At 7:35 p.m., minutes after the Division 1 girls’ basketball state final last Saturday night, Braintree High sophomore Bridget Herlihy was fiddling with the championship medal.
She looked at the medal, flipped it over, and looked at it again.
“It feels so weird,” said Herlihy, who delivered 14 points and 10 rebounds in the Wamps’ title-clinching 57-46 win over Westford Academy at the DCU Center in Worcester. “It doesn’t feel right.”
Herlihy kept the medallion around her neck for her team’s joyous bus ride back home, which culminated in a mini-parade through South Braintree Square. When she finally went to sleep, she put the medal on a nearby shelf so she would see it again the following morning.
Still, Herlihy said the win did not truly sink in for her until Monday when she got to school.
“With everyone congratulating us in school, it finally hit us that we did an amazing thing,” she said of the capper to a 24-1 season.
For most of the season, Braintree coach Kristen McDonnell avoided discussing the implications of a state title. She did not want to burden her players with talk of legacy and history.
In the team’s final practice last Friday, McDonnell kept things as normal as she could. Then she told her players to return to the school Saturday afternoon for shootaround before heading to the DCU Center.
Junior guard Ashley Russell received a ride to the shootaround from her older sister, Taylor , now a freshman at Babson College. Taylor recalled wishing she could get out with Ashley when it was time to drop her off at the high school. Her last two seasons with the Wamps ended with losses in the Eastern Massachusetts final.
Instead, Taylor simply wished her sister good luck.
Their eyes would connect again a few hours later. This time, Ashley was on the floor at the DCU Center while Taylor sat in the stands with fellow Braintree grad Rachel Norton .
Westford Academy was chipping away at the Wamps’ 34-19 halftime lead, and a Grey Ghost had just stepped to the free-throw line to do more damage. Braintree’s two starting forwards, Brianna Herlihy and Mary Reagan. both were on the bench with four fouls. McDonnell later said she worried the game was slipping away at that point.
But Russell’s eye contact with her sister calmed her down.
“Seeing her up there, I just knew we had to win for them,” she said. “We did this partially for them because the seniors last year came so close and could not get this far. It was motivation for us because we didn’t want to be in the same position as them.”
Westford cut the margin to 47-41, but Russell scored six late points to secure the 57-46 victory. The state’s Gatorade Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year finished with a team-high 17.
During the awards ceremony, a few of the players gave each other a nod. No words were shared, but everyone on the team got the idea. As soon as the presentation of medals was over, the players rushed the trophy past the baseline to the corner section where the Braintree students were sitting.
“They’ve been really supportive and they understand that it’s a huge deal for us,” Bridget Herlihy said of the fans. “So we all decided at same time [to run over there]. We all knew that they had been supporting us through the whole thing so we had to recognize them.”
After sharing a moment with the students, the Wamps retreated to their locker room to celebrate together. McDonnell finally gave the speech she had been holding back.
This Braintree team was now going to be a part of school history. Each player could come back and remember that every time they look up at the state championship banner that will soon hang in their gym.
The players then huddled up for one final time. They would have a student-faculty fund-raiser game a couple days later, and then a banquet, but this would be the last time, collectively, they would be representing Braintree High school.
“Together!” they yelled.
As teammates then took pictures with their trophy and medals, McDonnell talked with her assistant coaches. She reminded herself that she always expected her team to finally get over the hump.
“I never doubted it,” she said. “I never had a doubt.”
Cardinal Spellman wins title with Glynn in thoughts
“It’s hard to put into words,” Cardinal Spellman coach Mike Perry said of his team’s 61-51 win over Tyngsborough High for the Division 3 state title.
The Cardinals dedicated their season to 2012 graduate Joey Glynn , who died after collapsing during a recreation league game last summer in Watertown after completing a promising freshman season on the court at Bentley.
Then Spellman won its first state title in 30 years. That was special, Perry said.
“[Glynn] is probably right here over our shoulders,” he said. “I’m telling you.”
Cardinal Spellman earned its trip to the state final with a pair of comeback wins in overtime.
In the Division 3 South semifinal, the Cardinals rallied from 10 points down with five minutes to go, ultimately beating Martha’s Vineyard in overtime, 64-63.
In the state semifinals, Spellman erased an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit before pulling away in overtime for a 51-44 overtime win against Watertown.
So it was only fitting that Spellman created some more late-game drama against the Tigers. The Cardinals led by 11 with less than four minutes to go, but watched that lead dwindle to three after senior center Joe Crane fouled out.
For one final time though, this Spellman squad dominated the game’s final minutes. With less than two minutes to go, senior guard Ryan Roach and senior forward Rory Donovan connected on an alley-oop to end Tyngsborough’s run.
“I was going absolutely insane,” Donovan said. “That was the craziest moment ever. I was hoping for a dunk and I finally got one.”
Roach followed that up with a floater to give his team even more breathing room, and senior guard Austin Joseph then hit four straight free throws. The Cardinals finished their season with an 8-1 run to clinch the 61-51 victory and inspire one last chant.
“Thank you Jo-ey.”