In a nail-biter from start to finish, the Martha’s Vineyard girls basketball team defeated Ashland 49-45 on the road Tuesday in the opening round of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Tournament.
The win by the 11th-seeded Vineyarders was as thrilling as it was improbable, as they faced down a hostile crowd to defeat the 6th-seeded Clockers. The Vineyarders only qualified for the state tournament with a win in their last game of the season.
With the win the Vineyarders accomplished what might have seemed impossible a few short weeks ago: a home game in the state tournament. The Vineyarders now advance to play 14th-seeded East Bridgewater at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School on Thursday at 4 pm.
The Tuesday night game against Ashland was the Vineyarders first tournament appearance since 2003.
The two teams seemed evenly matched from the start, despite the Vineyard being the lower seed. The Vineyarders built a slim lead in the first quarter but were never able to open things up.
“We were leading early on, but it was only a one- or two-point lead — it was back and forth for a while there,” Coach Lisa Stewart said. “Every possession was a battle.”
The Vineyarders led 23-21 lead at the half, and then built their lead to 8 points in the second half. But the Clockers then switched to a man-to-man defense that gave the Vineyarders problems.
The Clockers climbed back into the game and took a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter, sending the home crowd into frenzy. The Vineyarders also switched to a man-to-man defense and again took a slim lead that lasted throughout the fourth quarter.
The Vineyarders had a four-point lead in the closing seconds of the game, but the Clockers drew a foul along the three-point line and went to the line to shoot three free throws. They sank the first two to pull within two, and then missed the third shot intentionally.
Both teams scrambled for the rebound before it was secured by Katie Stewart, who was fouled immediately. She went to the line and sank both free throws to seal the 49-45 win for the Vineyarders.
The Vineyarders essentially shut down the Clockers’ top scorer, senior guard Blake Underhill, in the second half. Coach Stewart switched to a man-to-man defense and had senior Madison Hughes guard Underhill on the perimeter.
The strategy paid off as Underhill scored only three of her 17 points in the second half.
“She’s been awesome for us,” Coach Stewart said of Hughes. “She is our engine on defense.”
On offense the Vineyarders were led by junior Jennie Lindland, who led all scorers with 20 points. Maggie Riseborough had 11 points and Katie Stewart had 10 points and sank two huge free throws in the closing seconds to put the game on ice.
“That was huge. The crowd was screaming but she kept cool and sank them both,” the coach said.
Coach Stewart said every player contributed to the win. Alex Mark came off the bench in the second half to score two consecutive baskets to give the team a lift and Kendall Robinson had a huge three-pointer in the fourth quarter. “We had nine players on the roster but really only six played, and everyone pitched in,” she said.
Coach Stewart said it has been great to watch her team mature over the past few weeks.
“To be honest, a few weeks ago I am not sure if we would have been able to hang on for this type of win. But we are a different team now. We just beat a number six team and I think it shows we belong here,” she said.