Burlington girls overcome sluggish start to down Wilmington 43-30

BURLINGTON — It took about 18 minutes of play and a fiery timeout speech Saturday from head coach Pam MacKay for Burlington to finally break free from a sloppy first half, but once the team regained its focus in the third quarter, nearly nothing Wilmington did could get in the way of a dominant second half.

Defense paved the way for the Red Devils (2-0), using seven of its 19 steals and great ball pressure to cripple the Wildcats’ half-court offense amid a massive second-half run for a 43-30 Middlesex League Freedom Division victory. Star senior Marina Callahan struggled to score, but her only points came on a go-ahead 3-pointer midway through the third quarter to spark a 17-2 run over the next 11 minutes of play. As she made up for her scoring woes with 11 rebounds and eight steals, Sydney Pavao took over the scoring load with 17 points and nine rebounds.

Wilmington (0-2), playing without star senior Kylie DuCharme, didn’t score in the fourth quarter until only 47 seconds remained, and were outscored 21-7 in the second half.

“We were just more disciplined in general (in the second half),” MacKay said. “Only playing one game per week and only having three practices a week, you can see that having that focus is clearly a challenge right now. … In the second half, we did a much better job of being disciplined on defense, not over-running the ball and not fouling as much. Because of that, we were getting much better transition opportunities … and better looks.”

Turnovers and missed easy shots riddled both teams throughout the entire first half, combining for 21 turnovers in that time. Passing lanes were easily jumped, and while the Wildcats found a way to put up points on Jessica Collins’ (8 points, 7 rebounds, 6 steals) five steals in the half, the Red Devils consistently gained a little momentum before quickly losing it on a forced pass or a missed open shot.

Frustration started to mount for Burlington early in the third quarter around the time Wilmington’s Jenna Sweeney (9 points, 6 rebounds) converted a floater and a free throw to take a 26-24 lead. MacKay gave a passionate speech to her team in a timeout to get them all back on the same page to work together, and heightened defensive tenacity ensued.

“We just needed to regroup,” MacKay said.

Callahan dribbled into a dead-on triple with four minutes left in the third quarter and picked up the fourth of her five assists in the next possession on a Megan Murphy (8 points, 3 steals) jumper for a 29-26 lead. Wilmington fell into a lull of turnovers and missed jumpers, which Pavao and Alyvia Pena (8 points, 4 steals) turned into outlet passes for transition layups to extend the lead.

It all started with the defense, which Taylor Pavao played a large part in as well with seven rebounds and four blocks.

“We played our game (in the second half) and didn’t play to their speed,” Sydney Pavao said. “When we played to their speed, it was kind of a hot mess, but once we got into control, it went much better. … Once defense fell (into place), offense would come.”

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