(VIDEO) Springfield Central Wins Division 1 State Girls Basketball Championship
By Nate Weitzer for Mass Prep Stars
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The Golden Eagles of Springfield Central reached the state finals by playing a freewheeling style and firing away from long range with abandon.
Yet they trailed Braintree, 30-20, at halftime of the girls’ Division 1 state final at MassMutual Center, because of that style.
Rather than making any radical adjustments to compensate for that deficit, Central head coach Erik Maurer and his players simply played their game, ratcheted up their defensive pressure and went on to outscore the Wamps 41 to 15 in the second half, on the way to a 61-45 victory and a state championship.
“At halftime we talked about how a couple three-point shots either way were the only difference,” said Maurer. “But all of our adjustments came on the defensive end. We switched up from man-to-man and went to more of a zone press. “
In the first half, Central shot 0-for-16 from deep and missed four lay-ups, while Braintree routinely broke the Golden Eagles press and earned 17 free throws to build an early lead.
Yet in the third quarter, they flipped the script, forcing 11 Braintree turnovers while Phyness Baldwin (14 points, 6 rebounds) and Sha’raya Haines Hughes (17 points) connected on three triples. Those two seniors contributed 17 third-quarter points as the Golden Eagles outscored the Wamps 18-6 to grab a 38-36 lead after 24 minutes of play.
“We got a little flustered and just weren’t able to get it over that halfcourt line,” said Braintree coach Kristen McDonnell. “Our players don’t usually get flustered and it was a little bet of an anomaly for us, but [Central] got a little adrenaline and then the momentum. To their credit, they played a great second half.”
Wamps star senior Keelah Dixon (14 points ) hit a three to beat the buzzer at the end of the third quarter and Mackenzie Moore (12 points) drained her fourth triple to make it 44-41 early in the fourth quarter, but from there, it was all Central.
Haines immediately responded with another three and after a lengthy delay due to a pulled fire alarm, Baldwin drove to make it 51-41 and put the Golden Eagles in position to salt away the win.
“We relied on their experience a little bit,” said Maurer. “There was a time in the first quarter where we were a little taken back by the run [The Wamps] were making at us and I thought our seniors really solidified us by making some big shots and keeping us close enough to make our run.”
For Braintree, this loss represents a bittersweet end to a great season and the careers of several integral seniors.
But in the end, it was the Golden Eagles’ night, as senior Ishanna Brown Jones and her classmates avenged a loss to Braintree in the 2015 state finals.
“We just weren’t done fighting,” said Brown Jones. “[The Wamps] had us frustrated early, but beating them is a huge load of our shoulders and it means so much to us.”
State Champions celebrate!
Stars Who Shined
Sha’raya Haines Hughes ‘17 G – She couldn’t buy a bucket in the first half, but Haines Hughes came alive to spark her team in the third quarter. Her first triple came at a key moment and her second gave Central its first lead of the game at 34-33.
When the Wamps made a move to trim the deficit in the fourth quarter, Haines Hughes had an answer.
“We always tell Hughes to keep shooting until she misses three in a row,” said Maurer. “She’s a tremendous shooter when she gets hot and she really carried us in that third quarter.”
Phyness Baldwin ‘17 G – The Golden Eagles seemed to have a little more than their opponents in terms of toughness, and Baldwin personified that factor. She was all over the court and at the heart of Central’s full court zone pressure, which seemed to turn the game around.
Baldwin finishes a tough layup for Central.
“I thought we were a little tight in the first half and our defensive movements were too chaotic,” Maurer asserted. “Braintree did a great job of moving the ball against us but we did a great job in the second half.”
Baldwin takes it strong to the basket and finishes through contact.
Ishanna Brown Jones ‘17 G – She was the maestro at the helm of Central’s offense and Brown Jones was one of those key seniors who came up with big buckets early when the team couldn’t manage to knock down any perimeter shots.
Once Central had the lead in the second half, she slowed it down before getting to the rim for key finishes, and also used her leadership to keep the team focused amidst a lengthy third and chaotic start to the fourth quarter.
Halftime: Braintree 30, Springfield Central 20. Golden Eagles shot 0-16 from 3 and missed 4 lay-ups, but Ishanna Brown (6p) scores here pic.twitter.com/Baju7i7Y8Z— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) March 18, 2017
“We loosened up a little bit when everything started to happen the way it did,” Maurer said about a third quarter that lasted at least 30 minutes due to clock errors, injuries and other issues. “It allowed the girls to just kind of catch a breath.”
Added Brown Jones, “It was all confusing but in that time period I just tried to keep my team together and make sure everyone was focused.”
Makayla Rudder ‘18 F – If Baldwin represented the toughness, Rudder was the energy that the Golden Eagles needed to come back from a sizable deficit.
The 6-foot forward blocked two shots, came up with two steals and caused numerous deflections while helping to create the 28 turnovers Braintree committed on the night.
She only added one basket, but Rudder’s contributions went beyond scoring.
Brown (l) and Rudder (r) share a State Championship moment.
Keelah Dixon‘17 G – Dixon is always tough to stop and she paced the Wamps to an early lead with sharp shooting and strong takes to the basket. Yet Maurer and his staff were able to make some adjustments to slow her down in the second half.
“It helped that we were able to tire out Dixon, because everything kind of goes through her,” Maruer said. “We just wanted to make somebody else handle the ball.”
Dixon nails a deep three, beating the buzzer at the third quarter.
For McDonnell, her star senior represents a great class that did very well to make the state finals after opening the state tournament as the seventh seed in D1 South.
“They’re a really special senior class, led by Keelah Dixon,” McDonnell said. “The kids kind of beat to her drum and you can tell that those five have been so close. They trust each other, they have each other’s back and I think we overachieved this year because of that. They played their hearts out.”
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