Photo Gallery | Drury girls hold off Mount Greylock to make WMass D-III final
AMHERST >> When Brian Flagg walked in the gym at Drury High School on the first day of the girls basketball season, he had a sneaking suspicion that his group of Blue Devils could do something special.
The players proved it to their coach on Tuesday, ramping up their defense in the fourth quarter to turn a four-point deficit into a three-point win, 41-38, over ninth-seeded Mount Greylock in the Western Mass. Division-III semifinals.
Down 37-33 after a Lauren Howard putback for Greylock, fourth-seeded Drury held the Mounties to just one free throw in the final six minutes of play, using the right combination of magic and confidence to pull out a game that almost got away from them.
"All I did [when I started] was say 'girls, we have five seniors, you're Drury High School, they're known for their defense, let's just play defense,'" Flagg said. "They bought into it."
The biggest thing Drury did down the stretch was neutralize Greylock's Jenna Benzinger. The 6-foot-4 junior scored a game-high 17 in the loss, and with the Mounties trailing 26-20 at halftime, Benzinger had two assists and three baskets — one an and-one conversion — to spark a 14-4 run to start the third, making it 34-30 Mounties with 3 minutes to go in the period.
"Our energy on defense was better so Drury wasn't getting to the basket," Greylock coach John Jacobbe said of his team's turnaround. "Then we got the ball inside to Jenna and either Jenna was able to score or get it inside-out, that's when we're most effective."
Those points, though, were her last. Thanks in large part to Liv Carlson and Katie Toomey fronting and backing Benzinger to keep her off the glass, Drury shut off Greylock's inside presence and forced them to shoot.
But Greylock's advantage stuck into the fourth. The Mounties withstood a Sarah Lamarre (9 points) free throw and a Toomey (8 points) layup before the end of the third to take a 34-33 edge, then responded with an Ari Walden (6 points) freebie and Howard's putback to make it 37-33 a minute into the final frame.
That's when, according to Molly Moulton, Drury decided enough was enough.
"[We said] we can't keep living in the past, we have to look to the next play, look forward," Molly Moulton said, "things will work our way eventually."
Molly Moulton (13 points) scored on a layup the next possession to make it a one-possession game again, then the defense held.
Drury tied the game up with 4:43 to go on a pair of Lamarre free throws. Carlson knocked down the go-ahead bucket on a pass from Toomey with just under 2:30 to go, Toomey added a free throw with 1:19 left, and Molly Moulton finished the game off by scoring on the front-end of a one-and-one opportunity.
At the other end of the floor, Drury made sure that its little spurt of offense would be enough. Changing out of a triangle-and-two defense and into more of a match-up zone look, the Blue Devils forced shots from outside.
"With four or five minutes left in the game, I told them we have to just make them shoot it from the outside," Flagg said. "We couldn't let them win inside."
Greylock's final point came from Walden on the one instance the Mounties drove into the lane and got to the line. After going 1 of 2, it was 40-38 with just under a minute to go.
Greylock got the ball back still down two on an offensive rebound with 8.4 seconds to go, but then Jenna Moulton popped up to poke the ball away and give Drury possession, setting up Molly's final free throw.
"[Jenna Moulton and Lamarre] have been our two defending machines for 22 games now," Flagg said. "They did a tremendous job.
"We really believe if there's a game under five points, it's our game to win. We've done it all season long, and we did it again tonight."
Benzinger grabbed Moulton's miss and Greylock called timeout with 1.8 to go, but with the ball at half court the Mounties could not get off a final shot.
For the Mounties, the loss ends what's been a magical run through the tournament. Jacobbe, still mulling in the thoughts of everything ending, tried to put the season in its proper perspective.
"The whole year has been an emotional roller coaster," Jacobbe said. "I said it before the game, it was going to be a great season for one team and an outstanding season for the other. We wanted to be that outstanding team, but we came up a little short."
Drury returns to a Western Mass. championship game for the first time since 2013, when the Blue Devils lost to Hoosac Valley in the old Division II.
Benzinger finished with 15 rebounds to record the game's lone double-double, and added six blocks as well. Carlson had 11 rebounds and four points, and Toomey added eight boards. Drury shot 10 of 15 at the line and Greylock was 8 of 12.
Drury will play the winner of No. 2 Hoosac Valley and No. 3 Hampshire in the championship game on Saturday.
Either team will present a new set of challenges for Drury, but Molly Moulton said her team is ready for whatever.
"We never want it to end. We have a great group of girls who always work hard, and we just want to see how far it takes us."
MOUNT GREYLOCK (38)
Walden 2-2-6, Reinahrd 0-0-0, Albert 0-0-0, E. Cerveira 2-1-5, Stripp 3-0-8, Howard 1-0-2, Benzinger 6-5-17. Totals 13-8-38.
DiGennaro 1-0-3, Lamarre 2-4-9, M. Moulton 4-4-13, Wissman 0-0-0, Toomey 3-2-8, J. Moulton 2-0-4, Carlson 2-0-4. Totals 14-10-41.
Greylock 11 9 14 4 — 38
Drury 15 11 7 8 — 41
Contact Geoff Smith at 413-496-6254.