IPSWICH - It might be a little early in the winter season to talk about a victory being season-saving but there is no question that the Triton girls basketball team desperately needed a win last night and to their credit, they delivered when it counted most.
The Vikings (2-5) snapped a five-game losing streak with a gritty 59-53 win over Manchester Essex in the first round of the 2009 Ipswich Holiday tournament. They advanced to the championship game where they'll meet Ipswich/Newburyport tonight at 7:30pm.
"They held on at the end," noted Vikings head coach Karen Christian. "The free throws (25 for 37) could have been a little better but they made them when they had to."
Triton junior guard Jen Rock (19 points, 14 rebounds) and junior guard Alyssa Conley (16 points) both had superb games as the Hornets (3-2) made it a one-possession game a few times in the fourth quarter but could never retake the lead.
"Jen has been our backbone all season," said Christian, "and Alyssa Conley played with a lot of poise tonight. She really stepped it up."
Manchester Essex's starting backcourt of junior point guard Lizzy Ball (19 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals) and senior shooting guard Samantha Christopher (13 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) were stellar in defeat but the Hornets couldn't make consistent defensive stops when they had to while the Vikings crashed the offensive boards leading to countless second and third opportunities.
"We didn't have it tonight," said Hornets head coach Lauren Dubois. "We did not do a good job on the boards and our defensive was sluggish. Rebounds were the difference, we picked it up a little bit in the second half but Triton played well, you have to give them credit."
The game had a half-court, defensive flavor in the first quarter as Triton got out to a 14-9 lead after one frame. Vikings senior guard Lauren Mihalchik scored all six of her points in the game's first eight minutes while Christopher had five points (including the game's only 3-pointer).
Conley started to get to the free throw line, seemingly at will, in the second quarter. That turned out to be a main theme of the game as she shot 75% (8 for 12) from the line. She had seven points in the second quarter as Triton took its biggest lead of the game right before the half (29-19).
The Hornets were the defending champions of the Ipswich Holiday tournament and they had beaten Triton 52-40 in the first round last year with a second-half comeback so they weren't about to pack it in when they faced some adversity.
Ball scored six points in the third quarter as Manchester Essex forced some stops and also was able to get out on some fastbreaks, its preferred style of play.
Ball's layup cut it to 33-27 Triton with 3:10 left in the third quarter. She also had a nice bounce pass to junior guard Grace Gillette for a easy layin.
Triton was up 40-34 going into the fourth quarter but it didn't look good for them when senior forward Maxine Crossman (5 points) and Mihalchik each picked up their fourth foul in a 27-second span midway through the fourth.
That's when Rock and Conley took over and made all the winning plays. It began with Rock grabbing an offensive board and getting a basket. Later, Conley had a nice drive for a layup. Finally, Rock missed a free throw (the first of a 1 and 1) but she alertly controlled the rebound and put it back up for two points. That gave Triton a 53-50 lead with 1:30 left.
Christian felt like playing with a lead for most of the game was a big advantage for her team.
"It was huge, we've been talking about that a lot lately. We maintained the lead, in the second quarter when they made a run, we matched it."
The Vikings have plenty of incentive tonight against the Tigers since Ipswich beat them 60-35 last Monday at Ipswich High.
Triton 59, Manchester Essex 53
<*C>at Ipswich High<*C>
Manchester Essex: Ball 7-5-19, Christopher 4-4-13, Martz 1-3-5, Gillette 1-0-2, Volpe 2-2-6, Biggar 1-1-3, Ciccone 1-3-5. Totals 17-18-53
Triton: Canning 1-3-5, Towns 0-3-3, Mihalchik 2-2-6, Conley 4-8-16, Crossman 2-1-5, Rock 6-7-19, Stokes 2-1-5. Totals 17-25-59
Halftime: T, 29-19
3-pointers: ME, Christopher
Records: T, 2-5; ME, 3-2