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REGION — The North Central Blaze 12u girls captured the 2010 Massachusetts state tournament Division 2 championship on May 2. The team comprised of girls residing in the Nashoba Valley area played with a vitality that took them above all of their equally well-prepared and competitive opposition.

This annual state event brought together a talented group of teams from throughout the commonwealth to compete in a weekend basketball classic. Each team had to play three pool games to be placed in the championship brackets with all games played over the weekend. The North Central hard court squad demonstrated a great deal of talent and grit from the start. The competition was extremely challenging with each of the pool games requiring the Blaze to use their variety of talents and discipline to emerge victorious. The Blaze won all three of their games with two on Friday evening and one on Saturday to advance to the Elite Eight the following day.

On Sunday, the competition became even more difficult and talented, but the Blaze prevailed in each of their contests, using tenacious defense and demonstrating an array of team offenses both from inside and outside the perimeter. The girls first met the Bay State Magic on Sunday morning. The first half was very close as the Magic went on an early run. Little by little the Blaze closed the gap and eventually ended the half up by two points.

It was all Blaze in the second half as the big girls took control of the boards and the guards contributed their share by making some incredible steals and showing no hesitation as they pushed the ball up the court and finished with key baskets. The Blaze dominated with a 48-28 victory and then moved on to the Final Four.

The semifinal game was a battle right from the start. The Wildcats came out strong with harassing tight team defense and with confidence on the offensive end. The Blaze hung tough, but found themselves down by three points late in the first half and in need of some adjustments. After a timeout, the Blaze did just that as they stepped up their defense and settled down on the offense, scoring the last seven points to take the lead at the half.

The Wildcats did not retreat and the game was exciting as the teams traded baskets back and forth. With just over two minutes remaining, the intensity on the court only increased as both teams were giving it their all to get to the final showdown. The composure and determination of the Blaze girls proved to be crucial, as they squeaked out a five-point win to earn a trip to the gold medal round and move to within one win of capturing a state championship.

This time the girls had to face the competitive Mass Elite. The Blaze jumped out to an early 11-4 lead, but the Mass Elite was able to get back into the game as turnovers and missed offensive opportunities caused problems for the Blaze. As a result, Mass Elite went into the half trailing only by four points.

Once again, the Blaze had a mission and this time relied heavily on their tenacious team defense. They used a quickness advantage at the guard positions to advantage, forcing numerous turnovers, which complemented key offensive and defensive rebounding from the inside players. Smart play on the offensive end enabled the girls to get the job done. With the support of fans and the cheering of “DEFENSE,” the Blaze took command and went on to capture their first state championship with a 46-26 victory. A tremendous showing by all of the Blaze players.

As a result of winning the Championship, the team has qualified and will be heading to the National Championships to be held in Rochester, Minnesota from July 2-July 7. This talented group of girls includes Kelley Pool of Lancaster, Cailey Mastrangelo of Shirley, Erin Stephenson of Leominster, Casey Evans of Westford, Jenna Weyant and Becca King of Acton, Samantha Day of Lunenburg, Grace Dugan of Littleton, and Ariana Lacombe, Lindsay Werner, Brianna Fiorentino and Alex Pray from Groton. The North Central Blaze is coached by Donna Mastrangelo, assisted by Peter Pray, Art Stringfellow and Scott Davidson.

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