MANCHESTER — An explosive second quarter put the Fall Mountain girls basketball team up big, and that was all it needed to advance to its third consecutive state title game.
It was a 39-28 win over Newfound Thursday at Trinity High School in Manchester that earned the Wildcats a spot in the championship game.
Twenty-one of the team’s points came in the second quarter, after scoring only four in the first.
“Everyone just calmed down, shot it with confidence,” said Fall Mountain head coach Matt Baird-Torney. “As soon as the first one went through, I knew it would get going.”
“The first one” being junior Makenna Grillone’s three-pointer to start the second quarter that seemed to kickstart the Wildcats’ offense.
Grillone finished with two three-pointers in that second quarter, contributing to her game-high 12 points.
“They felt pretty big internally,” Grillone said of her three-point shots. “Once you have a few things going for you, everyone just seems to uplift each other and play 10 times better.”
Defense was the name of the game for much of the evening, especially when the Wildcats’ offense was cold. Despite scoring only four points in the first quarter, Fall Mountain held Newfound to just three.
“Defensively I thought we were locked in,” Baird-Torney said. “The switching was seamless. Helping in the post, especially early on … there was no room whatsoever, exactly what I needed to have happen. And that’s why we didn’t need to panic [after the first quarter].”
Senior Erin Brady was 100 percent of Fall Mountain’s offense in that first frame, scoring all four points. She finished with 10, consistently finding room around the net to get easy points.
It was a big part of why the Wildcats got their offense going in the second quarter.
“Once again, it was Erin getting us going,” Baird-Torney said. “She hit a couple in a row, and everyone started to exhale. Then the threes started to drop, and everything started to click.”
Brady credited the whole team for turning things around in the second quarter.
“Our pep talks before, how we have to start pulling away so we can have more of a relaxed game,” Brady said, acknowledging that the game didn’t end as relaxed as they had hoped.
With Fall Mountain up 25-9 at the half, the game almost felt over before the teams made their way back onto the court after the break.
But in the state semifinals, there’s no way to count any team out that early.
Newfound built up some momentum in the third quarter that carried over into the fourth. By the final frame, Fall Mountain’s 16-point halftime lead had been cut down to single digits.
But Grillone and senior Sophie Bardis, who finished with seven points, hit three-pointers to steal some of that momentum back.
The teams went back and forth after that, scrapping together some plays that got sloppy and physical down the stretch, and free throws from junior Avery Stewart, who finished with seven points, and Grillone wrapped things up for good.
The crowd saluted the Wildcats as the clock was winding down in the fourth, and the taste of victory grew stronger.
Having played in front of empty gyms all season, it was a new experience for the team.
“It was pretty different,” Grillone said. “It kind of made me a little more nervous, anxious because there was so much noise. But as the game started going … it just felt really good to have that feeling back and your parents there and people supporting you.”
Fall Mountain heads back to Manchester on Sunday, where the team is slated to face off against Conant for the state title at 2 p.m. It’s a rematch of last year’s D3 title game, where Fall Mountain had the lead in the fourth quarter, but Conant came away victorious.