CAMBRIDGE — Despite playing great defense throughout the game, the Woburn High girls’ basketball team found itself in a seven-point deficit, its biggest of the game, midway through the fourth quarter.
The ultra-determined Tanners dug in and proceeded to outscore host Cambridge, 10-1, down the stretch to defeat the Falcons, 36-34, in MIAA Div. 1 North first round action, last night at Cambridge Rindge & Latin.
Woburn senior captain Marina Rufo tied the game at 34-34 with 23 seconds left, with a basket after getting her own rebound. Carley Dangora then stole the ball and fed senior co-captain Julia Taylor who scored the winning basket just before time ran out.
“We were down 33-26 with about four minutes left in the game and they really dug in; they got after it and played defense,” said Woburn coach Steve Sullivan. “What they do all year is compete and play defense. Tonight we were able to get just enough baskets to beat a very good Cambridge team.”
Following Rufo’s basket, the Falcons got the ball up to mid-court before taking a timeout. Cambridge freshman guard Sophia Vital dribbled past her defender towards the left baseline, where she was set upon by the other Tanner defenders, who forced her to lose possession.
Dangora, a freshman call-up, in the game after Ashlyn Pacheco fouled out with 2:18 to play, emerged from the scramble with the ball and raced up court on a two-on-one fast break. Dangora slipped a pass to an open Julia Taylor to her right. Taylor cut to the basket and laid the ball up off the backboard and the ball hung on the rim for a moment before falling in with two seconds left. The clock ran out before Cambridge could inbound the ball.
It was an unlikely turn of events after the Falcons seemed to have the game in hand with the seven-point lead and the Tanners seriously struggling to put the ball in the basket.
“I thought we really competed,” said Sullivan. “Their number 15 (Vital) is an excellent player, we knew she was the focal point, and we did a good job on her. We had a lot of good looks early in the game and then in the first half of the fourth quarter that just did not quite go in.
Of all that happened in the final 25 seconds, probably the least surprising was the Woburn defense forcing a turnover. The Tanners had been doing it throughout the contest, but Cambridge defense was good at getting back on defense and not allowing Woburn to convert the turnovers into baskets.
“We’ve been working all year long on the penetration when the guard gets beat and the big steps up,” said Sullivan. “It was a heck of a time for us to do it but we dropped into the block, got the steal and Carley hit Julia the other way for a breakaway layup. It was a great finish with two seconds left.”
Despite it being a close game throughout, the Tanners led only one other time, 13-11 in the second quarter, and the Falcons tied it up next time down the court.
Cambridge had at least a five-point lead at some point in all four quarters, with the seven-point lead down the stretch being the largest.
Trailing, 20-15, at the half, Woburn turned to Ashlyn Pacheco, who scored the Tanners’ first five points to get the lead down to two, 22-20, with 3:13 left. Taylor scored the last six Woburn points in the third and Woburn trailed by two after three quarters, 28-26.
The Tanners had several chances to tie it or take the lead in the first couple minutes of the fourth quarter. When they didn’t, the Falcons got a transition corner three from Kizziah Ruff, and two free throws from Vital to get the lead up to seven, 33-26.
It seemed like it might be over at that points, as the shots continued to not go in the basket.
Pacheco got things started with a 3-pointer, shortly before picking up her fifth foul with 2:18 left. Megan Roderick struggled with her shot in the game, but she drained a three with 1:45 left to get the Falcon lead down to two (34-32).
“It was a great win and I couldn’t be more prouder of the girls,” said Sullivan. “They battled, they gave everything they had, they never quit, they never gave in. That’s what these girls are, they are just girls who fight for everything.”
The Tanners await the winner of Thursday’s Belmont-Beverly first-round game. So likely Woburn’s next game will not occur before Saturday.