ASHBURNHAM — Sometimes District basketball games become merely a matter of survival.
That was the case for the Groton-Dunstable girls on Wednesday night when they traveled to meet Oakmont with a semi-final berth in the Division 2 playoffs on the line.
The Lady Crusaders survived both their own sporadic play (27 turnovers) and some good old-fashioned home cooking for the Spartans to eke out a 42-38 win.
Oakmont had only eight field goals in the contest, but were the recipients of a 41-8 edge at the free throw line, which kept them in the game throughout. On this night the added set of eyes from the three-referee system nearly picked the Lady Crusaders clean.
“We showed a lot of nerves tonight but we survived,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Mark Hennelly. “We didn’t play at the level that we have over the last two weeks and it almost cost us. I’m very proud of the girls. They stayed focused and positive and there was no quit.”
“We just couldn’t make our foul shots,” said Oakmont coach Jeff O’Neill, whose team hit 21 of their 41 attempts. “The kids worked hard and I can’t fault the effort. We just missed a lot of free throws and didn’t finish well from in close.”
After Stacy Watt put Oakmont on top 3-2 by hitting a three-pointer, the Lady Crusaders bounced back with seven unanswered points to take a 9-3 lead. Leda Tornaritis got things started with a conventional three-pointer before the ever-improving Amanda Woitowicz scored on a drive, and added a lay-up.
Oakmont battled back and tied the game by scoring six consecutive points, the final four on free throws.
The Lady Crusaders rebuilt the lead to five at 18-13 when Kelley Hutchinson banked in a pretty running shot from the right side, but Oakmont wouldn’t go away and drew even at 19-19 when Watt hit a pair of free throws.
Eva Mahan, who did an outstanding job off the boards over the first 16 minutes with eight rebounds, sent the Lady Crusaders to intermission with a 21-19 lead when she hauled down an offensive rebound and converted.
Allie Mohnk’s follow-up basket to open the second half drew the Spartans even, and set up a taut final 16 minutes as neither team could shake loose.
Woitowicz, who finished with 12 points, four rebounds and two steals, hit a mid-range jumper and added a pair of free throws to put Groton-Dunstable on top 29-24 with ten minutes left.
Groton-Dunstable faced mounting foul troubles as many of their players were saddled with at least three fouls with plenty of game left.
Sandra Lanier had struggled offensively, but came up big with a three-pointer that just beat the 30-second clock to keep regain the five point lead at 34-29. Lanier then added a lay-up after hauling down an offensive rebound for the largest lead of the game at 36-29.
But the Spartans relied on the free throw line to climb right back in it as Colleen Doherty, Becca Robidoux and Tracy Letourneau each hit a pair of free throws, before Letourneau’s follow-up basket cut the lead to 38-37.
Groton-Dunstable dug in defensively shut down the Spartans on their next few possessions. Hutchinson made it 40-37 with a lay-up, before Woitowicz finished off a fast break with a lay-up after taking a clever pass from Tornaritis for some breathing room at 42-37.
“Sandra strugged offensively but hit two big shots in the second half,” said Hennelly. “I trust her to take the shots. Kelley Hutchinson showed why she is our leader by making big plays, and Amanda Woitowicz just continues to improve. Give Oakmont a lot of credit for how hard they play. Coach Jeff O’Neill has done a great job and I admire the job he and his team have done.”
Hutchinson finished with eight points, ten rebounds and two steals for the Lady Crusaders. Mahan scored six points and hauled down ten rebounds, while Lanier (three rebounds, two steals), Tornaritis (two rebounds, three steals) and Ali MacLeod (three rebounds) each chipped in with five points.
Watt led Oakmont with ten points, two rebounds and five steals. Sally Leger chased down loose balls with abandon and finished with seven points and 14 rebounds. Letourneau (seven rebounds) and Emily Mahoney each added five points.