CHELSEA — The query on the back of the Whittier girls’ warmups asks “Can you keep up?”
Last night was more a question of whether the Wildcats would get started.
Despite no field goals in the first quarter and just 13 in the game, top-seeded Whittier advanced to its first Division 4 North final since 2006 with a hard-fought 52-46 semifinal victory last night over fourth-seeded Mystic Valley at Chelsea High School.
Despite the opening-period struggles that have hampered Whittier (21-3) in all three playoff games (a total of 24 points), the young Wildcats have found a way into a sectional championship tilt against 10th-seeded Fenway (13-7) at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Emmanuel College.
“I hate to keep saying it, but I think it’s just the nerves,” Bradley said of his squad which starts four sophomores and has only one upperclassman that sees significant minutes.
“They’re just not themselves when they’re shooting. They’re just nervous. You know, it’s typical; they’re sophomores. But they’ve been through the battle grounds now. They just find a way to win.”
Less than a month after dropping a 15-point regular-season decision to Whittier, Mystic Valley (17-6) stymied the run-and-gun Wildcats from the opening tip. Whittier, which had scored 57 or more in seven of its previous eight, misfired on each of its first 13 field-goal attempts and went 8 1/2 minutes before Kayla Riley scored on a driving layup that cut Mystic Valley’s lead to 15-7.
And even though it found a better rhythm, Whittier still trailed 27-22 at the half.
“The whole first half and going into the third (period) I was really worried,” said Riley, who scored a game-high 21 points.
“We were really frustrated and we weren’t playing how we usually play. We have to work on our shots. We can’t panic because we have a tendency to do that.”
Although the offense regained some synchronicity in the third quarter it was a defensive effort led by Michaela Martin’s three steals in the final two minutes of the third that sparked Whittier’s rally.
A Martin steal and layup cut Mystic Valley’s lead to 37-35. A Riley 3-pointer from the wing gave Whittier the lead for good with 1:29 left in the frame.
“We changed some defense up,” Bradley said.
“The whole team woke up on defense ... Offense has been our forte all year, but defense was what got us going.”
It was that continued defensive effort that held off the Eagles in the fourth despite Whittier making just one field goal in the period and committing seven turnovers in the final 3:47.
But all of the struggles won’t matter come tomorrow night when a state final four berth will be on the line.
“The fact that we came back is because we played like a team,” Riley said.
“I love (my teammates) and I can not wait to go play Fenway. I’m so excited. We’ve showed that we can be and are great.”
agateHed:Division 4 North semifinals
agateText:Mystic Valley (46):@zzAgate:agateText: Jessica Phinney 5 4-6 15, Meghan Foley 6 0-2 12, Jordan Sullivan 0 0-0 0, Joanna Petras 0 0-0 0, Paulina Petras 1 2-6 4, Tania Fabo 4 0-0 8, Shannon Roseen 1 1-2 3, Kathryn McPherson 2 0-1 4. Totals 19 7-15 46
agateText:Whittier (52):@zzAgate:agateText: Andrea Terranova 2 11-16 16, Kayla Riley 7 3-4 21, Michaela Martin 1 4-8 6, Josie Sanchez 1 0-0 2, Samnell Vonleh 1 3-7 5, Dominique Ortiz 1 0-0 2, Kiana Guadaloupe 0 0-0 0, Angie Martinez 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 21-35 52
agateText:3-pointers:@zzAgate:agateText: MV — Phinney ; W — Riley 4, Terranova
agateText:Next game:@zzAgate:agateText: vs. No. 10 Fenway in the Division 4 North Final at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Emmanuel College
agateText:Mystic Valley (17-6):@zzAgate:agateText: 13 14 10 9 — 46
agateText:Whittier (21-3):@zzAgate:agateText: 5 17 20 10 — 52