SPRINGFIELD — Bigger and stronger or faster. That’s a perennial debate in basketball. Friday afternoon in the Birthplace of Basketball, the answer for at least one day was most definitely faster.
“After getting a few steals and layups off their steals,” Wahconah’s Grace Wigington said. “It just picked us all up and we were able to get some shots down. It just gave us great confidence.”
Wigington and Olivia Gamberoni combined to score three points in the first quarter. The duo exploded in the second and ended up combining to score 47 points as the Warriors rallied from a first-quarter deficit to roll past Springfield International Charter School, the former Sabis, 69-39, in Friday’s first game at the Hoophall Classic on the Springfield College campus.
Gamberoni was named the most outstanding player for Wahconah. She had 22 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Gamberoni also had six assists and six steals.
“It was a big honor to play here,” Gamberoni said.
Wiggington, who scored 13 points in the first half, finished with a game-high 25 for Wahconah (9-1), which has now won nine straight contests.
“It was really exciting. I’ve never really been on a college court before,” said Wigington. “Playing here was amazing.”
It has been a tough row to hoe for SICS, which despite the name change, is still the Bulldogs. It was SICS’ first loss of the year, but only their fifth game. The Bulldogs had lost seven contests because of COVID-19 issues.
”Playing against a team like Wahconah that’s going to pressure you the whole game, and who’s played 10 games,” SICS coach Tyrone Reid said. “We’ve had to reschedule seven games. That was tough. We’re 4-1. This was exactly what we needed, to see pressure like that. We’ve been doing a good job [handling pressure] early in the season, but we had this long layoff. We’re looking forward to getting everyone back healthy and full practicing.
”It’s a learning time.”
It was a “learning time” for the Warriors, who fell behind early. The Warriors had some difficulties with SICS’ height. Four of the five Bulldog starters were 5-foot-7 or taller, and they dominated the glass in the first two quarters. SICS outrebounded Wahconah 31-13 at halftime, most of the advantage was built up in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs used a 9-0 run midway through the quarter to take a 13-4 advantage. Neither Gamberoni or Wigington had scored at that point, as Wahconah managed only a pair of field goals by Emma Belcher. Things started to turn when Wigington caught a pass from Dani Barry and hit her first trey of the night.
Wahconah got back in the game, outscoring the Bulldogs 6-2 to close the quarter down only 15-10.
“It took us through the whole first quarter,” Wahconah coach Liz Kay said. “Alicia Mitchell had six offensive rebounds in the first half and they had 11 in the first half, and I think most of them were in the first quarter. We really had to negate their height with speed, and we didn’t do a good job of that in the first quarter. We really picked it up in the second.”
Did they ever.
Back-to-back-to-back treys by Wigington, Gamberoni and Eva Eberwein ignited the offense, and the defense did the rest. Wahconah took a 31-23 halftime lead, in part by forcing 24 turnovers in the opening 16 minutes. Those turnovers led to 17 Wahconah points.
“We did adjust our press to put a little more ball pressure on top,” said Kay. “In the halfcourt, we really believed that if they were able to get the ball in the paint, we knew we would be in trouble. The only way to negate that is to get a lot of ball pressure higher up and start their offense higher.”
The Bulldogs opened the third quarter by cutting the Wahconah lead to five points as SICS MVP Alicia Mitchell converted a 3-point play and Alexa Davis made 1 of 2 from the line.
The Warriors responded by outscoring the Bulldogs 27-4 the rest of the way in the quarter. That run ended all the suspense.
“We had that mindset where we’re not giving up,” Gamberoni said. “You can’t give up. You still have a quarter and a half left. We just got rebounds and we had more energy. I think that motivated us.”
The Warriors, who are 5-1 in the Suburban League, head back into league play next week. They will play a home-and-home with unbeaten Amherst and will host Hoosac Valley, the team that beat Wahconah in the season opener.
”We run the gauntlet next week,” Kay said. “We’ve got Amherst, they’re undefeated. We play Hoosac again and then we play Amherst again. In a week we’re going Amherst-Hoosac-Amherst. I think this is a good preface to that.”
Eberwein 3-0-7, Belcher 2-1-5, Gamberoni 8-3-22, Wiggington 10-2-25, Quinto 2-0-4, Barry 0-1-1, Choquette 1-0-3, Doyle 0-0-0, Drury 0-0-0, Roberts 0-0-0, White 0-0-0, Mason 1-0-2. Totals 27-54 7-14 69.
Hodge 0-0-0, Mitchell 5-1-11, Witherspooon 2-0-5, Davis 3-3-9, Santiago 2-0-4, Spruill 0-0-0, Polk 0-0-0, Pierce 1-0-2, Morin 1-2-4, Wallace 0-0-0, Shulbrick 2-0-4, Ortiz 0-0-0. Totals 16-51 6-14 39.
Wahconah 10 21 26 12 — 69
SICS 15 7 10 7 — 39
3-point goals — W 8 (Gamberoni 3, Wiggington 3, Eberwein, Choquette). S 1 (Witherspoon).