GARDNER -- Sometimes sports can be cruel. An entire season can come down to one two-minute stretch of play. The hard work of the off-season could come down to 120 seconds in a strange gym.
This was the case for the North Middlesex girls' basketball team on Wednesday evening. Trailing by two with 3:30 to play in a win-to-get-in to the Districts game, the Lady Patriots picked a bad time to go cold, watching as Gardner ended the game and their season with a 10-2 to run to claim a 48-38 victory in nonleague action.
"We played hard and I can't fault the effort of the kids. They gave me everything they had for 32 minutes," said North Middlesex coach Pat Murphy. "I thought that we forced some shots throughout the game and then turnovers caught up to us in the fourth quarter. When you play a good team, you have to take care of the ball and we failed to do that."
Turnovers were the difference in the decisive fourth quarter as the Lady Patriots could not hold onto the ball. North Middlesex committed 10 turnovers and only took 10 shots over the final eight minutes while the Lady Wildcats turned the ball over only three times while hitting seven of their 18 shots to hold a 15-6 advantage on the scoreboard en route to the win.
"It is disappointing because we did a great job of taking care of the ball over the first three quarters, but then when we needed it the most, we got sloppy," said Murphy. "You have to give Gardner credit though, they took care of business and we did not.
It took just five minutes of action for the Lady Patriots to take their largest lead of the night. After falling behind 2-0, North Middlesex ripped off the next nine points, keyed by Mackensey Farina, who scored four points on a pair of layups off offensive rebounds before setting up a Kim Morgan three-pointer that made it 9-2.
The Lady Wildcats responded with a 13-2 kick that covered the remainder of the opening quarter and part of the second. Shayna Yacyshyn was the catalyst, scoring five points on a 17-foot jumper, five-foot jumper and single free-throw that gave Gardner a 15-11 lead.
Farina helped draw the Lady Patriots back even, scoring on a layup off a Maddie Balassie feed before setting up a Marissa Amichetti eight-foot jumper that tied the game at 15-15. The lead changed hands twice over the final three minutes of the opening half, with North Middlesex regaining the advantage on a Farina layup off a Balassie look that made it 21-20 heading into the intermission.
Down 26-22, the Lady Wildcats came up with seven straight points to take back the lead. Second-chance opportunities were the key factor behind the run as all seven points came courtesy of offensive rebounds, as Alyssa Hart scored three points while Denise Della-Giustina and Meg Doiron added layups as well to make it a 29-26 game.
Farina found the hot hand again, hitting for a layup and knocking down a 17-foot jumper, both assisted by Balassie, before setting up Julia Murray for a layup to give the Lady Patriots a one-point edge at 32-21.
A 7-0 run by Gardner was capped off when Della-Giustina drained a trey to give her team a 38-32 lead, but North Middlesex quickly drew back within two. Murray converted an offensive rebound into a layup while Farina added a layup of her own off an Ashley Rosko look to make it a two-point game. That was the closest it would get the remainder of the way.
Behind four points from Hart and layups from Doiron and Jill Sauvageau, the Lady Wildcats went on an 8-0 run to put the game on ice. Casey McNamara knocked down a pull-up 18-foot jumper for the Lady Patriots for the final points of their season as Gardner got a bucket at the buzzer to account for the 10-point final.
"I thought we did a good job of keeping their scorers in check, but they had other kids step up and make plays and that was the difference," said Murphy. "This is a great group of kids and it was a pleasure to coach them, I just wish we could have moved on and seen what happened in the tournament."
Farina led North Middlesex with 14 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and five blocked shots. Morgan (four boards and four steals), Rosko (three assists) and Murray finished with six points each while Balassie grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out four assists.
Doiron paced the Lady Wildcats with 13 points and five rebounds. Yacyshyn came off the bench to add 10 points and five boards. Hart (11 rebounds) and Sauvageau (three steals) scored nine points apiece while Della-Giustina had five points, 13 boards and seven assists.