It was the dream scenario for Lily Craft last Friday, February 26, at the Antonucci Field House.
Falmouth was ahead by two points with 2.6 seconds to play. The senior all-star, who overcame a tough first half offensively to score 14 in the second, got fouled and was sent to the line for a one-and-one. If she hit one, the worst that Nauset could do was tie. Miss the first, and hope was alive for the Warriors. Hit both and it was game over.
Despite a stomach and heart full of nerves in the first half, Craft had centered herself and played perhaps the best ball of her high school career when the team needed it most after halftime. As she stepped to the line, those nerves that had pestered her earlier were nowhere to be found. With a deep breath, she told herself what needed to be done.
“I got this, that’s all I could think, and I wanted to think, because if I didn’t think that, then it wasn’t going in,” the all-star said. “I just had to have the mindset that I could do it, and I did it.”
She did it with ease. Shot one, swish. Shot two, swish. Falmouth up by four, and nothing Nauset could do except heave the ball ahead and hope something funky might happen. Nothing weird occurred, and Falmouth finished off an excellent season, winning the Cape and Islands League Cape Cup Tournament title after having shared the regular season crown with the game’s loser. The Clippers prevailed 49-45.
Head coach Bob Buscher believed that Craft would get the job done, and wanted nothing more than that. As he watched her step to the line, he hoped for the outcome that he got.
“Make them. If you make them, we don’t have any drama,” he said was going through his head.
There was enough drama earlier for anyone. Nauset came out firing and outplayed Falmouth for a large portion of the first half, but they could never put the Clippers away. The shooting of all-star and league MVP Ariana Silvia made sure of that.
Silvia, who was voted the league’s Most Valuable player, had to watch Craft cap the win from the bench after fouling out on a controversial call midway through the fourth quarter. She had put her mark on the game in the first half, torching the nets. It seemed everything that the senior put up went through the rim as she nailed five 3-pointers in the first half. She finished with a game-high 21 points, with six treys in all.
“I was just confident tonight. I needed to shoot because no one else was making shots, so I was just shooting a lot more than I usually do and I was actually making them tonight,” Silvia said with a laugh.
At halftime, the Clippers were down by just two points, 24-22, after Nauset had thrown everything it had at them. Buscher said that at that point he and assistant coach Todd Oliveira told the team that it had taken Nauset’s best shot, and that it was their turn to punch back. They did just that, and it was a team effort. Craft scored all 14 of her points after the break and gave up just two to the leading scorer in the league, Avery Burns, on the other end. Burns had four against Falmouth for the second time in a week after averaging around 20 for the season.
Seemingly everyone who touched the floor did good things for Falmouth. Freshmen Teagan Lind (3 points) and Tish Blackwood (6 points) dominated the glass, Caroline Koss played hard on both ends, and Rachelle Andrade came off the bench to play some huge minutes at guard, especially after Silvia fouled out late in the game.
“It was getting everyone involved because everyone needs to chip in, not just one person,” Silvia said. “It’s hard if it’s just one person doing it. You need everyone to do it.”
Buscher said that this year’s team, which went 13-1 overall and was undefeated at home, played one of the most satisfying seasons that he’s ever been a part of as a coach. He said that watching the Clippers overcome every obstacle thrown their way, as a team, filled him with pride. He also said that saying goodbye to an outstanding senior class will be difficult, noting just how much Silvia and Craft—both of whom received league MVP votes—meant to the club.
“I think they’re the two best players on the Cape because they play both offense and defense. They both can score, they both take the challenge on defense, they rebound,” he said. “They really do everything for us, and they let the two freshmen play. The two freshmen did great, but they had seniors that they can count on. That’s what they’ve done their whole careers. Ari controls the game, and Crafty does a lot of dirty work. She plays D, makes that extra play. It was a really, really satisfying win. They’re a good club, and they hurt us in the paint, but we found a way.”
FHS rallied in the third quarter and finally overcame NHS midway through the period. Falmouth had tied the game twice early in the quarter, but Nauset pounded it inside and had a five-point lead before FHS finally seized control. A three from Andrade, her only bucket of the night, put the Clippers ahead, 34-33, with 3:11 left in the third. Silvia hit her only second-half basket, a three of course, to put the team up four. Nauset fought back to tie the score at 37, but a Lind three, her only basket of the night, gave FHS a 40-37 lead heading to the fourth.
The perimeter show kept going in the final period. FHS got the lead to as many as eight, and led by six when Silvia was called for her final foul with 2:21 to play.
With Silvia out of the game, and trailing by just six, Nauset had hope, but the Clippers held on. Nauset pulled to within two points with 3.5 seconds on the game clock and immediately fouled Craft. A miss would have given the Warriors hope, but Craft made sure to take that away and clinch the title.
“I think this is the best way that we could finish it off. It was a tougher game than last time, but I think that keeps it fun,” Craft said. “That was the best way that we could end the season, and it was against a great competitor and I respect all of those girls a lot, so it was great to compete against them one last time.”