JAFFREY — It was one of those games that might give the coaches a few gray hairs afterwards.
In a hard-fought, gritty battle that was close up until the end, the Conant Orioles took down Division 2 Bishop Brady, 72-61, on Monday night in Jaffrey, extending their win streak to 30 games.
“I thought it was a great, competitive, tough, grind-it-out kind of game,” said Conant head coach Brian Troy. “We weathered the storm pretty well, and I’m proud of the girls for their efforts.”
Elizabeth Gonyea led the way for the Orioles with a game-high 25 points on senior night, adding a strong veteran presence on the court.
Emma Tenters contributed with 22 points and particularly turned it on late in the contest, finding room to work underneath the basket and scoring 13 points in the second half.
Brynn Rautiola controlled the pace of the game for much of the first half, finishing with 14 points of her own.
Conant also saw contributions from its bench in the win, including a three-pointer from Bella Hayes late in the second quarter to give Conant the lead.
“It just shows that overall we have all the connecting pieces that come together to make one working unit,” Gonyea said on the team’s depth.
Bishop Brady, a D2 final four team last season, is arguably Conant’s toughest test of the season. The intensity, energy and fast pace from the opening minutes of the game would back that up.
In a back-and-forth first quarter, it was Bishop Brady’s 7-0 run in the final minutes that was the difference. It just seemed like any time Conant got too close, the Giants had an answer.
The start of the second quarter brought the Orioles right back into the game. Tough-nosed defense led to an offensive run to bring Conant (9-0) back within two points in the first few minutes of the quarter.
But, again, the Giants (10-1) had an answer, extending their lead.
That was, until Conant climbed back and Rautiola gave the Orioles the advantage on a layup late in the second.
Conant’s lead didn’t last long, as Bishop Brady went on another 7-0 run.
Rautiola and Hayes hit two big three-pointers for Conant in the final few minutes of the second quarter to keep the Orioles in the game.
“I just try to just keep my composure and slow the game down when I have to,” Rautiola said. “Play tough ‘D’ and feed my teammates when they’re hot.”
And after the first half, the game was tied at 38.
After the break, the Orioles came out firing right away.
“We just wanted to make sure we kept our foot on the gas [in the second half],” Troy said. “Keep putting pressure on them.”
As the cliché goes, defense leads to offense, and that was the case for the Orioles in the third. All of a sudden Conant was up 50-44.
“You know in a game like that, every rebound and every stop matters,” Troy said. “You can’t be complacent down the stretch.”
A three-pointer from Bishop Brady’s Ami Rivera, who hit five three-pointers and scored 23 points, brought the Giants back within three.
And that would be as close as they’d get, as Conant took control to start the fourth quarter.
Bishop Brady climbed back within five with just under a minute and a half to play, but free throws from Gonyea and Rautiola all but sealed the deal.
“At the end of the game, we definitely want the ball in either of those two girls’ hands,” Troy said.
After one final defensive stop, Gonyea got to dribble out the final 30 seconds of the win on senior night, with an ovation from the limited crowd and the Conant bench.
“She’s really grown from her freshman year,” Troy said of the reigning D3 player of the year. “Every single year she’s taken a step forward and I feel like her leadership has improved over the years and she’s really taken that responsibility.
“I’m very happy and proud of what she’s able to do,” he added. “She’s obviously been a key piece to what we do here at Conant.”
And the celebrations might have put an extra pep in the team’s step.
“We all wanted to win this game for [Gonyea], too, on senior night,” Rautiola said. “We just wanted to make it special for her.”
And Gonyea said it was.
“The four years fly by,” Gonyea said with a smile. “I feel like it was just freshman year, and all of a sudden I’m the big senior, and everyone’s looking at me.”
There are only two more games remaining in the regular season for Conant, both against Hinsdale in a home-and-away series starting in Jaffrey on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.