AMHERST -- North Middlesex's long journey down Route 2 did not end the way it would have hoped for. North Middlesex made a run in the second half, but it could not overcome the loss of freshman center Erin Antosh (12 points) and forward Julia Murray to foul trouble in the fourth quarter, as the Patriots fell to No. 1 Longmeadow, 54-46, in the Division 2 Western Mass Finals held at Curry Hicks Cage on the campus of UMass Amherst.
North Middlesex senior captain Mackensey Farina led the Patriots with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
"We had two critical turnovers down the end -- if we didn't make those turnovers, who knows," Longtime North Middlesex head coach Pat Murphy said. "We had our opportunities to win, but we didn't convert them. We had the shots, but we just missed everything in that first quarter."
North Middlesex fell behind early in the first quarter. A scoring drought that spanned over three minutes sent the Patriots' offense into a downward spiral. North Middlesex fell victim to a 11-2 run led by Longmeadow senior point guard Tajmah'Nae Lewis (12 points) . The Patriots scored their next basket at 2:40 on an aggressive drive to the hoop by Farina to cut the Lancers lead to nine. Longmeadow sophomore guard Olivia Shapiro connected on a pair of free-throws to extend the Lancers' lead to 13-4 at the end of one.
North Middlesex picked up its intensity offensively in the second quarter, outscoring the Lancers, 11-6. The Patriots cobbled together a 6-2 run behind a pair of layups from Erin Antosh and Farina. Senior guard Elena Beauregard splashed a three-pointer from the left elbow to bring North Middlesex back within four, 17-13. A Brittani LeBlanc steal led to a fierce finish under the basket by Murray.
Lewis connected on a pair of free-throws to end the first half and take Longmeadow to the half with a 19-15 lead.
Murphy challenged his team at the half, and it responded with authority.
North Middlesex scored the first basket of the second half. LeBlanc mailed a bounce-pass to Antosh under the basket, who connected with a baby-hook to tie the game, 19-19, with 5:40 remaining in the second quarter.
However, Longmeadow's offense found its mojo again following a Teagan Northrup mid-range jumper from just inside the free-throw line that extended the Lancers' lead to five, 29-24, with 2:30 left in the quarter.
Beauregard canned a big three-pointer in the right-corner to trim Longmeadow's lead to one, 31-30, with 53.2 seconds remaining in the third. Lewis hit a backdoor layup and Abigail Salvon hit the front-end of a one-and-one to give the Lancers a 34-30 lead at the end of three.
North Middlesex cobbled together a 7-0 run behind baskets from Antosh and LeBlanc. Midway through the fourth quarter, Farina bulldozed through the lane and drained on a finger-roll layup, while picking up the harm on the arm from Lewis.
Farina netted the free-throw to give North Middlesex its largest lead of the evening, 39-35, with 4:35 remaining in the game. Lewis brought Longmeadow back within two on the Lancers' ensuing possession with a nifty finish at the rim. Farina then hit a layup down the other end to keep the Patriots' advantage at two. But, a three-point bomb from Longmeadow's Allison Mishol with 3:40 remaining put the Lancers up, 41-39. Murphy burned a timeout trailing 44-41 following the fouling out of Antosh. With its presence gone under the rim, North Middlesex battled to get the game back within one, but it had no answer for Northrup, who canned a three-pointer for the eventual dagger.
"To not win is disappointing, but it's also just a great feeling to be here," Farina said. "The first quarter they came out really hot, and we weren't prepared for them to do that.
But, I thought we came back strong after the first quarter, but it was not enough to get us the win."