By Conor Walsh
---- — GLOUCESTER -- They didn’t make it easy.
Losers of 10 of their first 16 games, the Gloucester girls basketball team entered the final four games of its regular season with its back against the wall.
Another loss, and the Fishermen would have been officially eliminated from state tournament contention.
Starting last Thursday with a win against Swampscott, though, the Fishermen got the ball rolling, and by the time they toughed out a 43-34 win over Manchester Essex last night in their season finale, the Fishermen had completed what few believed they could.
At 10-10 with the win, Gloucester will have at least one more game to play in the Division 2 North tournament.
“They did their job,” Gloucester coach Brandon Lewis said. “That’s all I can say: They did their job. We finished with all five seniors on the court which is what I wanted to do because we don’t know if we’ll see this court again. They did their job.
“It wasn’t pretty, but actually if you look back at the four-game run, none of them were really that pretty, so we’ll take it. We’ve got some things work on, we’ll be practicing this week, but I’m very, very, very proud of them for pulling off something that, quite frankly, I don’t think a lot of people thought was going to happen.”
Throughout their four-game winning streak to close the season, the Fishermen rarely made it easy on themselves. Outside of last week’s throttling of Swampscott, the Fishermen had to scrap for each of their wins -- beating Marblehead in a back-and-forth contest and Danvers in overtime.
Last night was no exception. After jumping out to a commanding 33-15 lead over the visiting Hornets through three quarters, the Fishermen appeared primed to cruise to the win and, by extension, the tournament.
But in a fashion typical to this season’s Fishermen, it couldn’t be that easy. The Hornets ratcheted up the pressure in the fourth quarter and more than doubled their output from the first three quarters combined, thanks to some hot perimeter shooting from the likes of Ivy Silag-Stearns (team-high 10 points), Carolyn Heslop, Sydney Christopher and Fraley Morton.
And just like that, with two minutes to play, the Fishermen’s lead had dissolved from 18 points to just six.
That was as close as the Hornets would come, though, as Gloucester hit its free throws down the stretch and limited Manchester Essex’s attack to walk away with the important victory.
“We struggled to put the ball in the hoop early and they never give up,” Manchester Essex coach Lauren Dubois said. “That’s what we ask of them is to go out and play for the whole game, all 32 minutes, and they did and they put up a little run in the fourth and that’s what we wanted to do.”
Ultimately, though, Gloucester’s desperation and defensive prowess coupled with the continued solid play of the likes of Sophie Black (18 points, 22 rebounds) and Juilanna Costanzo (12 points) was enough to extend the early lead far enough that Manchester Essex simply couldn’t complete the comeback.
For each team, last night marked the end of the regular season. Gloucester (10-10) will move on to the Division 2 tournament, while the Hornets (7-13) will look to capitalize on their trying regular-season schedule and make another run in the Division 4 North tournament.
While the Hornets wrapped up their tournament berth months ago, thanks to the Sullivan Rule, the Fishermen chose to go a more dramatic route.
“I think they’re very battle-tested,” Lewis said of his team. “I think they have what it takes now. I think, more than anything, they know that they can do it. I like to think that they were all believers four games ago, but now they have no choice but to be believers. Everyone played a role.”
Gloucester 43, Manchester Essex 34
at Gloucester High School
Manchester Essex: Ivy Silag-Stearns 3-3-10; Fraley Morton 3-2-8; Sydney Christopher 2-0-6; Carolyn Heslop 1-1-4; Maya Heath 1-1-3; Sam Taylor 1-0-2; Ella Silag-Stearns 0-1-1.
Gloucester: Sophie Black 5-8-18; Julianna Costanzo 5-2-12; Marlee Melvin 1-3-5; Katie Ciaramitaro 1-2-4; Kayla Nasser 1-0-2; Sam Oliver 0-1-1; Jessica Mathews 0-1-1.
Halftime: Gloucester 23-10.
3-pointers: M Christopher 2, I. Silag-Stearns, Heslop.
Records: M 7-13; G 10-10.