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WORCESTER — On a cold and blustery March evening, the Groton-Dunstable girls basketball team picked exactly the right time to get red hot.

The Lady Crusaders slipped past Uxbridge 58-52 to earn a berth in the Central Massachusetts Division 2 finals against Millbury, keyed by great shooting up and down the lineup. Groton-Dunstable connected on 25 of 47 shots (53 percent), including three of six from three-point range.

“The mystery coming into the playoffs was how we would shoot,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Mark Hennelly. “We got great shooting tonight. We were really tense for our first round game against Oakmont, but there was a different feeling in the locker room tonight. Our kids really don’t care who does the scoring, but everyone chipped in tonight.”

The first half was close throughout with both teams answering and not allowing the other to gain an edge. There were an amazing 19 lead changes over the first 16 minutes as both teams came out shooting the ball well.

The final lead change of the half came when Amanda Woitowicz’s fast break lay-up put the Lady Crusaders on top 28-27 with 1:44 left. Groton-Dunstable buckled down defensively over the remainder of the half, holding Uxbridge scoreless, while getting a follow-up basket by Ali MacLeod and a pair of Heather Moody free throws to take a 32-27 lead to intermission.

Groton-Dunstable hit half their shots (14-28) in the first half, and were led by Sandra Lanier with nine points and MacLeod, who came off the bench to hit four of five shots for eight points.

Groton-Dunstable was sabotaged by 17 first half turnovers.

“I talked about the turnovers at halftime,” said Hennelly. “We were making too many lazy passes.”

Uxbridge got superb play from guard Kaitlyn Chenevert (ten first half points) and strong stints off the bench from Amanda Sebastiao and Catherine Beaudette, who added six and five points, respectively.

Groton-Dunstable created some breathing room to start the second half when Eva Mahan scored on a drive, and Lanier (18 points) drained a three-pointer to extend the lead to ten at 37-27. Lanier struggled in her last game against Oakmont, but came up big by hitting eight of 14 shots in the game.

“I tried to forget the last game and to focus on this one,” said Lanier, a sophomore guard-forward. “I love playing at W.P.I and it was important that I came out and hit some shots early. We were pretty relaxed for the game and I think that our shooting just became contagious.”

Uxbridge was forced to play from behind and appeared primed to make a run a number of times, but Groton-Dunstable usually had an answer. The Spartans got strong play from Beaudette, who scored eight of her 13 points after intermission on knifing, left-handed drives to the basket.

Three times Uxbridge drew to within six points, and three times big Lady Crusader shots stuck a dagger into their heart.

Beaudette’s conventional three-point play drew the Spartans to within 43-37, but Kelley Hutchinson buried a three-pointer to boost the lead back to nine.

After a free throw by Uxbridge’s Jackie Dieana (nine points, nine rebounds) made it 48-42, Lanier drained a 17-footer, before Leda Tornaritis added a drive to expand the lead to double digits.

Beaudette finished off a drive to make it 54-48, but Tornaritis (nine points, five rebounds) scored on a drive to make it an eight-point game.

Uxbridge finally drew to within five on a pair of free throws by Deiana, but there were just 18 seconds left in the game.

“We escaped in the Oakmont game and there was just a different mindset tonight,” said Hennelly. “I think that our strength of schedule came into play tonight, and that all the tough competition we played over the season was important. This was a team effort as Ali MacLeod came out and hit some big shots early, Sandra Lanier proved that she is one of our best players with a big effort, Amanda Woitowicz played with a lot of confidence, and Kelley Hutchinson was again our captain and leader. Also, Leda Tornaritis kept getting knocked down and getting back up. She was in the middle of a lot of physical play.”

Hutchinson finished with ten points and four rebounds for Groton-Dunstable. MacLeod added eight points and seven rebounds while Woitowicz chipped in with six points and six rebounds.

Julie Caffrey (five rebounds) and Chenevert (six rebounds, three steals) each scored ten points for Uxbridge.

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