DALTON — The Wahconah girls basketball team made Monday's opening-round Western Mass. Division III game against Mahar difficult, but in the end the No. 6 Warriors put together enough baskets to pull out a 52-45 win in Dalton.
Ashley Zink scored a game-high 16 in the win, Lily Pudlo added 14 and Emmy Cote scored seven of her 11 points in the final quarter to help the Warriors to a win over the No. 11 Senators for the second year running.
"We have to remember, we have some really good players but we are young," Wahconah coach Liz Kay said. "We can sit there and say we had playoff experience last year, but the reality is we were led by three seniors who started and left.
"This was really the first chance for those kids to step up in a leadership role in a postseason game. A kid like Emmy, she is a star soccer player, a star lacrosse player, she is used to big moments."
And Wahconah needed Cote down the stretch.
After building up an eight-point lead after a quarter and a 10-point lead with 2:42 to go in the first half, Wahconah watched as Mahar slowly worked itself back into the game, trimming the deficit to 36-32 going into the third.
The Senators then scored the first two buckets of the fourth — both by Kadie Jillson (6 points) — to tie things up at 36-all.
"It's a credit to those kids, especially the young ones," Mahar coach Larry Fisher said of his side's comeback. "We were down 8 or 10 in that first quarter and we got through it. Made a couple hoops, got a couple turnovers and made them uncomfortable. We did come back, and I'm proud of them. They did not go away from this team at all, they stayed right with them."
But Cote wasn't ready to go home yet.
On an inbounds play after Jillson's second bucket, Cote hit Julia O'Connor on the wing, then snuck through the backdoor for an and-one opportunity that she converted to put Wahconah back up for good.
"Honestly, I did not think I was going to have an opening," Cote said of the play. "We were kind of frazzled because they had came back and tied it. They were catching onto our plays, so I decided if [the Mahar defender is] going to go there, just cut backdoor because they knew what we were going to do. Julia saw it, which was great."
Mahar, though, didn't go away quietly. After a pair of Zink free throws put Wahconah up five, Mahar got a pair of free throws and a bucket from Kianna Whitmore to trim the deficit to 41-40.
Cote, though, had another pair of answers.
First she was the provider, faking out the defense on a drive to the hole which ended with her tossing a pass behind a Mahar player's back and into the hands of Kenna McIlquham (7 points) to make it 43-40, then Cote took the ball to the rack in traffic for a finish that put the team up 45-40.
Mahar kept the deficit at five for the next two minutes, and trailed 50-45 after a freebie from Kianna Reilly that also fouled Cote out of the game. Wahconah took a timeout with 58.7 seconds left to talk strategy, and the Warriors' possession out of the break finally put the game to bed.
Working through the 30-second shot clock, Wahconah got a shot off as the buzzer went off, but the ball caromed off the rim and back into the paint. Lily Pudlo, though, was there to haul in the offensive rebound, and she went straight back up with it for her final bucket of the game.
"[Pudlo's putback was] huge. Absolutely huge, because it goes from a five-point game to seven-point game and it's a three possession game," Kay said. I think the difference between a two-possession game and a three-possession game is huge."
With the win, Wahconah advances to play No. 3 Hampshire at Hampshire on Thursday. Earlier in the season, Hampshire handed Wahconah a 53-46 loss in Dalton. The Warriors are ready to try and avenge that decision.
"I'm very ready for this," Cote said of the rematch. "I think the whole team is. We've come so far this season, and I think this was the step we needed to get there. And I think we can now definitely do something really good."
Pudlo finished with a double-double, registering 16 rebounds to go with her points. Cote added seven rebounds and three assists in the win, and O'Connor hauled in seven rebounds. For Mahar, Ally Parker had six points, eight rebounds and five helpers.
Parker 3-0-6, Reilly 1-1-3, Jillson 3-0-6, Paul 3-3-10, Vautour 1-0-2, Gonynor 2-1-5, Powell 0-0-0, Whitmore 4-5-13. Totals 17-10-45.
McMahon 1-0-2, Zink 5-5-16, McIlquham 3-0-7, Cote 5-1-11, Pudlo 4-6-14, Dougherty 1-0-2, O'Connor 0-0-0, Gamberoni 0-0-0. Totals 19-12-52.
3-point goals — M 1 (Paul), W 2 (Zink, McIlquham).
Contact Geoff Smith at 413-496-6254.