It was the moment of truth.
Five minutes to play in the New England Prep Class A final, and the Noble & Greenough girls’ basketball team, the defending champions, was staring at a 10-point deficit against the Rivers School.
Never mind that the two schools, situated roughly 20 minutes apart, in Dedham and Weston, respectively, were squaring off on the campus of the Loomis Chaffee School, in Windsor, Conn., last Sunday afternoon.
Alex Gallagher , a 1990 Nobles’ graduate who has returned to guide the girls’ basketball program to 10 straight Independent School League titles, signaled for a timeout.
His message: dig in on defense and trust each other.
“In that huddle, we weren’t putting in new schemes, we weren’t putting in new strategy,” Gallagher said.
“We were simply looking at the kids on the team and said, ‘All year long we’ve talked about being there for one another and making the big play to help each other succeed. And everything we’ve talked about in terms of family and our philosophy all year long has to come true right now in the next four and a half minutes.’
“And amazingly, it happened.”
Junior Kate Kerrigan and freshman Katie Benzan , a pair of guards from Wellesley, drained back-to-back 3-pointers, and sophomore Alexandra Maund of Mattapan converted a put-back to put the Bulldogs right back into the game.
When Rivers switched out of its 2-3 zone defense — which stifled Nobles for the majority of the game, according to senior captain Hannah Peterson — and into man-to-man, the Bulldogs took off.
Kerrigan netted the go-ahead basket, a 15-foot jumper for the 42-41 final, with 31 seconds left, capping a 27-0 season and back-to-back Class A titles for Gallagher’s squad. It also marked the second time in less than a month that Nobles had beaten Rivers by the same score.
Rivers attempted a Hail Mary pass with 2.2 seconds left, but junior guard Lauren Dillon secured the ball safely in her hands to lock the win.
“It was the perfect way for the season to end,” said Gallagher, whose team has now won 37 straight games.
“At the start of our season we sort of looked at each other and we said, ‘We should not lose.’ And if we lose, it’s on us. It’s not going to be because somebody was better than us.”
Despite playing from behind toward the end of the game — something the Bulldogs did very little of all season — they kept their cool, in part because of their victory over Rivers three weeks prior, on Feb. 15.
“I wasn’t as worried about losing,” said Peterson, a Cambridge resident. “I was more excited to win.”
Gallagher gave much credit to Kerrigan, who held Boston College-bound star Emilee Daly , of Sharon, to a single field goal, and the 5-9 Maund, who collected 16 rebounds while working against 6-3 post players Jen Berkowitz and Julia Thissell .
“Their defense wins them games,” said Rivers coach Bob Pipe. “They’re the toughest, most aggressive defensive team around and have been for years. They know how to win.”
Maund garnered tourney MVP honors with her 12-point, 16-rebound performance in the championship game — but didn’t know about her totals until her coach told her at the team’s end-of-the-season banquet the next day.
It was evidence, Gallagher said, of the team’s selfless mindset.
There is no clear statistical Bulldog leader, no single player head and shoulders above the rest. There are 10 players who regularly see playing time.
Kerrigan netted a team-high 9.8 points per game, followed closely by Benzan’s 9.5. Maund led the way on the boards with 9.2 per game, with Peterson’s 8.4 ranking second.
As a whole, though, the numbers are staggering, for both this team and the program. Nobles won each game by an average of 25 points. It is 118-2 in league play in the last decade.
And now, it has two New England championships in a row.
So how badly do the returning underclassmen want a third?
“Oh, so bad. So bad. Not even a question,” Dillon said laughing before pointing out that next year’s team looks like it will be loaded. “We’re going to set out for the same things that we did this year and keep gunning for more. So watch out, everyone.”
After being eliminated by top seed, Sharon boys are looking to next year
They can’t say they didn’t make a run.
After wins over fifth-seeded Silver Lake and 13th-seeded Quincy, the Sharon boys, seeded 12th, were eliminated from the Division 2 South tourney with an 83-79 loss to top seed Scituate Tuesday night.
The Eagles wrapped up their season with a 17-8 mark, the majority of those wins coming against tough Hockomock League competition.
Coach Bruce Jackman credited much of the success to senior forwards Kevin Bartas and Ian Beach , who averaged roughly 10 points per game apiece and, arguably more importantly, provided toughness, physically and mentally. Junior guards Brian Mukasa (18 points per game) and Jimmy Fritzson (15) went off for 20 and 34 points respectively against Scituate, combining for 54 of Sharon’s 79 points.
According to Jackman, that was the norm.
“All year long they’ve carried us,” he said, noting that both have had several 30-plus-point games.
The Eagles didn’t have a ton of height — the 6-2 Bartas and 6-1 Beach played the post — and look like they might have even less next season, with 5-9 Mukasa and 5-10 Fritzson expected to lead the way.
Jackman has high hopes, though.
“We’re the munchkin world down here,” Jackman said. “But [Mukasa and Fritzson] are very, very good.
“I think that they’re pretty much the class of the backcourts on the South Shore next year.”Tim Healey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.