Molly Quilty, Jackie Sullivan and Haley McLaughlin made sure the final chapter of basketball at Duxbury High School had a happy ending Thursday night.
With captains Catherine Harrison and Maddie Foote both on the bench after fouling out and Duxbury clinging to a three-point lead, the Dragon trio all hit clutch free throws in the final minute and a half to hold off the Walpole Warriors and send the Dragons into the MIAA Division II semifinals with a 52-46 win.
The Dragons led by seven closing in on two minutes to play in the game, but the Warriors then caught fire from behind the 3-point line. Sophia Giovaniello cut Duxbury’s lead to four with 2:27 to play, and Walpole then made it a one-possession game with 1:40 left. On the next Warrior possession, Harrison was called for her sixth foul as she battled for a rebound and had to leave the game. Foote met the same fate 17 seconds later while trying to stay with Julie Moser on a Walpole inbound play, and a Duxbury backcourt violation gave the Warriors the ball with all the momentum with 1:03 left in the game.
However, Walpole superstar Summer King missed both free throws with a chance to pull the Warriors to within a point. Duxbury got the rebound and got the ball to McLaughlin, who was fouled on the play. McLaughlin made it a two-possession game again by hitting one of her free throws, and after getting a stop defensively Quilty pushed the lead back to six at the free-throw line with 42 seconds left.
King drained a deep three-pointer to pull the Warriors back within three with half a minute to go, but Sullivan took over from there. The junior captain grabbed a crucial rebound and hit three of four free throws in the final 26 seconds to seal Duxbury’s win.
“That’s a character builder,” head coach Bob Sullivan said. “It was just a great effort. I told the girls we had to come out with a lot of energy and we did, but that’s why we rushed a lot of shots. But I told them not to give up the energy, because we’ll make shots when we need to, and that’s what happened. ”
The Dragons struggled early, going nearly half of the first quarter without a basket from the field, but were able to take a one-point lead in the second quarter that they widened to 11 with three minutes left in the first half. However, each time the Dragons seemed on the verge of putting the game out of reach, the Warriors climbed right back into it. Walpole cut Duxbury’s lead to six in the final minute of the second, and when Duxbury went up by 11 again with three minutes to play in the third quarter, King led the Warriors back to within eight by the end of the quarter. King was early with only six points in the first half, but caught fire in the second. Her rebound and basket with five minute left made it a two-possession game for the first time since the second quarter, and she continued to wreak havoc down both in the paint and outside the three-point line with 10 points in the fourth while also helping to foul Harrison out of the game.
“Summer King is out there shooting NBA threes,” Sullivan said. “I give a lot of credit to that Walpole team, they were one of the best teams we’ve played all year.”
The Warriors also did a good job containing Harrison, who left the game with 11 points, eight rebounds and no points in the fourth quarter, but had no answer for Quilty on the board. Duxbury’s junior center grabbed 20 rebounds, blocked five shots and scored 13 points including her clutch free throws in the final minute.
The loss of Foote late seemed to be a potential dagger for the Dragons as the junior point guard seemed to just be finding her groove offensively when Duxbury needed her most. Playing with taped fingers, Foote struggled shooting in Duxbury’s opening-round win over Silver Lake, but hit her first three-pointer of the tournament in the fourth quarter three minutes before she had to leave the game. However, Sullivan picked up the mantle from her fellow captain and answered Nell Sandvos’ three-pointer with one of her own before heading to the line for her game-clinching free-throws after hauling in a big defensive rebound.
“Jackie has ice water in her veins,” Sullivan said of his captain. “If she’s not the best defensive player in the state, I want to meet the best defensive player in the state.”
After the game, the Dragons celebrated their final game in the DHS gym by cutting down the net. The Dragons didn’t lose a game in the gym during their final season before moving to the new middle/high school, and Sullivan said the final season at DHS will be one he remembers forever.
“We haven’t lost a game in this gym in two and a half years,” he said. “I’ve been here coaching since 1994 and there are a lot of great memories and great wins in this gym.”
The Dragons will head to Massasoit Community College Tuesday night for their semifinal meet 13-seed Foxborough.