Lenox girls basketball holds off Lee, grabs hold of Berkshire South Division

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MIKE WALSH – THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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LENOX — Another chapter in the Lee-Lenox basketball rivalry was being written late in the fourth quarter. When Lee's Lydia Simone scored off an inbounds play with 1 minute, 26 seconds left, the Wildcats had closed an eight-point deficit to one. All Lee needed was a stop to possibly take the lead.

Lenox's Mia Giardina had other ideas.

Giardina picked up a loose ball that had pinballed in the paint and scored off the glass, giving host Lenox a three-point lead. Lee never got closer as Lenox closed out a 49-44 win on Sophie Patella's drive to the hoop with 20 seconds left. It was Lenox's eighth consecutive win.

"It was kind of nerve wracking," Giardina said of those final seconds. "I knew my team. We all had it together, and we played so well together tonight. I'm so happy. Our seniors were all here and they played so well."

It was Senior Night, and before the game, seniors Kat Nichols, Jade Alward and Amelia Reis were celebrated. Nichols had a game-high 18 points for Lenox. When the clock hit 0:00, the seniors celebrated with their teammates, as Lenox (11-6, 6-1 South) took control of the South Division race. Lee (11-7) fell to 4-2 in the division standings. It's not over yet, but having a little cushion is enough to make the Millionaires' players and coaches smile.

"Our end-of-the-season goal is to win the South," said Nichols. "If we just can keep this intensity going, keep this momentum up, I really think we can do it."

There were eight lead changes in the first quarter and a half, but a 10-5 run to close out the second quarter put Lenox up 23-19 at halftime. The Millionaires extended the lead to as many as eight in the third quarter, before the Wildcats made a late charge. It was a charge that came up just a bit short.

"We got down what, 10? We switched defenses and it got us fired up, got us energized," Lee coach Rick Puleri said. "We didn't shoot it great tonight, but we finally made a couple of shots and made a run at them. Took a two-point lead and in the last couple of minutes, our shots didn't go in."

That lead came on a basket by Lydia Simone, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats. It capped a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter, and marked the first time the Wildcats led since the 5:36 mark of the second quarter.

The lead did not last long because on Lenox's next possession, Giardina was fouled and banked in two free throws, tying the game at 42-all with 3:38 left.

A minute later, Nichols hit the last of her four, 3-point shots, giving Lenox a 45-42 lead. But after Rick Puleri called time, Emma Puleri inbounded under the Lee basket and Lydia Simone converted to make it a one-point game.

"Mia wants to score when she's in there," Lenox coach Nicole Patella said. "We were struggling to find any kind of a basket. They went to that diamond-and-one on Sophie. I just stuck her on a block and said to try and run off screens. My dad [former Lenox coach Fred Lafave] would have had an offense for that. Mia likes to score, and I wanted her offensive mind out there."

Sophie Patella, who finished with a game-high 16 rebounds to go with 13 points, rebounded a 3-point miss by Emma Puleri on Lee's next trip down court, and eventually took it to the rim for the last two points of the game.

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"There's something about my girls. They don't panic," coach Patella said. "I said in the timeouts, don't panic, relax. There's a lot of time. They seemed to get the rebounds when they needed to get the rebounds, and the baskets when they needed to get the baskets. They just stay so calm. It's a tribute to them."

Caroline Maloney chipped in with 13 points for Lee. The Wildcats had a rough night at the line, going 3 for 14.

Both Lenox and Lee are bound for the Western Massachusetts Division IV tournament. The coaches of both teams were certain that a game like Thursday's will only help them in March.

"I just talked to the girls and said if you continue to play that hard and with that much defensive energy" Lee can win games, Rick Pueri said. "This was a tournament-like atmosphere. It was a great crowd, and it's going to only help them to draw off that in the future."

———

LEE (44)

Bartini 1-0-2, B. Kelly 0-0-0, Lyd. Simone 5-1-13, K. Kelly 1-0-2, Maloney 5-0-13, Le. Simone 1-0-3, Simmons 1-2-4, Puleri 3-0-7. Totals 17-3-44.

LENOX (49)

Alward 2-2-8, Reis 1-0-2, Patella 6-0-13, Paul 0-0-0, Nichols 6-2-18, Najimy 0-0-0, Lipton 0-0-0, Giardina 3-2-8. Totals 18-6-49.

Lee     12     7     13     12     —     44

Lenox     10     13     17     9     —     49

3-point goals — Lee 7 (Maloney 3, Lyd. Simone 2, Puleri). Lenox 7 (Nichols 4, Alward 2, Patella).

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter and 413-496-6253.


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