As Niki Tsiotosâ€™s half-court shot floated through the air and enticingly toward the basket, Winthrop fans whose town has the greatest sports miracle-producer living here in one Mike Eruzione, thought they might see another.
But the potential game-winning three-point shot by Tsiotos, whose superb defense on St. Maryâ€™s star Brianna Rudolph had put Winthrop in a position to prevail, was slightly off target and St. Maryâ€™s held on to defeat the Winthrop High girls basketball team, 47-45, in the Division 3 North final Saturday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.
Senior captain Ashelyne Babb (11 points), playing in her last game, was clutch down the stretch and her basket with 3.7 seconds left closed the margin to two points and set up the final dramatic sequence.
â€œBabb is a really good point guard,â€ said St. Maryâ€™s head coach Jeff Newhall. â€œShe was a really tough match-up for us.â€
Sophomore center Nina Bartlette produced another stellar post-season performance, scoring 16 points and signaling to the basketball community that she will be a force to be recognized with over the next two years. The 6-foot center has shown tremendous improvement this season, a fact noted by Newhall in the post-game press conference.
â€œBartlette had a tremendous game,â€ credited Newhall. â€œSheâ€™s tough to move, she has good hands and good power moves in the paint. There may not be a better sophomore with her size in the state â€“ we played Winthrop in the jamboree and two weeks ago [in the Spartan Classic] and her improvement is that sheâ€™s 100 per cent better. For a post player, she has it all – she can go right, go left, and create space. Sheâ€™s aggressive and she makes her free throws.â€
Winthrop trailed 17-10 after one period, but outscored the Catholic Central League champions over the final three periods. Theresa Jones, who had a strong finish to her solid career, contributed 10 points to help the Vikingsâ€™ comeback while junior Kristen Siscamanis, hampered by foul trouble, scored six points.
Niki Tsiotos kept Rudolph (15 points), who had scored 36 points in the semifinals, in check in the second half, paving the way for the Lady Vikingsâ€™ rally.
â€œI think Winthropâ€™s a great team and their coach did a great job today,â€ said Newhall. â€œThey had 21 wins, and theyâ€™re Northeastern Conference champions, and theyâ€™ll be here for awhile.â€
Winthrop coach Ignacio Oyoya has restored the program to its highest level since the Courtney Finn-Kristen Finn-Nicole Giaquinto-Katerina Mallios-Meredith Soper glory years.
â€œIt was a good game and Iâ€™m proud of my girls,â€ said Oyola. â€œWe had an excellent season. I couldnâ€™t ask for anything more. Iâ€™m extremely proud of how we played all season long and in todayâ€™s game.â€
Oyola credited his three seniors â€“ Ashelyne Babb, Jenn Adamson, and Theresa Jones – for their contributions to the program.
â€œAshelyne Babb was a captain and has been with us since her sophomore year and she really kept the program at its pace,â€ said Oyola. â€œSheâ€™s the floor general and sets up everything for the team at the offensive end. Sheâ€™s a great leader overall.â€
â€œIt was nice watching Jenn Adamson progress through the program,â€ said Oyola. â€œShe really helped us a lot as a defensive player who can come in and defend a perimeter player and a post player. Sheâ€™s kind of like the glue to the team.â€
â€œAnd Theresa Jones, another player who was playing varsity as a freshman. This year she had an incredible season. Sheâ€™s someone we relied on for scoring and sheâ€™s one of the most respectful players Iâ€™ve ever coached. Iâ€™m really going to miss these three seniors.â€