HAVERHILL — Kayla Riley got knocked down hard a couple times earlier in the game, but when it mattered most, the Whittier Tech sophomore was the one knocking down free throws.
In a Division 4 North quarterfinal, the top-seeded Wildcats attempted 31 fewer field goals, but solid work from the line propelled Whittier to a 57-45 victory over eighth-seeded Lowell Catholic last evening. Whittier (21-3) also forced itself to overcome a whopping 32 turnovers before earning its second final-four trip in three years.
“We were a little sloppy with the ball,” Whittier coach Kevin Bradley said. “It was so unlike Whittier, but we’re advancing.”
Despite the poor offensive stats, the Wildcats survived a fourth-quarter rally that cut Lowell Catholic’s deficit from 11 to five with 4 minutes left with clutch free-throw shooting. Whittier was 27 of 36 from the line for the game and converted 17 of 22 in the second half.
“We practice them a lot,” Bradley said. “We do a lot of running and shoot our foul shots when we’re at our most tired in practice. We shoot a lot of foul shots because in our offensive scheme we’re penetrating and we’re going to get fouled a lot.
Riley, who scored a team-high 18 points with just one field goal, converted 16 of 20 for the game and all six she had over the final four minutes. The sophomore guard spent time on the bench earlier after a hard hit to her knee and again after butting heads with a teammate.
“I was just thinking I need to pull through this; I need to be OK,” Riley said. “And I was. I stepped up and helped the team.”
Michaela Martin also did her share of work from the line, sinking all eight of her tries and finishing with 10 points.
But the Wildcats would have been trailing at half instead of leading by three if it hadn’t been for center Samnell Vonleh. The sophomore scored nine of her 13 points before intermission. She also was huge under the basket, finishing with 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots.