Tewksbury Girls 7 Blue...Road To A Championship
The little engine that could ...and did!
On Sunday, March 3rd 2019, Tewksbury Girls 7th Grade Team Blue stepped onto the appropriately designated blue court of the YMCA of Plaistow, New Hampshire – familiar turf for the 11 warriors in their red jerseys. In the building that crowned River Valley League champions, echoes of triumph and shadows of defeat lingered for the girls of Tewksbury Blue. Almost a year to the day, they had walked off the court with their heads held high after a bitter defeat in the 6th Grade semi-finals. The story of 7 Blue and the Plaistow YMCA started much earlier than the hard-fought playoff loss. As eager and somewhat frightened 5th Graders, fresh out Tewksbury’s in-town program, they embarked on their travel basketball career under the same lights they would clinch Tewksbury Girls Basketball’s only 2018-2019 championship. They were young and inexperienced, but their tenacious, unselfish play was apparent to their coaches from the first tip.
The 2018-2019 title run began one day earlier in the vast expanse of the Mill Works Complex in Westford, Massachusetts. The sights and sounds of so many elimination games happening simultaneously caused some jitters early on for Tewksbury as they faced off against a tough Reading squad intent on making their own history. A choppy game ensued with a 12-point Tewksbury lead whittled down to 4 with under a minute to go. A tense defensive stand secured the victory from the unrelenting foe from the 2017-2018 campaign.
The semi-finals six hours later matched up 7 Blue with another familiar opponent, their Division 2 rival, Westford. They were primed to avenge their earlier loss to the Tewksbury squad and they nearly did. Tewksbury held a 9-2 early lead, but the advantage didn’t last long. Before half-time they were trailing Westford by 7 points. It appeared to many observers that 7 Blue had reached the end, one game short of the finals seemed to be the reality. With their minds cleared after a fiery half-time speech from their leader, Coach Christy Davis, they returned to floor determined to wrest the game away from Westford. In a cauldron of fanatical defense and timely shooting, 7 Blue turned a 7-point deficit into a 12-point victory. Physically and mentally exhausted, Morgan Crowley, Aislin Davis, Abigail Dick, Kimsan Nguyen, Delia Conte, Chelsea Keefe, Brooke Hatch, Tea Nickerson, Stephanie Mercurio, Mackenzie Hickey and Cassidy Paige were off to their first final’s appearance.
On Sunday the atmosphere in the new venue was tense as teams under the roof of the YMCA of Plaistow battled for the right to call themselves champions. Palpable feelings of elation and disappointment from teams exiting the courts fed the heightened anticipation of those awaiting their chance on the big stage. Tewksbury 7B would face their toughest opponent yet, the mighty, undefeated Dracut team boasting a 13-0 record. They were aiming for a perfect season, a season to be heralded for years to come. They only had to beat the scrappy Tewksbury team, a team they had never faced before.
The game started and ended as a titanic defensive struggle, the electricity in the stands added to the atmosphere of finality. Delia Conte, Brooke Hatch and Cassidy Paige anchored the Center position as they had done all season, with grit and determination. Their skill and spirit helped keep the Dracut team from scoring near the basket. Tewksbury’s dynamic Guards, Kimsan Nguyen, Morgan Crowley, Aislin Davis and Tea Nickerson kept their offense off balance all day with their nonstop harassment on the perimeter. On offense, they passed, cut and kept the ball moving as Dracut’s defense tried to stifle Tewksbury’s unselfish offense.
Dracut was relentless in their pursuit of perfection, early leads by Tewksbury evaporated quickly and the game was rarely more than a 3-point difference. The 13-0 juggernaut that was Dracut caused Tewksbury to roll out three different defensive alignments in the same game. To keep them off balance Coach Christy Davis employed a Zone defense, Man-to-Man, and the seldom-used, Box-and-One. Tewksbury 7B, predominately a Man-to-Man team, used mostly Zone to combat the slashing drives of the ceaseless Dracut squad. Preaching versatility and adaptability since 5th grade, Coach Davis made sure her team was always prepared to morph into what was needed that day, that half, or even that possession.
As the minutes ticked away, Forwards Abigail Dick, Mackenzie Hickey, Stephanie Mercurio and Chelsea Keefe, along with Centers Delia Conte and Cassidy Paige struggled to seal the victory for 7 Blue. Tewksbury clung to a 1-point lead with a minute to play. Mackenzie Hickey and Abigail Dick, versatile, five position players, relentlessly pounded the wall that was the Dracut defense. Delia grabbed rebounds among the taller Dracut players with fierce determination and Chelsea Keefe played the power Forward position like it was created for the smooth-shooting third-year player. Cassidy Paige, with her uncanny speed, ran the floor with barely believable athleticism, wreaking havoc in the passing lanes. She hit three key free throws in the waning moments of regulation.
Both teams were in the penalty as the grueling heavyweight match ground to a conclusion. Foul shots became paramount and Dracut was up to the task. They tied the game on the free throws and held the ball for the last shot in regulation. Tewksbury made its last stand and the clock ran out before Dracut could steal the win.
Fittingly, the game would be decided in overtime, the crowd had swelled to capacity as everyone within earshot had gathered to watch the dramatic finish. Tewksbury was well represented with coaches, parents, and players from multiple teams lining the court, cheering their friends with heartfelt gusto. Tewksbury and Dracut, two great competitor's, squaring off for one final round, only the name of the champion to be determined.
The defensive play reached a fever pitch, both teams challenging every pass, shot and drive. Every turn-over, every possession felt like the one that would end the game. Stephanie Mercurio found herself at the foul line to essentially end the game in Tewksbury’s favor. With hundreds of eyes upon her, in the most important basketball game she had ever played, she made her remarkable ninth and tenth free throws to ice the contest. The whole season had come down to the simplest of disciplines, the art of free-throw shooting.
The epic struggle was over for 7 Blue, the long road from 5th graders to champs was full of ups and downs, this cold Sunday in March was a mountain top they would never forget. A true team, a team that had grown up together, a team more defined by their common goals than individual achievements. The girls of 7 Blue are closer to the end of their travel careers than the beginning; on that fateful afternoon in New Hampshire, they created a bond that will last a lifetime.
Tewksbury 7 Blue, Champions on and off the court.