By Conor Walsh
---- — DANVERS -- Few outside of the Gloucester girls basketball team’s locker room ever believed the Fishermen would have been in the position they were in last night.
After sitting at 6-10 with four regular-season games to play, Gloucester had turned it on, rattling off four consecutive wins to earn punch its ticket to the Division 2 North tournament in dramatic fashion.
When the No. 12 Fishermen met No. 5 Danvers for the third time this season in the opening round of the tournament last night, though, their late-season magic wasn’t there anymore.
Despite leading by one point at halftime, the Fishermen struggled from the field and struggled with uncharacteristic defensive lapses in the second half and Danvers pulled away, advancing to the Division 2 North quarterfinals with a 50-42 victory at Danvers High School.
“No one thought they’d be here to begin with,” Gloucester coach Brandon Lewis said. “I don’t say that out of malice, I just say that out of the reality of the situation. We weren’t supposed to make the tournament being 6-10, so the fact that we were here was amazing. Would I have liked to have left with a win? Yeah, absolutely, but I thought we had them on the ropes. We just lost our way a little there.
“Offensively, we had a tough time getting baskets, but that’s been us all year, but defensively I just thought we made some silly mistakes and they ended up costing us.”
Gloucester found itself in an excellent spot coming out of halftime. After sophomore guard Kayla Nasser caught fire and notched eight points in the second quarter to help the Fishermen build up a one-point halftime lead.
But with senior point guard Katie Ciaramitaro struggling with foul trouble -- she picked up her third foul at the end of the second quarter and her fourth at the end of the third -- the Fishermen struggled to maintain their generally stingy defensive identity.
Ultimately, that was what did them in. Gloucester struggled all season to notch points, but scraped their way to 10 wins with exceptional defense.
It’s not to say that the Gloucester defense was bad last night. It was still pretty good. But in comparison to the defensive approach the Fishermen had trotted out all season, it was a subpar performance.
And it cost them. Danvers star Kasey Sherry (13 points) got her points, but many of them came from the free-throw line and the Fishermen gave her fits all night.
It was the performance of sophomore guard Hannah Llewellyn that sealed Gloucester’s fate. With all the attention on Sherry, Llewellyn found gaps in Gloucester’s defense and hit her open looks, piling up four 3-pointers on her way to a team-high 14 points.
That coupled with Gloucester’s 26 turnovers was enough to allow Danvers to move on, despite a game-high 17 points from Gloucester senior forward Sophie Black, who also added 11 rebounds.
“Three-pointers, they do more than count for three,” Lewis said. “They’re daggers. I think that really hurt us. It was lapses defensively. You know the shooters, you know you can’t leave them, but at the same time you can’t take anything away from them. They’re good ball-players, and good ball-players know how to get open.”
All in all, last night’s game was in keeping with the teams’ previous two meetings. Strong defense, little to no offensive identity, a gritty fight to the finish.
And, like the first two games, the home team came out on top. Two weeks ago, Gloucester topped Danvers in overtime in the Fishermen’s season-finale to punch their ticket. Last night, it was Danvers’ turn again.
“This is the way we’ve been winning games all year. They’ve never been pretty,” Danvers coach Pat Veilleux said. “And (Gloucester) gave us fits the whole first half and even into the third quarter as we tried to get momentum. If we played those guys another 10 times, we’d go 5-5. I truly believe that.”
At the end of the day, though, the parity between the two teams serves as little solace to the Fishermen, especially their five seniors: Black, Ciaramitaro, Marlee Melvin, Samantha Oliver and Kali Cook.
“The seniors, man,” Lewis said. “Unbelievable season. Can’t take anything away from them.”
No. 5 Danvers 50, No. 12 Gloucester 42
at Danvers High School
Gloucester: Sophie Black 6-5-17; Julianna Costanzo 3-3-9; Kayla Nasser 3-0-8; Jayla Lok-Price 1-0-3; Marlee Melvin 1-1-3; Katie Ciaramitaro 0-2-2.
Danvers: Hannah Llewellyn 5-1-14; Kasey Sherry 2-7-13; Delaney Zecha 3-0-6; Devin Walsh 3-0-6; Ashley Arnoldy 1-3-5; Emily McNulty 1-3-5.
Halftime: Gloucester 25-24.
3-pointers: G Nasser 2; D Llewellyn 4, Sherry 2.
Records: G 10-11; D 12-8.