(written, shot, edited and narrated for Somerville Patch)
Led by sophomore forward Melissa Baptista‘s double-double and junior guard Indira Evora‘s game-high 12 points, the Highlanders beat the O’Bryant Tigers in the consolation round of the 11th Annual Highlander Hoopfest, 53-37, Wednesday at the SHS Field House. Needham defeated Fontbonne Academy later that night, 44-43, winning the tournament.
Melissa McGovern sank a layup on the opening possession of the game, giving the Highlanders the only lead they’d need. The Tigers’ strong interior presence frequently put them on the foul line, but they could only chip at the Highlanders’ lead, never tying or actually taking the lead.
“This tournament is always a learning experience for the kids, because the teams out here, most of them are from the suburbs,” said Tiger coach Gertrude Fisher. “They’re a different breed of team.”
Tiger free throws also usually keyed long scoring runs by the Highlanders. When the Tigers cut the lead to 7-4 in the first, the Highlanders scored the next six, highlighted by Baptista grabbing her own rebound following a miss and putting it in for the 11-4 lead.
Two second-quarter Tiger free throws cut the Highlander lead to 16-13, but the Highlanders scored the next five, highlighted by a perfect three-pointer from junior Chyenne Miles.
And when a third-quarter Tiger free throw made it 25-21 Highlanders, the Highlanders put the game away for good. Junior Esther Joseph knocked down a three-pointer, senior Marie Koutsoubaris hit a layup, then Evora grabbed an offensive rebound and drained it to put the Highlanders up 34-22.
Evora’s rebound came following a terrific defensive play by sophomore Taylor Machado, who batted away a dribble and took off for the basket, missing the shot but setting up Evora for the easy put-back.
Somerville stole 16 passes Wednesday, with senior Lorenza Etienne leading the team with four. Sometimes Somerville batted away dribbles, sometimes they intercepted passes, and sometimes they just ripped the ball away from O’Bryant players.
“In the second half, our defense improved, and our offense at the point of attack improved,” said Highlander coach John DePasquale. “We were being passive against their in-our-shirt defense in the first half at the point of the attack. In the second we stopped that, and we started attacking that, and that made a big difference.”
The Highlanders scored 16 points in the fourth, by far their most prolific quarter. Half those points came at the free-throw line. Though the Highlanders shot just 27.2 percent (including shots missed due to fouls) from the floor Wednesday, they went 20-for-29 at the line.
The Highlanders also played a strong interior offensive game. Baptista scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Koutsoubaris backed her up with 10 and seven. Though Baptista is taller, Koutsoubaris’ maturity and experience has made her a consistent, sure-shooting forward.
“She has the best understanding right now – because she’s a senior, more experienced – of how to use her body to get a good catch,” DePasquale says. “And then, she’s got a wonderful touch.”
Despite the victory, Somerville showed a troubling vulnerability to backcourt pressure. The Highlanders turned the ball over five times on inbound passes, usually throwing the ball out of bounds untouched.
“Our kids don’t yet understand how to pass the ball to a closely guarded teammate,” DePasquale said.
Somerville also struggled with defensive rebounds, allowing the Tigers 20 second-chance opportunities. With three practices scheduled before their game against Notre Dame Academy next Thursday, DePasquale said the team would definitely work on controlling the rebound fully before passing.