No matter what level of sport is being played, the adage remains the same: Defense wins championships.
And it was on the strength of shot-blocking and rebound-grabbing, as much as their own shots themselves, that the Edgartown girls held off the West Tisbury squad 41-18 Tuesday night in the middle school basketball championship game at the regional high school gym. The Oak Bluffs boys, meanwhile, used a readjusted defensive scheme to narrowly edge out West Tisbury 31-26.
For Edgartown, the win was a long time coming—the team made it to the championship game the past two years, only to fall in both matches to Oak Bluffs. Undefeated going into the finals, the girls had no intention of suffering the same fate.
The West Tisbury girls scrapped their way from fourth place the past three years to second place this season. Like the other teams in the middle school league, however, they could not find their way past the Edgartown perimeter of Sam Hargy, Erin Hill and Shannon Morse.
Sam put points on the board first for Edgartown, while early shots from Emily Turney and Livy Smith briefly put West Tisbury in the running. The Eagles then ran off to an 18-6 lead, a score that held until a West Tisbury layup from Whitney Schroeder late in the first half. At halftime, the score stood at 22-8.
The Hawks turned in 10 points in the second half, eight of which were scored by Whitney. The Edgartown offense continued to extend their lead, though West Tisbury never stopped fighting for points and possessions.
“It’s one of the most intense junior high programs I’ve ever seen,” Edgartown coach Chad Nelson said after the game. “The fans are intense, the players are intense, the coaches are intense.”
The showcasing of defense continued in the boys’ game, which began with previously undefeated West Tisbury jumping out to a 4-0 lead and holding Oak Bluffs scoreless for the first five minutes. Oak Bluffs scored just seven points in the first half to West Tisbury’s 14.
“They played great zone defense, which just confused us even though we knew it was coming,” Oak Bluffs coach Alex McCluskey said after the game.
The Blazers regrouped in the second half, focusing their defensive efforts on West Tisbury sharpshooters Chase Silva and Silas Berlin and pulling within three points of the Hawks. The differential persisted until Oak Bluffs’ Tucker McNeely slipped past the West Tisbury defense to move to within 20-19. Tristan Araujo scored the go-ahead basket for Oak Bluffs, which was followed up by a three-pointer from Dylan Araujo to give the Blazers a four-point lead with six minutes remaining.
West Tisbury answered the challenge, with Chase Silva scoring the equalizer to make the score 24-24 with 4:10 left in the game. The teams continued to trade points, with Oak Bluffs eventually taking a 29-26 lead with a minute and a half of play left and forcing West Tisbury to foul multiple times to recover possession—there is no shot clock in middle school ball.
A free throw by Krishna Datta of the Blazers with 10 seconds remaining effectively put the game out of reach for the Hawks, with Oak Bluffs landing one final free throw in the last seconds to take a 30-26 lead.
“Once they figured out it was in reach, the team came together,” Mr. McCluskey said of the Oak Bluffs win. Oak Bluffs fell twice to West Tisbury during the regular season, including a 53-50 loss.
“I think they did really well; we had an amazing season,” West Tisbury coach Zoe Turcotte said after the game, adding that there is a “good crew of players coming up” next year. The varsity and JV squads practice together, helping younger players gain more experience.
And though Oak Bluffs took home the trophy, Blazer and Hawk players alike enjoyed a Valentine’s Day surprise at the end—West Tisbury player Isaac Higgins celebrated his birthday after the game. There was enough cake for all.