A come back not only seemed improbable, it seemed nearly impossible for the Manchester Essex girls basketball team in the 2008 Division 4 North Final against Mt. Alvernia at Salem State University.
With 2:30 left on the clock on March 7, 2008, it was desperation time for the No. 9 Hornets, who trailed the third seeded and favored Mt. Alvernia 47-41 in a physical game ruled by defense. To make matters worse for Manchester Essex was the fact that Mt. Alvernia’s best player Michelle DeRoma, the best player on the floor, was just starting to heat up as she scored 10 of her game high 27 points in the fourth frame.
As it turned out, the Hornets had them right where they wanted them. Manchester Essex, a perennial power in Division 4 North, showed some serious grit and heart over the final 2:30 of the game, which was about as nerve racking and wacky as 2:30 of basketball could be due to its swings in momentum and out of the ordinary plays that swung the game into the favor of Manchester Essex.
It was fitting that Manchester Essex would claw back into the contest on the back of its defense, that had carried them to the North Final.
After DeRoma sunk back to back three pointers to make it 47-41, the Hornets began the comeback bid. Five straight points from junior forward Elsa Keefe, one on a put back from her own missed free throw, to cut the lead to one point.
The teams traded baskets to make it 49-48 Mt. Alvernia with a minute to play when things got really crazy. The Mustangs had the ball looking to give themselves a three, or even a four point lead with the way DeRoma was shooting the ball.
The Hornets defense hung tough on the possession forcing Mt. Alvernia into a shot clock violation giving them the ball back with under 30 seconds to play and a chance to win. Manchester Essex, however, squandered the opportunity turning the ball back over to Mt. Alvernia.
It appeared that Manchester Essex needed to foul to extend that game but it had other plans. Shortly after an inbound pass a pair of Hornets defenders tied up DeRoma forcing a jump ball, the possession arrow being in the Hornets favor. From there center Dani Ciccone, who was an inside force for the Hornets all tournament and had 22 points and 19 rebounds in the game, was fouled with 6.4 seconds to play. She would hit one of two free throws to send the game into overtime tied at 49.
In overtime the star players did what star players should do which is carry their teams. DeRoma had all seven of the Mustangs overtime points while the Hornets two stars, Ciccone and Freshman guard Lizzy Ball, who had 20 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in the game, had five points each to score all of the Hornets overtime points.
Ciccone and Ball came out strong early in the overtime frame as a 7-2 run in the overtime frame gave the Hornets a 56-51 lead. After trading buckets DeRoma hit another three pointer to cut the Hornets lead to two points but a clutch free from Ball in the waning seconds sealed the 59-56 victory for Manchester Essex.
The way that the Hornets fought until the end and the bizzarre yet riveting conclusion surely made this game a night to remember.