dewey, but by the end of the first it was locked 13 apiece, the first of several tied scores over the contest. Melrose’s two Sams hit baskets to keep it tied and Peri MacDonald hit back-to-back shots that made it 22-21 shortly before the half. Gallella had other things in mind and stole the ball for a layup that helped Tewksbury take the lead, 24-22 at the half.
Melrose came out fighting in the third, sharp with three pointers thanks to Mary Kate Mahoney, Sam Smith and Lily Cunningham, who helped keep the score a nerve-wracking 35-35 halfway through the third. In the fourth, MacDonald went 2-2 on the foul line to give Melrose a 41-39 edge, but so did Allie Wild of Tewksbury, and the teams were locked again at 43-43. Melrose felt the advantage when Wild was sent to the bench when she picked up her fourth foul. Sam Dewey shined in the fourth, ice cold on the foul line and the two teams were tied 45-45 with three minutes to go.
But Gallella hit a jumper to make it 47-45 and with 1:58 left. Tewskbury’s Wild came back into the game and caused damage with a three-pointer that made it a 50-46 game. A basket by Dewey kept it at two with slightly over a minute to go, and Abby Cunningham hit a foul shot that narrowed the gap to 50-49. With a travel call against Tewksbury, Melrose had the ball with 35 seconds let. But a missed shot and a trip to the foul line by Gallella (2-2) all but guaranteed victory, with a score of 52-49.
For coach Hirschfeld, Tewksbury came as advertised. “Our last meeting in December, I don’t think either of us played well, so this was a good game and very up-tempo. A few mistakes caught up with us in the end, and I would have liked to have done better on the foul line. But we played tough.”
This season Melrose loses some hard-to-replace seniors: Peri MacDonald, Sam Smith, Abby Cunningham and Lily Cunningham, and they return two starters, Sam Dewey and Mary Kate Mahoney.
Coach Hirschfeld spoke of his senior’s incredible varsity careers. “They played great. They really rose to the occasion and played with urgency all season. I think they helped turn things around during our game against Reading, and from there, helped us go on a winning streak. This is going to be a tough group to replace.”