When Fontbonne Academy coach Clare Murphy called her final timeout, the deficit was just short of insurmountable.
The Scituate High girls had opened up a 12-point spread on the Ducks with under a minute to play at Massasoit Community College Wednesday night. The undefeated Sailors would be the squad moving on to the Division 2 South championship game against Natick, not upstart, 13th-seed Fontbonne.
As the Ducks (15-8) came together in what would be their final huddle, junior captain Jen Gemma could be heard urging her teammates to keep their arms up and play strong on defense, even with only 30 ticks left on the clock. When they went back on the court, all five girls played with outstretched arms, as Gemma directed the defense from under the basket.
“Ever since I was a freshman, even if I wasn’t scoring, I knew I could always rely on working hard on defense and encouraging my team to work hard on defense,’’ said Gemma. “Working hard on defense and having energy on defense lifts my other game, too. It’s something I rely on for energy.’’
Her focus on defense has been something the Ducks have become accustomed to. After earning a role as the sixth player in Fontbonne’s run to the Division 2 South championship game her freshman season, the 5-foot-11 Gemma was forced to take on a leadership role as a sophomore.
The Ducks had said good-bye to four seniors, and Gemma became the team’s go-to player, both offensively and defensively, in only her second season of varsity ball. Fontbonne finished 11-9, losing to eventual sectional champion Hopkinton. The early exit left the squad eager to make amends this season.
Over the summer, Gemma and fellow captains Josephine Wong and Colleen Mulcahy got the team together for workouts. A parent of one of the players purchased a shooting machine, which the girls put to use every Monday and Wednesday at the gym, in addition to their own practice routines.
“We would wake up at 7 in the morning, go to the park and shoot threes all morning,’’ said Wong. “One time, we went to the store after shooting around and we were all dirty from the basketballs outside, and they asked if we were doing construction.’’
Gemma also worked tirelessly to develop a stronger perimeter game.
“That’s one of the things I struggled with,’’ said the Milton resident. “I can work well into the basket, but that was definitely something I knew I was going to need to open up eventually.’’
Gemma is quick to credit her teammates with giving her the confidence she needed to succeed.
“I was the one who was scoring [as a sophomore], but my teammates were there for me,’’ said Gemma. “If I was having a bad game, they were always there to pick me up. The coaching staff as well.’’
That confidence was on full display this season: Gemma (17 points, 14.5 rebounds per game) became a double-double machine the second half of the season, registering at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in 15 of her team’s final 16 games.
Gemma’s productivity and confidence carried over to the postseason. She scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a 41-36 first-round upset of Division 2 South favorite Oliver Ames.
“I definitely think she’s the type of kid that doesn’t cower away’’ from the spotlight, said Murphy.
“I think having a tough season last year and losing in the first round, there was no way she was going to let it happen this year. When we beat Oliver Ames that first game, she . . . was just unbelievable. She just willed them to win that.’’
The following game, against fifth-seed O’Bryant, Gemma had 16 rebounds in the first half as the Ducks entered the locker room with a 41-9 half-time lead. Gemma finished with 25 points and 23 rebounds as Fontbonne moved on to the sectional semis with a 70-42 victory.
Even in preparation for 22-0 Scituate, Gemma appeared unfazed by the task at hand. In the 50-36 loss to the Sailors, Gemma gave Scituate nightmares in the paint, collecting 20 points and 12 rebounds against a premiere defender in Scituate’s Shannon Brady.
“She works really hard,’’ said Wong. “She never gives up. She never hangs her head, either. She goes for every loose ball, and influences everybody on the team.’’
According to Murphy, Gemma is about 150 away from both 1,000-point and 1,000-rebound milestones in her varsity career, milestones she should be able to reach before the midpoint of her senior campaign.
But when asked, Gemma didn’t know how close she was. That’s hardly her focus, especially now that the season is over. She has her senior season to look forward to, and she’s already preparing for it.
The loss “pushes me more because I want to make it farther next year,’’ said Gemma.
“You have the feeling of knowing what it’s like to be out of the tournament, so you have this fire in you that you want to do better next year, and you want to work harder for it.’’
Come Mondays and Wednesdays this summer, Gemma won’t be hard to find.
Wolverines lose after strong season
When Westwood boys tapped off the season at 11-1, the Wolverines were on top of their game.
Several concussions, injuries, and illnesses later, Westwood entered the Division 3 South tournament with a 12-8 record.
But after the Wolverines closed out the regular season with matchups against the likes of Norton, Hopkinton, Medfield, Arlington, and Dover-Sherborn, coach Steve St. Martin knew his team was battle-tested.
“We felt all year we were a good team and we felt we had enough talent,’’ said St. Martin. “If we were able to execute a couple different things, we could go into the tourney and go on a run, but it’s the kids that made the decision to actually do that.’’
Westwood lost to Tri-Valley League champ Norton by an average of 15 points twice during the regular season, but in preparation for the third meeting, in the tourney, they reviewed game film.
“They saw that against Norton, we really did not perform to what we felt was Westwood-caliber basketball, the athletic skills we hold dear to this program,’’ said St. Martin.
Westwood stopped Norton, 54-50, behind big games from forward Glenn Parsons, center Mike Keane, and guard Joe Lally, the program’s first postseason victory since 2002.
That same focus - correcting the little things - was also the focus in preparation for Norwell, the three-seed in Division 3 South.
“We went over some details of Norwell and different things we thought that if we were able to do them, would put us in position to win game as well,’’ said St. Martin. “Once the tourney starts, it’s the best team that night, and the things you have to do to be the better team that night.’’
The Wolverines upset the Clippers, 67-61, but their season ended Wednesday with an 89-69 loss to Martha’s Vineyard in the Division 3 South semifinals.
His players will relax for a few weeks before starting offseason work in earnest, preparing for next season.
“We had some guys really committed last year [to offseason workouts], and it really paid off huge this year,’’ said St. Martin. “They got a taste of what it takes, so our understanding is that we’ll do it again next year.’’
Andrew MacDougall can be reached at email@example.com.