By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Whatever the official capacity of the Walpole High School gym is, on Friday night, it was met and exceeded by a large margin. That’s what a playoff matchup between two neighboring towns will do.
But while there were plenty of Western-wear-clad Foxboro fans on hand to cheer on their team, ultimately, it was the Hawaiian-shirt-adorned Timberwolf fans that went home happy, as a defensive stop up three points gave Walpole the win -- and sent them to a second round matchup against North Quincy.
The game was tight throughout, with Walpole holding a 15-14 lead after the first quarter, and a 37-36 lead at the half. This was a bit surprising, because, with their BYE, Walpole hadn’t played in over a week, while Foxboro was fresh off a 63-60 victory over Grafton just three days earlier. It seemed neither team was especially affected by either the lack of rest, or the long layoff.
The crowd swelled to even larger numbers in the second half. At some point in the first half, Walpole stopped letting spectators into the gym. By the time the second half started, though, there was no way to control the people slipping past those leaving the gym to go to the bathroom, nor the Walpole High kids who had found alternative entrances.
In front of what must have been a record crowd, captain Louie Jennings, who had 24 points on the night, started the third quarter off with a three, and Sean O’Brien was too strong down low to start the third quarter. After a James Gaba steal led to a Jennings layup, Walpole had a decent 51-44 lead. Credit to Foxboro for fighting back with some clutch shooting and tough defense, leading to them going on a run and retaking the lead after Dylan Gordon hit a jump-shot. Aided by Foxboro’s point guard being fooled by the Walpole crowd’s “3-2-1” yell with around eight seconds left in the quarter, Foxboro fouled with less than a second left in the frame and Tommy Gaba hit one of two, giving Walpole a 54-52 lead after three.
Walpole looked like it was going to run away with an easy victory, going up 68-58 with just over three minutes left in the game. But a gritty Foxboro team cut that lead to just four in less than a minute, and were down just two, 68-66, with barely over two minutes left. But a huge offensive rebound for a putback, followed by a big steal from Ryan King, meant it was 70-66 with about a minute and a half left. Foxboro produced a steal, then were fouled on a drive and hit one of two free throws to go down only three, 70-67, with 31.3 seconds left.
Clutch free throw shooting saved Walpole, as Trey Corbean, who had eleven points on the night, was fouled with 29 seconds left, but hit both free throws in a pivotal one-and-one situation to put Walpole up, 72-67. After a Foxboro three, Corbean was back on the line with ten seconds left. After Foxboro tried to freeze him with a timeout, he hit one of two, putting the Timberwolves up, 73-70. Foxboro’s three missed, the ball went out of bounds, Kevin Hurley waved goodbye to the Foxboro fan section, and Walpole’s fans stormed the court, only to be ushered back to the sideline because Walpole had to inbound the ball with .3 seconds left to play. They did, the game ended, and the court was stormed again.
“I was so excited for that group that I can’t stand it,” Coach Jenna Galster declared after the game. “My boys have worked so hard, and I’m so proud of what they have accomplished. If they go out there and they play their game, people are going to have to watch out.”
Coach Galster refused to point out an individual player for their performance, noting, “I’m the type of person where it’s a team thing. You can look at the stats, and stats are lovely, but it’s all about how the whole fourteen play in the night, and that everyone’s in, no matter what role they have on the court or on the bench. They’re all in, and that’s what matters.”
Still, when asked about Corbean’s free throws, she acknowledged: “That was huge. We struggled with free throws this season, btu we hit them when they mattered.”
Coach Galster talked about the fans, and how having the full crowd and not playing with masks made things feel normal: “I never dreamed we would get to have this, this year. And not only this but with no masks. It felt normal. It felt like we were back to normal. I recognize that we’re not, but for a moment in time we could all just enjoy something that is really fun to watch and really fun to play.”
With the win, Walpole moved onto the next round, where they will travel to North Quincy. Coach Galster didn’t know it at the time (since if North Quincy had lost, Walpole would be hosting their next round), but she didn’t seem very concerned.
“I want another home game, and another win. But you know what,” she smirked, “I will take another win, either way.”