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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Two teams with aspirations of making a deep tournament run met on Friday night as the No. 7-seeded Walpole Lady-Rebels hosted the No. 10-seeded Needham Rockets in the first round of the Division I South Sectionals.
To beat a team once is hard enough; twice is even more difficult. Beating a team three times, however, like Walpole attempted to do on Friday night against Bay State Conference rival Needham, is something that you almost never see.
But in order to advance, the Rebels had to take on the task of facing a familiar opponent for a third time this season with everything on the line.
In a tightly-contested back-and-forth affair that featured periodic lead changes, the Lady-Rebels (16-6) emerged with a 59-51 victory to advance to the quarterfinals. Walpole’s dominant trio of junior forward Jill White (team-high 16 points, game-high 13 rebounds), senior captain and guard Bridget Lanchester (12 points), and sophomore point guard Sydney Scales (11 points, seven assists) all put together big performances, while sophomore guard Elisabeth Roche scored a career-high 10 points. Needham freshman forward Caroline Klemm led all scorers with a game-high 23 points.
Walpole began the game on an 11-4 run thanks to a pair of layups by junior center Jill White, a two-point jumper by sophomore point guard Sydney Scales, and a pair of three-pointers by senior captain and guard Bridget Lanchester. A three-pointer by junior point guard Marianna Jantzen, as well as a three-pointer by junior guard Maeve Barker allowed the Rockets to cut the deficit to 17-10 at the end of one.
The second quarter saw the Rockets find their groove offensively as Klemm began to take over the game; the freshman scored 12 of her 23 points during the second frame. While Klemm was catching fire on the offensive end, the Rockets were able to shut down the potent Rebel offensive attack by forcing White and Scales into foul trouble. Through their strong and gritty play, Needham went on a 17-7 run during the second quarter and took a 27-24 lead into halftime.
Both teams continued to trade blows throughout the third quarter, as Walpole opted to keep their three biggest playmakers (White, Scales, Lanchester) on the bench for the majority of the frame due to foul trouble. However, picking up the slack for the Rebels were Ainsley Dundon (eight points) and Roche, who scored all of her career-high 10 points during the third quarter to allow Walpole to keep pace with the Rockets on the scoreboard.
Unlike the majority of the second quarter and a significant portion of the third, during which Walpole was plagued by foul trouble and inabilities to convert on offense, the Lady-Rebels got it going in the fourth, mainly due to getting their big three back on the floor in White, Scales, and Lanchester. An 11-3 run by the Rebels gave Walpole a 55-47 lead with just under two minutes to play after Lanchester buried a clutch three-pointer.
Sophomore guard Kiara McIntyre helped cut the deficit back to just four points for Needham at 55-51 with under a minute to play, but a pair of steals by the Rebels and four straight free throws by Scales put the win on ice for Walpole.
On Sunday, the Rebels fell to Braintree in the South quarterfinals.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.