ACTON — Most good teams win when their offense is clicking, but what separates good teams from the rest is the ability to win with Plan B in effect.
It was obvious early that the battle between the ASH Crush and Acton-Boxboro at the Acton-Boxboro Invitational Tournament was going to be decided by work in the trenches. On a day when their offense sputtered, the ASH Crush prevailed 29-21 behind strong defense and solid work off the boards.
The Crush committed 26 turnovers in the contest, but worked hard defensively to earn a stalemate in that department. They also owned a 35-25 edge off the boards, which keyed the victory.
Eight Crush players scored in the game, led by Allyson Esielionis with eight points, to go along with five rebounds. Jillian Pinard was a physical presence inside the paint, finishing with seven points, three rebounds and three steals. Erin Stern turned in a strong all-around effort with four points, five rebounds and three steals, while Vicky Prescott added four points, two rebounds and four steals. Sydney Brinkerhoff (five rebounds, two steals) and Melissa Belanger each scored two points, while Sarah Wallace (four rebounds, two steals) and Gabrielle Hebert (eight rebounds) each chipped in with one point.
The defensive tone of the game was set early when Acton-Boxboro struggled to get the ball inside and was forced to take perimeter shots that weren’t falling.
The Crush got off to a quick start, taking a 4-0 lead on a follow-up basket by Stern and a fast break lay-up by Esielionis.
Acton-Boxboro answered back, getting a short jumper by Julia Marcotte and a pair of free throws by Angela Zhao to tie the game with 10 minutes left in the first half.
Pinard put the Crush on top for good, finishing off a tough drive and adding a free throw for a conventional three-point play to make it 7-6. Acton-Boxboro was never able to get on even terms the rest of the way.
Acton-Boxboro drew within one point twice in the first half, the final time at 11-10 on a free throw by Brooke Goshtigian with three minutes left, but the Crush upped their defensive intensity and scored the final five points of the half to build a cushion.
Esielionis finished off a fast break with a lay-up after taking a pass from Prescott to make it 13-10. Wallace hit a free throw, before Brinkerhoff hauled down an offensive rebound and converted to send the Crush to intermission with a 16-10 advantage.
The Crush’s defense was responsible for the lead, holding Acton-Boxboro to 3 of 18 shooting in the first half, while complementing that with a solid 20-11 rebounding edge. Acton-Boxboro did a nice job of getting to the free throw line in the first half, but was able to convert only four of 10 attempts.
Both teams struggled mightily to get anything going offensively in the early stages of the second half, the only points over the first six minutes being a follow-up basket by Acton-Boxboro’s Jenna Bachrach, which cut the lead to 16-12.
As the midway point of the second half approached, the Crush put together a quick 6-2 spurt to open up their largest lead of the game at 22-14. Esielionis was the catalyst of the run, hitting a lay-up after taking a pretty pass from Pinard, before connecting on a short shot from the baseline. When Prescott finished off a fast break with a lay-up, the Crush had established their eight-point lead with just over six minutes left.
There was no quit in Acton-Boxboro and they climbed back into the game with six consecutive points. Rebecca Shamah scored after grabbing an offensive rebound, Brooke Goshtigian buried a 17-footer, before another follow-up basket by Shamah made it 22-20 with four minutes left.
Acton-Boxboro still trailed by two at 23-21 with 2:56 left, but the Crush defense pitched a shutout the rest of the way, using their length to advantage to force tough shots. Stern finished off a strong drive to make it a two-possession game, before Pinard tallied the final four points of the contest on a drive and a fast break-lay-up to seal the deal.
The game featured tough defense at both ends of the court as each team registered 16 steals.
Bachrach led Acton-Boxboro with six points. Goshtigian finished with five points, three rebounds and three steals while Shamah added four points and five rebounds. Zhao (two rebounds, two steals) and Julia Marcotte (two steals) both added two points.