By Conor Walsh
---- — GLOUCESTER — The Gloucester girls basketball team had its back against the wall entering last night’s game.
After an up-and-down season, the Fishermen took the floor against Swampscott with a 6-10 record. With a win, they could extend their season and keep the hopes of a state tournament berth alive. With a loss, they’d be done.
It was hardly surprising, then, that the Fishermen brought a certain desperation to the court last night, playing scrappy, relentless defense from start to finish and keeping the Big Blue uncomfortable all night.
Behind that defense and a 21-point, 11-rebound performance from captain Sophie Black, the Fishermen extended their season with a dominant 46-19 win to move to 7-10 with three games remaining.
“They knew what they had to do,” Gloucester coach Brandon Lewis said. “It’s kind of been hanging over their heads and I said, ‘You don’t have a choice tonight. You can either come out and win or call it quits.’ They responded very, very well. I’m very proud of them tonight.”
Desperation often presents itself in one of two ways, especially in high school sports. Sometimes, the pressure turns into mistakes. Other times, it brings out the best in a team.
Last night was an obvious example of the latter. Gloucester was crisp on both sides of the ball, dominating with a smothering perimeter defense and patiently working the ball for open looks on the other end of the floor.
While they were certainly impressive offensively — Black, especially — it was the defense last night that stole the show.
The Fishermen had held only one previous opponent, Manchester Essex, under 30 points.
Last night, they forced 22 turnovers to keep the Big Blue (6-10) in the teens.
It was a well-rounded effort, the definition of “team defense.” The Fishermen switched well, fought through screens and attacked the ball at any opportunity.
Between Katie Ciaramitaro, Julie Lamoureux, Julianna Costanzo and Black, Gloucester filled lanes and didn’t give the Big Blue a chance to breathe all night.
“It’s ridiculous,” Lewis said of his team’s defensive performance. “That’s the best team defense they’ve played all year. Very happy.”
What was it that led to such lockdown defense?
“I think it’s a matchup thing,” Lewis explained. “I think we just matched up very well with them. We just pressured the ball on the perimeter so well without fouling. That’s where we get in trouble is when we commit cheap fouls, but they just stayed in front and pestered and they did everything they were asked to do. It’s hard to lose when you play perimeter defense like that.”
Swampscott’s Alexa Goldman did her best to keep the Big Blue in the game, draining two 3-pointers and five of her team’s seven field goals for a team-high 13 points. Costanzo added 11 for the Fishermen, while Lamoureux pitched in five points and seven rebounds.
While it was an impressive win, last night’s game was just the first step for a Gloucester team that still hopes to sneak into the tournament with a .500 record.
It’s plenty doable. Of the Fishermen’s final three opponents, they’ve already beaten two (Manchester Essex and Marblehead) and lost to the other (Danvers) in perhaps their sloppiest effort of the season.
The potential is there for a storybook late-season push for Gloucester, so long as it can build from last night’s dominance.
“Everyone got involved,” Lewis said. “Very happy with the win. Live to see another day.”
Gloucester 46, Swampscott 19
at Gloucester High School
Swampscott: Alexa Goldman 5-1-13; Victoria Malatesta 2-0-4; Anna Greene 0-2-2.
Gloucester: Sophie Black 8-5-21; Julianna Costanzo 5-0-11; Julie Lamoureux 2-1-5; Katie Ciaramitaro 2-0-4; Jessica Matthews 2-0-4; Marlee Melvin 0-1-1.
Halftime: Gloucester 21-10.
3-pointers: S, Goldman 2; G, Costanzo.
Records: S 6-10; G 7-10.