Time and time again Wachusett pulled ahead, but Natick’s Brenna McDonald would not be denied.
The Yale-bound senior forward provided a monstrous effort with 32 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 blocks in Natick’s 64-54 overtime win over Wachusett in the Division 1 Central semifinals Tuesday at WPI’s Harrington Auditorium.
The 6-foot-3 McDonald scored 26 of her points in the second half and overtime as the Redhawks (20-2) clinched their first sectional title appearance since 2016. Natick trailed for more than 26 minutes of regulation, but McDonald took over down the stretch to lead the Redhawks to victory.
“It was a mental game. I didn’t shoot very well in the first half, and I could see that our team was getting down,” McDonald said. “I know when I start going more aggressive, not even necessarily scoring, just getting rebounds and stuff, it translates to everyone else.”
Central Connecticut State-bound senior point guard Belle Lanpher led the Mountaineers (21-1) with 25 points.
Wachusett jumped out to a 15-4 lead after the first quarter, holding Natick scoreless for a six-minute stretch to build the advantage.
Natick rallied and rallied, finally tying it up at 50-all with 51.3 seconds left — the first time the game had been deadlocked since it was 2-2. McDonald rebounded the front end of a 1-and-1 by Jenna Forman, put it in off the backboard, and hit the tying free throw.
“I was pretty elated at that point,” McDonald said. “There were points where we all doubted it, but I think the important part about that was that even in those times we bounced back and we didn’t let that get to us.”
Natick coach Dan Hinnenkamp said McDonald plays nearly every minute of every game, and this was one of her most dominant stretches.
“She really in the second half had a different mentality,” Hinnenkamp said. “Boy, I thought she just brought it. She’s got to be exhausted, because she brought it.”
In overtime, McDonald and freshman Madi Forman (14 points) each scored a pair of buckets for Natick, who had lost to Wachusett the last two seasons.
“For the girls to close things out at the end there and just commit to the team play I thought was huge,” Hinnenkamp said.
Division 1 South
Needham 47, Newton North 45 — In the third meeting of the season between the Bay State Conference rivals, senior Kiara McIntyre and junior Caroline Klemm combined for all of the Rockets’ 11 points in the fourth quarter of their semifinal win at Bridgewater-Raynham.
‘‘That was tough. It was a very long storm,’’ said Needham coach Amanda Sheehy of her team’s fourth quarter. ‘‘How did we weather it? We had to get the ball to Kiki [McIntyre]. We knew we needed the ball in her hands.”
McIntyre also provided a spark in the first quarter, opening the game with 6 straight points for Needham (21-2), which will play the Bishop Feehan/Bridgwater-Raynham winner in Saturday’s final in Taunton. ‘‘I can feel the momentum,’’ said McIntyre, who finished with 21 points. ‘‘When I start scoring it, it hypes up the team. We come together as a team once that happens. It helps on defense too and defense wins games.’’
Division 1 Central
Franklin 59, Holy Name 42 — In the teams’ third meeting of the season, the top-seeded Panthers (22-0) prevailed once again, pulling away in the second half for the semifinal win at WPI.
“Let’s give credit where credit’s due, they’re a great team,” Franklin coach John Leighton said. “I really thought our kids calmed down, got over it, and that says a lot about who we are.”
Franklin senior Ali Brigham had a game-high 20 points to go with eight rebounds and three blocks. Sophomore point guard Erin Quaile added 10 points and three steals.
Quaile helped Franklin’s defense limit Holy Name to zero scorers in double figures.
“I can pressure because I know I have a lot of help behind me,” Quaile said. “We do such a good job at talking, and if I pressure, it picks up the intensity.”
Holy Name (15-7) held a narrow 22-21 lead after three ties and two lead changes in the first half.
After shooting just 1-of-8 from 3-point range in the first half, Franklin started to pound it inside. They focused on skipping the ball around the perimeter which opened things up inside Holy Name’s zone.
“Once you start skipping it, the zone has to widen out,” Leighton said. “In that first quarter there were 10 pairs of shoes in the paint every possession. Once we moved the ball, Ali dove to the rim and it’s really hard to stop her when she gets there.”
Brigham scored 8 points in the frame, willing Franklin to a 42-29 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Franklin will face third-seeded Natick Friday at 8 pm at Worcester State University.
“They’re a lot bigger than teams that we’ve played, but we’re a lot bigger than other teams, too,” Quaile said. “I think it’ll be a good matchup.”
Division 3 North
St. Mary’s 67, Bishop Fenwick 34 — At St. John’s Prep, Gabby Torres and Olivia Matela paced a balanced attack as the top-seeded Spartans (23-2) soared into the D3 North final, presenting coach Jeff Newhall with his 300th career win.
St. Mary’s limited their Catholic Central rival to four total field goals in the second and third quarters.
‘‘We've had great players for a long time, and this is 14 more of them,’’ said Newhall. ‘‘It’s more about them than me.’’
The Spartans will play Amesbury at the Tsongas Center Saturday.
Division 4 North
Fenway 58, Maimonides 44 — Halftime adjustments and second-chance points paved the way for the Panthers (18-7) in their semifinal win at Madison Park. After struggling to break the Maimonides zone, coach John Rice moved sophomore forward Kayana Armbrister from the wing to the post, and senior center Janyah Gulley to the top of the key. The duo combined for 18 points in the second half and punished the MCATS on the offensive glass.
‘‘Some coaches don’t make adjustments, some do, I try to make adjustments,’’ said Rice. ‘‘We’ve got some kids that can play different positions, two 6-footers that can shoot the three and handle it, they can rebound.’’
Armbrister finished with 15 points and 21 rebounds, and Gulley produced 20 points and 12 boards. Danielle Bessler led Maimonides with 22. The Panthers will play top seed Matignon (19-1) Friday at Tewksbury High (6 p.m.).
Division 4 South
St. John Paul II 37, West Bridgewater 34 — Senior Cait Mehl scored all of her team-high 11 points in the second half, including a pair of free throws in the final minute, to help the top-seeded Lions (21-1) erase a 14-point halftime deficit in the D4 South quarterfinal. Freshman Maggie Crofford scored 8 of her 9 points in the final two quarters and grabbed nine rebounds. JPII will play Carver in a South semifinal Thursday in Taunton. The Wildcats (14-8) were led by senior Meg Willis, who finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds.
John Hand reported from Bridgewater, Brad Joyal from Hyannis, Gus Baylow from Danvers, and Seamus McAvoy from Madison Park.