Girls basketball: Pope Francis edges Easthampton in battle on unbeatens, 47-43 (PHOTOS)

By HANNAH BEVIS 

Staff Writer 

Published: 01-17-2023 9:59 PM

EASTHAMPTON – With less than 20 seconds to go on Tuesday night and the Easthampton girls basketball team down by four points, the Eagles needed a basket to keep their undefeated season alive – and they needed one fast. 

Easthampton charged down the floor, trying to drive to the hoop, but went too fast and lost the handle on the ball as Pope Francis’ defense swarmed around them. After a brief scuffle, Isabella Meadows emerged with the ball and started flying back up the court, where she was fouled and effectively sealed the game for the visiting Cardinals. 

It was the same kind of play that had been happening all night – Meadows stepping up and taking control of the game and the Cardinals’ defense shutting down the Eagles’ offense. It was a nailbiter to the finish, but in a battle of two undefeated schools, it was Pope Francis that came out with the 47-43 win. 

It was a tough loss for the home team, but it’s a similar situation that they were in last year, starting out on a 14-game winning streak before they were handed their first loss of the season. This year they went 11 games before suffering a defeat. 

“When I was on the floor, I was like, ‘Oh, this is terrible.’ And then when I was sitting in the (locker) room, and I thought about it, it was actually really good,” Easthampton’s Maria Belfakih said. “We have a quote – ‘We didn't lose, we learned.’ So we definitely are taking this as a learning experience.” 

Meadows finished with a team-high 17 points and drove much of the play for the visitors. Easthampton’s Sophia Faginski made herself at home in the paint, snagging countless rebounds and posting 17 points of her own for the hosts. 

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The game was back and forth all evening long. Pope Francis’ defense swarmed the Eagles in the first period, jumping out to a 6-2 lead early and finishing the first quarter up 11-8.

“We were just overly excited in the beginning. We missed, I don't know how many layups we missed in the first half, at least 10, pretty uncontested layups,” Easthampton head coach Brian Miller said. “They play a good defense and it was tough to find a driving lane.”

Easthampton settled down in the second period and started reeling the Cardinals back in, going on a 9-0 run midway through the frame to take its first lead of the game, 19-16. Pope Francis called a timeout with just under two minutes  left and finished the half on a 5-0 run of its own, leading 21-19 at halftime. 

Easthampton had one of its best quarters offensively in the  third frame, going toe-to-toe with Pope Francis at the 3-point line and receiving timely baskets from Faginski, Lauren Morse, Kayley Downie and Maria Belfakih. The Eagles held onto a five-point lead heading into the fourth period and seemed to have the momentum, too. 

Pope Francis quickly stifled that, sinking a shot and then a triple to force an Easthampton time out. The visitors tied the game after that and retook the lead, and from there it was an all-out battle for each team to sink the game-winner. The Cardinals got some critical and-ones late in the game, and Ajade Marsh was the difference-maker for the visitors, hitting two crucial baskets and a free throw shot to give Pope Francis the win.

“We said ‘The sun will come up tomorrow.’ We lose, it's fine. We'll learn from it. We'll get better. Hopefully we'll be where we want at the end of it,” Miller said. “It doesn't matter how many games you win in the beginning of the season, it's at the end of the season. So hopefully we can learn from that.” 

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