By Jeff Hamrick
---- — MALDEN — With only one senior on the roster and four talented sophomores starting, the future is bright for the Whittier Tech girls program.
But the Wildcats didn’t easily give up on the present yesterday afternoon.
The top-seeded Wildcats rebounded from a 16-point third-quarter deficit to forge a fourth-quarter tie, but were unable to close the deal as defending state champion and 10th-seed Fenway escaped with a 50-46 victory in the Division 4 North finals at Malden High School.
“We talked (at halftime) about how we had to pick things up as a team, and we did,” Kayla Riley said of Whittier’s 25-11 halftime deficit. “We fought really hard, and I’m really proud of everyone. We just came up short.
“We just wanted to put it to (Fenway). We wanted it so bad, but they’re a good team. They stopped us.”
Riley, who capped a terrific four-game postseason run with a game-high 21 points, helped spark the late Wildcats (21-4) run. After falling behind 29-13 with 6 minutes left in the third, the 5-foot-8 guard scored seven of Whittier’s final 15 points to pull within six entering the final quarter.
The run continued in the final frame when a pair of Riley free throws knotted things at 35 with 5:45 left.
But Fenway, which has a misleading 14-7 record that includes four forfeit losses, once again pulled away, building a 44-37 advantage a mere two minutes later.
The Wildcats, however, again refused to buckle as Andrea Terranova scored three of her nine, Michaela Martin added a free throw and a Riley trey from the top pulled Whittier within two with 40 seconds to go. But Riley could only counter Fenway’s four points down the stretch with a pair of free throws, dooming the Wildcats hopes.
“I’m disappointed this is over, but it’s been incredible,” said Josie Sanchez, the only senior on the roster. “Next year, they’re going to go even further. I have all the faith in the world in them. I wanted to win for them.”
It was a sentiment that could not be ignored despite the immediate disappointment of the season-ending loss.
“It’s been a great experience,” Riley said. “And I’m looking forward to next year. I want to go far again. I believe we can, and we will.”
After the defeat, the young Wildcats, showed their coach that even he can expect bigger and better things the next two years.
“It was hard talking to them because the tears were flowing, and it showed everything about how hard they worked,” Kevin Bradley said of his players. “They all spoke to each other about how proud they were to be a member of this team and how fortunate they are to have two more years.
“They looked at the (runner-up) trophy and said ‘Coach, we don’t want the finalists one, we want the championship one.’ And that’s something that show’s what type of kids we have here.”
agateHed:Fenway 50, Whittier 46
agateText:Division 3 North final
Fenway (50): Cadeija Mathews 3 3-4 9, Tajanay Veiga-Lee 3 0-0 6, Jalissa Ross 2 6-10 10, Takora McIntyre 6 1-2 13, Jaquelah Holliman 3 4-12 10, Lorena Escolero 1 0-0 2, Shaiann Nance 0 0-0 0, Laura Escolero 0 0-0 0, Nala Watson 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 14-28 50
agateText:Whittier (46): Andrea Terranova 3 2-5 9, Kayla Riley 4 12-14 21, Michaela Martin 2 1-2 6, Josie Sanchez 1 0-0 2, Samnell Vonleh 3 0-0 6, Dominique Ortiz 1 0-3 2, Kiana Guadaloupe 0 0-0 0, Angie Martinez 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 15-24 46
agateText:3-pointers: W — Terranova, Riley, Martin
agateText:Fenway (14-7): 11 14 9 16 — 50
agateText:Whittier (21-4): 4 7 17 18 — 46
Reliable Riley Whittier sophomore Kayla Riley averaged 17.5 points in four playoff games with much of the work done at the line. Here are her numbers: Round Free throws made-attempted Points scored First round 2-3 10 Quarterfinal 16-20 18 Semifinal 3-4 21 Final 12-14 21 Total 33-41 70