AYER -- Holding onto a slim six-point lead at the half, the North Middlesex girls' basketball team turned to the most reliable play in their arsenal to claim the Pete Trainor Memorial Christmas Tournament title: get the ball to Mackensey.
Behind 11 third-quarter points from tournament MVP Mackensey Farina, the Lady Patriots pulled away to post a 50-22 victory over Ayer-Shirley on Wednesday night.
"Once we started working the ball inside, I felt like we grabbed control of the game and Mackensey came up big in the third quarter for us, which proved to be the difference," said North Middlesex coach Pat Murphy. "We took better care of the ball in the second half and limited our mistakes. You have to give Ayer-Shirley credit because they made us play at their tempo in the first half, but once we settled down, I felt we played very well, and it always feels good to win any tournament that you play in."
For the Lady Panthers and coach Pete Page, it was a solid start in what has been a solid season so far. "I thought the first half was pretty good for us. It wasn't pretty, but it was the type of style we want to play," said Page. "In the second half, they really worked the ball inside and we had no answers. It is tough to lose any game, but we lost to a good team and we are thrilled to be 4-1 at this point of the season."
Early on, Ayer-Shirley grabbed an early advantage thanks in large part to the play of tournament all-star Gabby Hebert.
After struggling to find the mark early on, the Lady Patriots got things rolling on offense, reeling off a 13-2 run, sparked by the play of Sam Lynch off the bench. Lynch, who was named to the all-tournament team, came up with seven consecutive points on a pair of layups and a long three-pointer before adding an assist on a Julia Murray layup that made it 16-8 before North Middlesex settled for a six-point edge at the break at 19-13.
"We didn't have a lot going our way offensively in the early going, but our bench came in and did some nice things," said Murphy. "Sam had the hot hand and really gave us a lift when we needed it the most. Julia provided a lot of energy as well and we kind of got into a little bit of a groove and carried it into the second half."
A single free throw by Hebert made it a five-point game, but the Lady Patriots put the game away by reeling off 17 consecutive points. At the center of it all was Farina, who hit five of her six shots in the quarter, all within five feet. Maddie Balassie, another all-tournament selection, added a conventional three-point play while Lynch knocked down her second three-pointer of the game to make it 36-14.
In the fourth quarter, the lead grew to as much as 30 at 48-18, when Olivia Cappucci converted a steal into a layup. Over the final 16 minutes, North Middlesex turned the ball over just seven times while forcing 20 turnovers, which led to numerous transition points to key the victory.
"Our defensive effort throughout the night was outstanding and I felt once we got through a run of sloppy play offensively, we put together a nice stretch," said Murphy. "I'm extremely happy to be 4-1 right now, and I feel like things are progressing in the right direction, which is always good."
Farina led all scorers with 14 points to go along with 14 rebounds. Lynch added 10 points and two steals. Murray contributed four points, five rebounds and a pair of steals while Cappucci chipped in four points, four boards and two steals.
"Usually, we get most of our points on the break, but we weren't able to force the normal amount of turnovers we come up with and that slowed our offense down," said Page. "I thought Gabby played a strong game and Anna Peck did a nice job on the boards. There was some good to take from tonight and we just need to improve on taking care of the ball as the season moves along."
Hebert paced the Lady Panthers with 11 points and 14 rebounds while Peck added two points and 10 boards.