By Conor Walsh
---- — GLOUCESTER — If the Gloucester girls basketball team proved one thing last night, it’s that it’s going to take something special to cut its season short.
Plenty of things were going wrong for the Fishermen last night against Marblehead. Having been snowed in for the past several days and unable to practice as the Gloucester High Field House’s roof leaked, the Fishermen were visibly rusty.
Further, their leading scorer in captain Sophie Black found herself in foul trouble throughout the game and couldn’t find a rhythm, finishing the game with just four points.
Despite all that, the Fishermen will live to see another day. They got contributions from nearly every player on the roster and scratched and clawed their way to a gritty 35-29 victory over the visiting Magicians.
After falling to 6-10 on the year last week, the Fishermen have now reached improved to 8-10 with two games remaining. If they can keep the wins coming, they’ll find themselves with an improbable invitation to the state tournament.
“Nothing pretty about that one, but we’ll take it,” Gloucester coach Brandon Lewis said. “They wanted it I think, and they know what they’re playing for and now we’re one game closer. Two left, two to win. Like I said, nothing pretty tonight, we’ve got a lot to work on tomorrow, a lot to talk about tomorrow, but you can’t criticize their heart on this one.”
The term “team win” is one that’s often thrown around in sports. Last night’s win for the Fishermen defined it.
Black had carried the Fishermen through much of the season offensively, entering last night’s game averaging 13.6 points per game. But between Marblehead’s constant double- and triple-teams and her foul trouble — she picked up her third foul late in the first half and her fourth midway through the third quarter — she was rendered largely ineffective.
That’s where her team stepped up to fill the void.
Some of the burden was taken on by the usual suspects in guards Julianna Costanzo (13 points), Katie Ciaramitaro (seven points) and Julie Lamoureux. But it was the team’s role players that really shined in last night’s game.
Reserve forward Jessica Mathews put together an impressive effort in the paint, chipping in six points, eight rebounds and solid defense. Similarly, Samantha Oliver gave the Fishermen an extra element on the defensive end, embodying Gloucester’s gritty style and making possession a nightmare for whatever Magician she found herself guarding.
And when the ball managed to make its way into the paint, starting center Marlee Melvin was there to contain Marblehead center McKenna Barrett. Barrett posted seven points in the first half, but thanks largely to Melvin’s tireless defense and steady stream of second-half blocks, McKenna was kept off the board in the second half.
“I thought Jessica made really clutch plays when she really needed to, and Sammy played great defense,” Lewis said. “She got a couple cheap early (fouls), but she smartened up and played a really great defensive game.”
On the other end of the floor, things weren’t as fluid for Gloucester. The Fishermen struggled in their half-court sets at times — likely due in part to Black’s limited minutes — and allowed Marblehead to stay in the game with some ill-advised shots and 16 turnovers.
Ultimately, though, Gloucester’s defense — and attitude — was enough to secure the win in a physical contest.
“Defense looked great,” Lewis said. “I’d like to see the offense back to where it was last week, but we had a bunch of days off. The girls have been snowed in, we really haven’t had a practice because of the gym in everything. Without practicing offense, you’re not going to play good offense. I thought that showed in both teams tonight, but thankfully our defense was tough enough.”
With the win, the Fishermen find themselves one important step closer to a state tournament berth. Having already beaten Swampscott and Marblehead in the first half of their final four-game stretch, Gloucester can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The Fishermen will host Danvers on Thursday night, a team they lost to in an ugly game earlier in the season. With a win there, they’d just have to get past Cape Ann rival Manchester Essex on Friday to finish it off.
One thing’s for sure: the Fishermen believe.
“They believe it,” Lewis said. “I would never let them not believe it. They’re from Gloucester. We’ve got tough people up here and that’s the way they’re going to be. They believe it, they know they believe it, and it’s time for everyone else to believe it too.”