By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – It was the game that some never thought would take place due to postponements and tomfoolery; but finally, the Central and Bristol Eastern girls clashed at the Charles C. Marsh Gymnasium on Wednesday, Feb. 24 to complete their regular season obligations.
And, unlike the first tilt – a contest that saw the Lancers crush Central by a 77-36 tilt – the Rams gave its crosstown rival one heck of a run before the visitors finally pulled away in the second half.
Eastern’s defense finally started paying dividends over the final 10 minutes of the contest; and in the end, the Lancers nabbed a 59-42 victory to finish the regular campaign at 12-9 – winning its final eight regular season games in a row.
But pesky Central (2-18) wasn’t content to just show up and with 2:23 left to go in the third period, it was a three-point game; and the Lancers – having only the Central game to play this week plus its postseason seeding already determined – couldn’t shake the home team early.
“It was tough to get into a rhythm,” said Eastern coach Tony Floyd. “We got off to a slow start especially since we only played once this week. It’s hard especially since [the players] know that [the state tournament] pairings are already set.”
Turnovers were a factor as the two squads combined to commit 10 in the first three minutes of the game alone.
And when both teams could notconvert on those miscues, the game was kept close and that favored the Rams.
“For both teams, it was sloppy at first at the start of the game,” said Central coach Steve Gaudet. “But my kids competed. You can say ‘Look at us, we’re a 2-18 team’ and most 2-18 teams are going to fold up and this game got drawn on for an extra week, we’ve got nothing to play for, but my girls sure didn’t show it. They played until the end.”
“This was a game until the fourth quarter and I’m very proud of the effort and the way they competed and I’ve been on them all year about being competitive and having that drive to finish games.”
Eventually, Eastern found its groove and those turnovers by Central turned into points for the Lancers and that one possession third period edge became a 21-point cushion for the visitors.
“I thought they did a good job just getting focused in the second half,” said Floyd. “In the second half, we played better defense, got into transition, settled into our offense.”
Senior Jamilla Shoultz finished out her final regular season game with big numbers as she collected 15 points, 15 rebounds, four steals, and a couple of assists while teammate Diana Wnuk notched 11 of her 13 points in the second half to go along with seven rebounds and three steals.
Senior Gianna D’Amato collected nearly half-a-dozen steals along with three points and three rebounds, Hannah Maghini shined with 11 points and eight rebounds while Miya Laprise flashed in four points and had two steals.
Eastern’s bench rose to the challenge once again and the combination of Miranda Janick (four points, four rebounds, four steals), senior Anna Kelley (four points), and Meredith Foreman (four points, five rebounds) all made huge contributions to the winning effort.
“They gave me a lot off the bench,” said Floyd. “If anything, they made a big [contribution]. We had Miranda Janick, Anna Kelly, and Meredith Foreman do a good job. That was great for us. We don’t have [Jillian] LeBeau so it’s different but those kids really stepped it up since she’s been out. So we can go eight, possibly nine [deep] if she comes back.”
In her final scholastic game, Allie Martel went out fighting, dropping in 14 of her team high 15 points in the first half of play; while Brianna Hamel added 11 points and scored all but one of her points over the final 10:30 minutes of play.
Freshman Ashley Watson showed grit and dropped in six points while Ravan Rodriguez slipped in six points off the pine.
Meghan Hamel (two points), senior Sam Paradis, Sarah Strilkauskas, and Sarah Guerin all made contributions in the winning effort.
And this thing was in doubt early as Central led 15-13 at the completion of one period, had a second period advantage as well before trailing at the half by five before unraveling a bit to end the third stanza of play.
“We struggled with that,” said Gaudet about his team finishing games. “We’ve had leads in the second half almost this whole second half of the season. We’ve had a lead at halftime and we’ve kind of blown it. It’s all about competing to the end and I thought tonight we did.”
Four lead changes highlighted a busy first quarter of action and off a Maghini foul line jumper, giving the Lancers a 13-11 edge with 1:23 to play in the frame, Central strung together consecutive points to nab the lead after one.
Rodriguez banked in a short field goal and when Martel hit two free throws to end the scoring, Central held a 15-13 lead after eight minutes of play.
“It gave us a lot of confidence,” said Gaudet of the early lead. “We knew that [Eastern] weren’t 40 points better than us like they were last time. They had a great game, we didn’t have such a good game, and we knew that if we played solid defense and rebounded, we would be in this game.”
“So it gave us a lot of confidence going into [the second quarter].”
Shoultz opened the second period with three consecutive points but when Meghan Hamel found Strilkauskas for a jumper, the Rams’ lead was 17-16 with 6:17 to go before the half.
But a 6-0 burst by the Lancers – capped by a steal and lay-up from Maghini – saw the visitors ramp up a 22-17 lead with 3:47 to go before intermission.
Central never tasted the lead again; but Martel ended the half with two hoops and Eastern countered as Kelley canned a baseline jumper and when Maghini found Janick for a late bucket, the Lancers’ edge at the half reached 26-21.
The Rams refused to quit even when Shoultz made a steal and a hoop with 5:10 to go in the third period as Watson and Brianna Hamel connected on back-to-back hoops and when Martel dropped in a free throw with 2:39 left in the third, the deficit was reduced to 35-32.
But turnovers by the Rams were finally producing buckets for the Lancers and from that point in the game, the visitors went on a blazing 24-6 run over a nine-minute stretch.
Just about everyone in an Eastern uniform had a hand in the offense and when reserve Cassie Doyon kicked in one final free throw, the Lancers’ lead reached 59-39 with just under a minute to go.
In the end, Eastern picked up win number 12 behind a 59-42 victory and quickly started to prepare for a rematch against No. 13 Northwest Catholic in the Class L state tournament bracket.
“We’ll be ready for them,” said Floyd of Northwest. “It will be a good game down in their [gym]. They know us, we know them. We’ll be focused…we’ll be ready.”
And while the season for the Rams ended, the squad was right there with the Lancers before just falling short over the final quarter of the contest in a solid showing to end the regular season.
“I don’t know what the score at halftime was but it was a close game at half,” said Gaudet. “We were in it and we were in it until the fourth quarter. And credit to Eastern, they worked hard, they hit some shots and took care of the ball better than we did.”
The game marked the final scholastic game for Central seniors Allie Martel, Sam Paradis, and Sam Laviero.
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.
PHOTOS by TAMMI NAUDUS