Tigers improve to 2-0 with gritty win over Norwood

The Newtonite

by Kristian Lundberg

Girls’ basketball’s blowout victory over Norwood Friday night probably didn’t earn the squad many style points.

Fortunately for the Tigers, it’s only wins that count.

The Tigers, 2-0, overcame a lackluster start within the game’s first few minutes to bury an overmatched Norwood squad 56-30 at home, solidifying their status as a premier team in the Bay State Conference. Facing the Mustangs’ feast-or-famine full-court trap, the Tigers rebounded from an early 4-0 deficit to close the first quarter on a 20-2 run, securing a double digit lead that they would preserve for the remaining three periods.

Senior Gracie Rolfe, a captain with senior Kayla Farina, led the scorers with 16 points, 12 of which came from beyond the arc, and sophomore Infiniti Thomas-Waheed added 14 points and 10 rebounds to help carry the Tigers. Meanwhile, a tremendous team effort on defense held Norwood to only 11 points in the first half, forcing the Mustangs to ramp up the full-court pressure as they played from behind.
“I was surprised that they pressed for the entire game,” coach Linda Martindale said. “It allowed us to see our weaknesses, and, by the end, I think we got a hang of it.”

While the Tigers’ ballhandlers were quicker and more skilled than their Norwood counterparts, the Mustangs, led by junior Kelly Duggan and her sister freshman Amy Duggan, held a height advantage in the paint. For the Tigers, junior Gemma Lurie’s gritty performance, registering 10 points and six rebounds, quelled most of the Mustangs’ inside threat, and the front-court forced enough turnovers to subdue what was left of Norwood’s offensive attack.

“We picked up the tempo in the middle of the first quarter, and we were more aggressive as the game went on,” Martindale said.

On the other hand, by no stretch of the imagination did the Tigers turn in a flawless result.

Norwood seemed to have surprised every Tiger on the court by attacking early and often with the press, startling the Tigers into committing reckless turnovers and fouls. Adding to their frustration was a lack of team play, as players often tried to dribble through the press rather than look for an open teammate. Even after the Tigers broke the game open in the first half, both teams treated the ball like a hot potato.

“It was a very sloppy and messy game,” Martindale added. “It’s our team goal to stay under 12 turnovers per game, and we had over 20. We need better passing and better ball fakes from the passers.”

Still, it was a testament to the Tigers’ resolve and determination that they managed to pull out a victory.
Failing to break the Mustangs’ press by the dribble, the Tigers successfully pushed up the court with quick ball movement, wearing out Norwood’s defense and poking holes in its press. After the Tigers tied the game at 4 with 5:30 left in the first, junior Madison Beatrice came up with a steal and fed sophomore Maddie Bledsoe for a layup, giving the Tigers the lead for good. On the ensuing possession, Thomas-Waheed picked off an errant Norwood pass and netted her own layup, forcing the Mustangs to burn a timeout. Rolfe punctuated the 18-point swing by draining back to back three-pointers in the final minute of the quarter.

From then on, the Tigers dominated in what remained a sloppy game. They followed up their 20-2 run with an 18-5 run throughout the second quarter in a display of airtight defense and adequate ball movement. Even though most rebounds and most possessions were an adventure on both sides of the ball, the Tigers limited Norwood’s chances and capitalized on their own well enough to take a 38-13 lead into the break.

The Tigers took their foot off the pedal in the third and fourth quarters, but it made little difference. By the time sophomore Emma Tavolieri added her name to the scoresheet with 12 seconds left, the Tigers had secured their second win of the season.

“We learned a very valuable lesson,” Martindale said. “We were too loose and not focused in the beginning, and we can’t come out that slow. We’re going to talk a little more about breaking the press, but individually, each player knows what they can do to improve.”