AMHERST -- The goal for the Lenox girls basketball team was to return to the Western Massachusetts Division III championship game. Top-seeded Sabis, however, had other ideas.
The Millionaires fought back from a 12-point deficit against Sabis in a semifinal game Thursday night at the Curry Hicks Cage and tied the game three times. But the No. 4 seeds could never take the lead, and the Bulldogs advanced to the championship game with a 45-41 win.
"It was really frustrating because we would tie it and they would make another shot," said Lenox forward Liz Mitts. "We all tried to hang in there and look for a good shot. Unfortunately, all the shots weren't falling."
The Millionaires tied the score for one last time at 41-41, on a basket by Mitts with 4:10 left. But the Millionaires didn't score again, the top seeds escaped to Saturday's championship game against Lee. The Wildcats and Bulldogs will start the Saturday series of finals at 10:45 a.m.
"We've been able to come back in games before. We did it last year," Lenox coach Nicole Patella said. "We just had to get a lead and keep it. We turned the ball over a little too much. We didn't find the basket at the end of the game."
Mitts had a game-high 20 points and she also pulled down a team-best 6 rebounds. Hayden Zinchuk finished with 10 points before fouling out with 2:28 remaining in the game.
Shyanne Wellington led Sabis with 17 points, 10 of them in the second half. She also had 6 of her 8 rebounds in the second half.
It was one of those nights for both teams. The Millionaires had an uncharacteristically-high 27 turnovers, while Sabis committed 28. Five players for both teams had at least 3 steals each.
Sabis led 27-15 with 2:32 left in the first half and took a 29-21 lead into the locker room at halftime. Lenox went on a 12-4 run to start the third quarter, and that tied the game at 33. The Bulldogs never led by more than six points the rest of the way.
"We respect [Lenox] greatly. They're a very good team. They're well-coached. They do the fundamentals very well," said Sabis coach Tom Campagna. "They took us out of our rhythm. We had a number of turnovers early in the second half. That's why we couldn't get it going."
Lenox had fought back to the game at 35 on a basket by Zinchuk with 3:18 left in the third quarter. The Lenox senior picked up her second personal foul on Jazmine Collins' drive to the basket. Collins missed both free throws, but Lenox missed a chance to take the lead when 5-foot-5 forward Wellington outrebounded the Millionaires and scored on a put back.
The third quarter ended with Sabis up 38-35, and the Bulldogs scored the first three points of the fourth quarter to go up 41-35. The Millionaires responded and when Mitts scored off an assist from Bailey Fielding, the game was tied for the third and final time. The scoreboard clock in the Curry Hicks Cage read 4:10 left -- plenty of time for the Millionaires to mount a comeback.
The Millionaires were hampered by the loss of Zinchuk. The senior forward picked up her fourth personal foul with 16 seconds gone in the fourth quarter and sat until the 3-minute mark. Zinchuk picked up her fifth with 2:28 left. Sinkfeld missed the front end of the 1-and-1, but the damage was done.
"She just wants the ball. She's going to go and get the ball whenever she can," Patella said of Zinchuk. "A player like that, is hard to lose with 3 minutes left to go."
Campagna's Bulldogs had other ideas. Collins came right back down and drove through the Lenox defense to put her team ahead for keeps.
From that point, the Millionaires had seven possessions, and failed to score on all of them. They were 0 for 3 from the floor with 4 turnovers. Kathy Prescott missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 23.8 seconds left and Wellington made the key points with 19.6 seconds remaining.
Lenox trailed 43-41 when Mitts fouled Madison Sinkfield with 21 seconds remaining. The Sabis sophomore missed the front end of the 1-and-1. But instead of heading downcourt for a potential game-tying shot, Wellington got inside of four Lenox players to pull down the rebound. She was fouled on the shot attempt, made both, and put the Bulldogs up 45-41.
Lenox had one more offensive chance, but a turnover with 8.9 seconds sealed the victory for Sabis.
"It's hard that it's over, and I'm sure it's going to hurt for a while. The one thing I said in the locker room is that you're going to take away a lot of good things," said Patella. "I want to remember them long before you leave this locker room, and put a smile back on your face."
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