HAVERHILL — Youthful talent can be a beautiful asset to have. But when things get a little crazy, a veteran leader is an even nicer commodity.
Relying on four sophomore starters in its Division 4 first-round matchup with Georgetown, Whittier struggled finding solid footing last night. So the only senior on the roster stepped up and helped the top-seeded Wildcats march on with what proved to be a convincing 66-47 victory over the 16th-seeded Royals.
Not only did the win atone for last year’s upset loss to the 11th-seeded Georgetown, it sends the Wildcats (20-3) into Sunday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal against eight-seeded Lowell Catholic (14-7) at a site to be determined.
“It was good to beat them,” said Josie Sanchez, the senior who provided the steadying influence. “It was something we had to work hard to do. We had our struggles, but we picked it up.”
Another tournament game looked like anything but a sure thing early as the Wildcats battled to a one-point first quarter lead in which the teams combined for only 17 points.
“It was nerves,” Whittier coach Kevin Bradley said of his team that had six turnovers and made only five of its first 18 shots. “It was nerves all over the place. We’re lucky they got themselves out of it. As it was we still scored 66. What would have happened if we had just relaxed.”
Sanchez, the only upperclassman to get significant minutes this season, provided her teammates the opportunity to shoot themselves out of their early-game jitters. The captain had only six points the first two quarters, but it was the 13 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass, that proved decisive.
“Josie basically took over that first half there,” Bradley said of Sanchez, who finished with 11 points and 18 boards. “She probably had one of the best games of her career. She kept the ball alive, and on the defensive side, she did a lot of things that you don’t see in the stats that really helped us.”