DALTON — Wednesday night came to a bittersweet end for the Lee girls basketball team. On one hand, the Wildcats hit the hardwood for the first time in roughly a year, but on the other hand, it came at the home of the undefeated Wahconah Warriors.
The Wildcats came out swinging, but Maria Gamberoni and the Warriors continued their winning ways with a 73-26 victory.
Gamberoni set a new career high with 29 points in the win, leaving her just two points shy of Meghan Vaughn, who holds the Wahconah girls basketball scoring record with 1,214 career points.
While Gamberoni’s scoring output was the story of the night, it wouldn’t be Warrior basketball if it didn’t start on the defensive end of the court. The Wahconah senior was a shark at the top of the key, snatching any ball that came within reach.
“Pressure as much as possible and throw my hands up,” Gamberoni said of the mentality on defense. “Sometimes I look crazy doing it, but I like to pressure because our energy starts to go up once we get points on the break.”
The Wildcats came ready to play, leading 10-4 in the first quarter following a bucket at the rim from Hannah Simmons. Trailing, the Warriors looked to their senior captains to get something going.
A 3-pointer from Morgan Marauszwski made it a three-point game. Gamberoni then caught fire on the defensive end, registering two steals and six-straight points to close the frame. The Warriors held a 13-10 lead at the end of the opening 8 minutes.
“It was Lee’s first game and they came out really strong,” Gamberoni said. “We needed to pick up the energy.”
Four different Wildcats scored in the first quarter, led by Caroline Maloney’s four points and Emma Puleri, who scored the game’s first bucket.
“It felt good,” Puleri said of the basket. “Even just having the ball in my hand, I felt back at home and it has been so long.”
Gamberoni was back to work to begin the second quarter with six-straight points and the Warrior lead grew to nine. Noelle Furlong, Wahconah’s third senior captain, joined in on the scoring with seven points in the quarter to go with Gamberoni’s 10. The Warriors took advantage of the short-handed Wildcats, outscoring them 22-2 in the frame.
“Defensively, Wahconah is the best team in the county,” Puleri said. “We’re just excited to be back after not playing for a year. We’re trying to get back to our groove and play hard as always.”
Lee played seven on opening night, but Puleri finished with six points, three rebounds and two assists. Maloney had a team-high nine points and Lena Simone had four points to go with six rebounds for the Wildcats.
Furlong kept cooking through the second half and finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Grace Wigington knocked down two shots from distance and finished with 11 on the night.
The win is the 11th-straight for the Warriors, who began the season on Feb. 03. While there is no Western Massachusetts tournament on the horizon, Wahconah is leaving everything on the court.
“It is more of a fun season,” Gamberoni said, “but we are a group of competitive girls and we’ll keep coming out and showing people that.”
Despite the tough matchup, the Wildcats couldn’t be happier to be back in action.
“We found out early last week,” Puleri said of the opportunity to partake in games. “We’ve just been trying to stay ready and hearing the news was the happiest I’ve been in a long time.”
Both teams are back in action on Thursday. Lee will take a trip to Great Barrington to play the Spartans. Meanwhile, the Warriors will try to make it 12-straight at home against Mount Everett. For Gamberoni, she needs three points to become the girls all-time leading scorer at Wahconah.
Lee 10 2 9 5 — 26
Wahconah 13 22 13 25 — 73
L — Kelly 0-0-0; M. Puleri 1-0-2; Maloney 4-1-9; Simone 2-0-4; Simmons 2-0-5; E. Puleri 2-2-6; Clark 0-0-0. Totalts 11-3-26.
W — Furlong 7-3-18; Eberwein 1-0-3; Belcher 1-0-3; M. Gamberoni 14-0-29; Drury 1-0-2; Marauszwski 1-0-3; Quinto 1-0-2; Barry 0-0-0; Wigington 4-1-11; Mason 1-0-2; Taylor 0-0-0. Totals 31-4-73.
3-point field goals — L 1 (Simmons); W 7 (Wigington 2; Marauszwski, Gamberoni, Belcher, Eberwein, Furlong).