AMHERST -- Strong defense by both North Middlesex Regional and Blechertown created an even battle throughout most of Monday evening's contest.
The key would be which team could break through offensively at a critical moment.
Unfortunately for the fourth-seeded Patriots, it was No. 1 Belchertown that got that breakthrough.
Leading by just one point with two minutes left, the Orioles got out in transition, closing the game on a 9-0 run in a 46-36 victory over the Patriots at the UMass Amherst Curry Hicks Cage in the Western Mass. Division 2 semifinals.
Belchertown improves to 17-4 on the year and advances to play the winner of No. 2 Longmeadow and No. 3 Pittsfield on Saturday in the title game. North Middlesex ends its season at 13-11.
"We never put together three shots in a row the entire game," North Middlesex head coach Pat Murphy said. "Obviously, it stinks to lose, but Belchertown is a good team. At the end you try to look at the season as a whole and we won the league, made the tournament, won a tournament game, and made it to UMass. I'm extremely proud of these kids. They are truly a team that hung together and supported each other."
North Middlesex was able to take care of the basketball for most of the game, only committing seven turnovers through the first three quarters. But in the fourth quarter, as the Orioles were turning up the pace, North Middlesex succumb to eight turnovers in the final eight minutes.
Belchertown center Cara McKenzie (10 points) got the final run started, scoring on a putback with two minutes left that made it 39-36 Orioles. From there, Kayla Henry -- Belchertown's star point guard -- took over.
Henry missed eight free throws in the first quarter, but went 3-for-4 down the stretch and added in two fastbreak buckets, which helped the lead creep from three to double digits by game's end.
Henry -- the leading scorer in Western Mass. -- finished with a game-high 27 points.
"North Middlesex controlled the third quarter and we had to claw our way back," Belchertown head coach Jay Woodcock said.
"My two seniors (McKenzie and Henry) took over in the fourth. Credit North Middlesex; those girls fight hard and play good defense."
North Middlesex struggled from the field, shooting just
12-for-61 in the game. The first quarter was particularly difficult as North Middlesex shot just 1-for-16, but still battled to a 5-all draw at the first break.
Belchertown started the second quarter on a 10-3 run before the Patriots broke through.
Hadley Beauregard (14 points) drained a pullup in transition and Molly O'Neill (9 points) sank a trey from up top. With 15 seconds left in the half, Beauregard sank a triple from up top, which cut the North Middlesex deficit to just 18-16 at the half.
Momentum started swinging North Middlesex's way.
Senior Grace Young (11 points) opened the second half by burying a 3-pointer.
After a Belchertown make, O'Neill drilled a trey from up top and Maddie Harrington sank a jumper to give the Patriots their biggest lead of the game at 24-19.
Belchertown would rally behind Henry, but a Young triple and Beauregard drive had North Middlesex leading at the end of the third quarter at 29-27.
The Orioles opened the fourth on a 8-2 run, with six points from Henry, which made it 35-31 Belchertown with 4:19 left.
After Young sank her final points of her career on a pair of free throws, Belchertown regained its four-point edge with a fastbreak bucket.
It seemed like North Middlesex had a chance to make a run, as O'Neill drilled a triple from with 2:28 left that cut the deficit to 37-36. But Belchertown ignited in transition and closed out the Patriots' season.