AMHERST — North Middlesex brought the effort, but some cold shooting cost the Patriots dearly.
The No. 4 Patriots saw an early lead dissipate and a late run fall short in Wednesday’s 44-34 loss to No. 1 Longmeadow in a Western Mass. Division 2 semifinal at the Curry Hicks Cage at UMass Amherst.
North Middlesex’s strong season comes to an end with a 15-7 record, as it says good-bye to six seniors. The Lancers improve to 20-1 and will take on Pittsfield in Sunday’s championship game.
“I thought we played very well,” North Middlesex head coach Pat Murphy said. “We didn’t have a good offensive night. Defensively, we went at them and made them work. … We just didn’t get a basket when we needed a basket.”
In the second and third quarters, North Middlesex combined to shoot just 3 of 29 from the floor, a meager 10.3 percent. Although the defense was good, North Middlesex saw a five-point lead transform into a five-point deficit during the cold spell.
Lancer guard Taylor Shubrick did a little bit of everything on her way to a team-high 17 points. Six-foot-3 center Kayla Mokwuah worked hard for her 14 points, despite facing frequent double-teams from the North Middlesex defense.
North Middlesex guard Hadley Beauregard heated up in the fourth quarter as part of a last-ditch effort to get back in the game. Beauregard scored 11 of her game-high 19 points in the final eight minutes.
Things started well for the visitors, as North Middlesex forced three turnovers in the first few minutes, which helped the offense jump out to an early lead.
Beauregard opened the scoring with a fast-break bucket off of her own steal. Senior Olivia Cappucci drained a trey from the corner and Cappucci sank a shot from the elbow with 4:50 left in the first, which made it a 7-0 lead.
Longmeadow would slowly get into gear, but a deep two from Brittani LeBlanc and a Madeline Harrington to Grace Young feed extended the lead to 12-3 with 2:19 left in the first.
The Lancers closed out the first quarter with some momentum, cutting the lead gap to 14-9 by the end of the period.
The shooting woes set in for North Middlesex in the second, as Cappucci’s bucket down low off of a feed from LeBlanc with six minutes left was the only shot the Patriots would make in the quarter.
Meanwhile, some nice drives from Shubrick and a bunch of free throws and a put-back from Mokwuah helped the Lancers take a 18-16 lead at half-time.
The third quarter was unfortunately similar for North Middlesex after Beauregard completed the three-point play, the offense went silent for a span of 6:37. Shubrick scored six points during the next six minutes, while Mokwuah added three, as the lead grew close to double-digits. A LeBlanc trey at the buzzer chopped the deficit to 27-22 at the final break.
“Shubrick was the difference in the game,” Murphy said. “She got the basket a lot quicker than we thought. I thought we controlled Mokwuah.”
LeBlanc split a free throw trip to start the fourth, and then Longmeadow went on a 9-0 run to take its biggest lead of the game at 36-23 with 4:25 left.
Beauregard hit a couple of 3-pointers over the next few minutes to chop the deficit to nine, but with 1:40 left, the Lancers led 40-29.
As the final minute approached, it seemed the contest was all but over, however, Beauregard stayed hot, sinking a fast-break bucket and then drilling a trey from the corner, which made it 40-34 with 39 seconds left.
Longmeadow would hit its free throws down the stretch to lock up the victory.
“We haven’t played a game in 15 days, so we knew the first quarter would be ugly,” Longmeadow head coach Andrea Enright said. “We talked about mentally being able to handle that, and we did, got in a groove and started playing our game.”