By Mike Stoller
As tri-champions of the Greater Boston League, the Somerville girls basketball team can declare its season a huge success.
While it would have been more rewarding had the Highlanders advanced past the first round of the Division 1 North Sectionals last week, the comeback Somerville made to cut an 18 point deficit to as little as eight illustrated what the team was all about.
“It was a tough loss. We played Andover right to the end, as has become our custom,” Somerville first-year head coach Paul O’Halloran said. “We developed as a team fundamentally. We were tough, we never quit, and that came out in the tourney.”
The Highlanders, who shared the GBL title with Medford and Cambridge Rindge and Latin, were the No. 9 seed in the Div. 1 North Sectional circuit. They lost to No. 8 Andover, 59-50, and finished the campaign with a 14-7 record.
Somerville, which trailed throughout the tilt against the Golden Warriors, cut the deficit to eight with 1:30 left in the game. The Highlanders outscored Andover by 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Somerville had its share of shining moments this winter, including winning the Woburn Invitational. The Highlanders defeated Peabody, 64-46, in the first game. Senior star captain Indira Evora, who was named Tournament MVP, tossed in 33 points and junior co-captain Melissa Baptista contributed 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks.
Somerville then won the championship game with a 63-41 victory over Woburn. Evora led the way with 29 points, and terrific defense was provided by senior guard Esther Joseph, who also added seven points. In addition to Evora being named MVP, Baptista and Joseph joined her on the All-Tournament Team.
The biggest individual highlight came when Evora scored her 1,000th career point in a 66-55 home win over Winthrop on Jan. 21.
Evora won the league’s MVP award last year, and she is challenging for it again, after averaging a whopping 21 points per game this season. Evora, who will take her talents to St. Michaels College in the fall, was a four-year varsity starter for the Highlanders.
“She is the type of player who’s a fast break point guard who can match up with the opponent’s top player defensively,” O’Halloran said. “She can take a steal and transfer it into a fast break layup. She’s that type of a fast break player who’s a lockdown defender. She can [also] match up on the perimeter and is phenomenal in the open court.”
Baptista, meanwhile, averaged 17 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocked shots per game as the Highlanders’ dominant center.
“She’s a phenomenal player,” O’Halloran said, noting Baptista’s terrific offensive numbers that account for a double-double average.
The Highlanders had a strong supporting cast surrounding Evora and Baptista.
Senior guard Melissa McGovern proved solid in distributing the ball, while junior forward Lesley Duarte played well under the boards. Junior guard Ella Tyler shined as an outside shooter: “She helped stretch the floor with her outside shot, that’s her forte,” O’Halloran said. Joseph and senior forwards Megan O’Brien and Kristin Florio were the first players off the bench, playing key roles in a variety of offensive and defensive schemes. Freshman guard Brooke Metivier made the varsity squad and looks to be a key contributor next season.
The team’s graduating class was honored on Senior Night, when the Highlanders defeated Notre Dame Academy at Hingham, 61-54, in overtime. Evora, McGovern, O’Brien, Joseph, Florio, and guards Samantha Sahlas and Himanot Mulugeta were all recognized for their contributions to the program.
On Senior Night, Baptista led the Highlanders with 23 points, while Evora followed with 21. Joseph and O’Brien had seven and five points, respectively. The Highlanders out-rebounded the Cougars, 50-26. Baptista grabbed 18 of them. Evora, meanwhile, had six steals.
“I’m looking forward to building on the success of this season,” O’Halloran said. “We had a great group of seniors. Most of them played with each another since third grade. They knew what was expected of them, and they showed in many ways the experience of how things needed to be done.”
“I’m proud of the girls,” the coach said of his entire team. “They came together as the season progressed, and handled adversity in games, pulling the big games out. During the season, each and every one made an impact on things in their own special way.”