By Dave Dyer
---- — LAWRENCE — There were two good things that Pentucket sophomore McKenna Kilian showed yesterday afternoon in the opening round of the IAABO Tournament at Central Catholic.
First, McKenna is playing with more and more confidence and, second, she apparently has a strong immune system.
Together, they helped Pentucket claw past a solid Newton South team, 52-45, to advance to today’s 5:30 p.m. championship game against host Central Catholic.
It was not a pretty performance by the defending Division 3 state champion Sachems, who improved to 18-1, but you couldn’t blame them for being both a bit rusty and out of synch.
Like most teams, Pentucket missed three days of practice because of the snowstorm, but it also missed two days last week because of the stomach virus that ravaged the school and struck more than half the team.
“We had a practice yesterday, but it wasn’t much because a lot of the girls still weren’t feeling well,” said Pentucket coach John McNamara. “You could tell that we haven’t been practicing.”
Indeed, it did seem like something was off in the first half. Newton South (9-9) scored the game’s first basket and, behind Lehigh-bound Kayla Burton, led almost the entire first half. A late nine-point run, led by a Coley Viselli 3-point play and a Viselli 3-pointer gave Pentucket its first lead of the game, 29-28, at the intermission.
The Sachems built themselves a cushion in the third quarter, using their defense to build a 41-33 lead that was enough to hold off the Lions.
Kilian, who was one of the few girls who did not get the virus, was a spark in that third quarter with four of her 10 points while playing superb defense.
“McKenzie has had her ups and downs this year — she just has to realize how good she can be,” said McNamara. “I don’t think I took her out once ... I probably rode her because she had been healthy.”
Indeed, Kilian — who played sparingly as a freshman — was on the court the whole game, also contributing six rebounds and two steals, but she didn’t mind.
“It’s the first time I’ve done that,” she said. “It was hard, but I knew everyone else was tired.
“I am gaining more confidence. I was nervous in the beginning of the year, but my teammates were really supportive.”
While, as has sometimes been the case, Pentucket’s offense was spotty, the defense once again never rested, and there were plenty of contributors to the win. Viselli led both the scoring (13 points) and rebounding (12) and Tess Nogueira chipped in with 12 points and eight rebounds.
“We’ll have to play better tomorrow, but I give the girls credit for battling,” said McNamara. “Nashua South is a good team and they were really shooting the ball well in the first half.”
Pentucket 52, Newton South 45
Newton South (45): Hannah Lass 1-2 6, Lauren Levey 2 0-0 4, Emily Chang 2 0-0 6, Kayla Burton 6 1-3 15, Julia Hurwit 0 2-2 2, Roni Tamir 2 0-0 4, Shaylah Kelly 3 0-0 8. Totals 17 4-7 45
Pentucket (52): Sydney Snow 0 3-4 3, Alex Moore 3 0-0 8, Kelsi McNamara 2 0-1 4, Coley Viselli 4 4-4 13, Mckenna Kilian 3 4-4 10, Kassidy Kennefick 1 0-0 2, Tess Nogueira 5 2-6 12, Emily Dresser 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 13-19 52
3-pointers: NS — Lass, Chang 2, Burton 2, Kelly 2;P — Moore 2, Viselli
Newton South (9-9): 15 13 5 12 — 45
Pentucket (18-1): 15 14 12 11 — 52