SPRINGFIELD — As soon as Mackenzie Moore was set to inbound the ball from underneath the Springfield Central basket, her Braintree teammate, Adriana Timberlake, sprinted for the other end of the court at the MassMutual Center.
Moore fired a perfect three-quarter-court laser to Timberlake, who snared the ball in stride and drove to the basket for an open layup, the 2 points with 1.8 seconds remaining locking up Braintree’s riveting 59-56 victory Saturday night for the program’s third Division 1 crown in five years under the direction of coach Kristen McDonnell.
The first two titles were overly satisfying. The third was a redemptive triumph.
Central bounced Braintree, 61-47, in last year’s final. McDonnell stepped down two weeks later, interference from some players’ parents playing a key role in her decision. She returned three months later with a renewed sense of self.
But in a rematch of the state final in the season opener in December, Central ruled again, 63-46.
Ninety-two days later, Braintree found a way.
With 9.6 seconds left, Springfield Central senior Jada Murray-Gee sank the first of two foul shots, cutting Braintree’s lead to 57-56. But she missed the second attempt, and the Wamps (23-3) earned possession on a jump ball, setting up Moore’s long pass to Timberlake.
“I did not think I was going to catch that, Mackenzie didn’t think it was going to get there,” said Timberlake, a junior forward who poured in a team-high 19 points.
“I ran as fast as I possibly could to get that ball. It was awesome. It was crazy,”
It was just another example of the chemistry this Braintree squad has developed.
“I think they’re just an incredibly unselfish bunch, they have trust in each other and they just do things the right way,” McDonnell said. “The poster child of what a team should be.”
Much earlier in the game, Braintree junior Barbara Ronca displayed the type of confidence the Wamps have in each other.
With Braintree on top, 27-17, with 3:09 to play in the first half, Ronca picked up a rebound and her perfectly threaded outlet pass led to an open score by senior Jenna Roche (14 points). Clapping in celebration before the ball even rolled off Roche’s fingertips, Ronca and the Wamps were clearly in their groove.
Central (21-3) pushed Braintree to the end, but Ronca’s harmless celebration foreshadowed something much greater.
“We just knew we couldn’t go into the game easy,” Ronca said. “We were always pumped after every basket and knew we couldn’t stop pressuring them.”
Braintree led for the first 18:45 of play, but the Golden Eagles fought back, taking their first lead on a right wing 3-pointer by Makayla Thompson with 5:15 left in the third. She slapped the floor in jubilation, and the lead changed hands six times prior to the fourth quarter.
“I saw what we were in terms of fighting the whole time, but I think we lost our poise a little bit,” Springfield Central coach Erik Maurer said.
Rachel Tutkus said she was ecstatic to capture her first title. As a freshman in 2015, she was a member of the junior varsity squad.
“It feels great,” Tutkus said. “I’ve never been on the team when we’ve won one. It’s awesome.”
Braintree 59, Springfield Central 56
at MassMutual Center, Springfield
BRAINTREE (23-3) — Adriana Timberlake 8 2 19, Jenna Roche 5 2 14, Rachel Tutkus 4 2 10, Barbara Ronca 1 6 8, Mackenzie Moore 0 4 4, Margaret Hester 1 0 2, Jeniyah Jones 1 0 2. Totals 20 16 59.
SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL (21-3) — Makayla Thompson 7 0 19, MaKayla Rudder 6 0 14, Selenya Gonzalez 5 0 13, Jaliena Sanchez 3 2 8, Jada Murray-Gee 0 2 2. Totals 21 4 56.
Halftime: Braintree, 30-27. 3-pt. goals: Adriana Timberlake, Jenna Roche 2; Makayla Thompson 5, MaKayla Rudder 2, Selenya Gonzalez 3.
Greg Levinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.