With 27 seconds remaining in Fenway’s 56-47 Division 4 girls’ state championship win over Greater New Bedford on Monday, Panthers coach John Rice sent in a sub for senior Tajanay Veiga-Lee.
As the 5-foot-5-inch Veiga-Lee, who was named MVP (13 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists), left the court, the Fenway fans’ section at the TD Garden rose as one and saluted their captain.
“[Veiga-Lee’s] represented Fenway High School for four years,” said Rice. “I was just really happy for her. She appreciated [getting the ovation]. It’s a small community over there and that was special. It gave me goose bumps.”
Fenway (15-7) rallied from the disappointment of not qualifying for the Boston City League tournament because it was forced to forfeit four games to ultimately go out as champions for the second straight year. Fenway also defeated Greater New Bedford in last year’s final.
“It just feels good, because a lot of people said we weren’t going to make it this far and win it this year,” said Veiga-Lee . “But look at the outcome, we came here and we won it again. It just feels great.”
Fenway’s forfeits were a result of using junior varsity players, who were ineligible because they had already played too many quarters on those days, a tactic Rice said he used to avoid running up the score on opponents.
Fenway, which led, 26-20, at the half never trailed. The Panthers rode a 30-point third quarter to the win, which was accomplished without a single point in the fourth quarter.
Cadejia Matthews led the Panthers with 15 points, including three 3-pointers. Jalissa Ross had 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Ross scored 10 of her points in the third quarter and her performance left Rice feeling optimistic about the future.
“That’s just what she’s capable of,” he said of his 6-2 center.
Sophomore center Nakira Examond finished with 12 points and 18 rebounds for Greater New Bedford Voke (20-5).
For Rice, who called Veiga-Lee the one player his team would be lost without, this state championship was a bit sweeter than a year ago.
“It almost sounds selfish to say this, but it feels better than the first one,” he said. “It’s always harder; it’s a different challenge, different mind-set, different mentality. You’ve got to push the kids to find that hunger again.
“Last year we were searching for it and we had such a drive to go after it. This year was just different with the adversity we dealt with this season. It’s just an amazing feeling.”