Monty Tech’s Dream Season Ends in State Semifinals
WORCESTER -- No one can blame the Monty Tech girls’ basketball players for emerging from their assigned locker room with a little bit of red tinging their eyes Wednesday night.
It is understandable, of course: To run roughshod over the Colonial Athletic Conference, to win a Voke title, to clean out Central Mass. and win its first sectional title in this sport ... sure, it’s sad to lose, sad to see a wonderful season end, and it’s sad to see two amazing, record-breaking careers come to their inevitable conclusion.
And even though the Bulldogs came out on the short end of a 55-48 Division 4 state semifinal battle with Western Mass. champion Hopkins Academy at Worcester State University’s Brissette Court, there were glimpses of the future even as this era ended -- and oh, it is so bright.
The Purple and Gold, who were the top seed in Central Mass., finished the winter at 23-4
On the flip side, the Golden Hawks -- who captured their first Western Mass. crown in this sport at the Curry Hicks Cage last Saturday and improved to 19-6 -- will now advance to their first-ever state final, where they’ll take on Boston Cathedral, the Eastern Mass. South sectional champion, this weekend. The Panthers beat North champion Fenway High, 65-44, at the TD Garden on Tuesday to advance to one of the last eight interscholastic basketball games in the Commonwealth.
Monty Tech coach Scott Malboeuf was upbeat as he came out of the locker room.
“We knew going in that (Hopkins’ Samantha Jenks) was the best player we were going to ever face this year,” Malboeuf said. “She proved it. We tried to eliminate her; we changed up our defenses, mans, zones, whatever we needed to do. She’s a remarkable player.
″(The loss) is a little disappointing; we’ve had a historic run, and like I told the girls, unfortunately there’s only one team that ends their year on a win. (A record of ) 23-4 and our first district championship, and all the accolades the girls have accomplished, is just remarkable.”
It was tied at 40-up as play entered the fourth quarter, but with Erica Regan (10 points) -- who took over second place in Monty Tech girls’ basketball scoring annals early in the second quarter -- on the bench with four fouls, the Hawks pulled away thanks to a pair at the line by Jenks (game-high 27 points), a pushed-forward 3-pointer by her, and a hoop by Sara Beauchamp to give Hopkins a 47-40 lead.
But the Bulldogs still believed they had a say in this state semifinal, as Ashley Girouard (9 points) scored a 16-footer. Jenks drove from the side to re-establish the seven-point edge, 49-42, but four straight points by Monty Tech -- two made free throws by Girouard and a big steal and a layup by Emily St. Thomas (13 points) -- made it a three-point, 49-46 ballgame.
That was as close as Monty Tech got the rest of the night, as Jenks scored a mid-range jumper with 65 seconds left to crack the 50-point mark.
“This team has never quit,” Malboeuf said. “We keep fighting forward and moving forward. This team hasn’t quit in four years.”
After St. Thomas scored the last basket of her interscholastic career, a 15-foot rainbow jumper from the foul line, Jenks hit the last four free throws of the game to account for the final score.
Hopkins went 16 of 22 from the charity stripe, while Monty Tech was 6 of 11.
The Golden Hawks (17 of 49 from the floor) took control midway through the first, courtesy a 12-4 run that saw Hopkins 1,000-point scorer Jenks hit a pair of 3-pointers to get a little bit of separation between her squad and the Central Mass. champions.
But the Bulldogs (20 of 57) were never far from it, as Arianna Saladini (team-high 16 points), a freshman, snapped the run with back-to-back hoops, before Girouard cut the deficit to two, 16-14, on a shorty with a second left in the opening quarter.
Hopkins would open the second on an 11-4 run, getting the lead to 27-18 with just under 4:30 remaining.
One of Monty Tech’s hoops? A nifty little inbound play to Regan, who hit the 8-footer to claim second place on Monty’s girls’ basketball all-time career scoring leaderboard, joining St. Thomas in the top two spots.
The key to the first half, though? Hopkins played Jenks straight-up defensively on St. Thomas, barely giving her quarter.
It wasn’t until the 4:18 mark that the Sterling native got her first point of the game -- the first of two from the charity stripe -- before hitting her first bucket 40 seconds later, a triple in the corner to cut the deficit to five, 27-22.
Saladini ended the half with a one-hander in the lane, and the Tech trailed by three at the break, 27-24.
Saladini’s play, even as a freshman playing on the varsity, shows that the future is bright on the city line.
“She’s a gifted kid,” Malboeuf said. “Sometimes she shows you a little bit of greenness for a freshman, but she plays unbelievable. She’s gotten better and better, her shot is there, she drives and penetrates great.
“It’ll be bright still; we’re not going anywhere. This group got great experience from this run. We’ll see what happens.”