By Su DelGuercio
With an exciting playoff run, Berkshire's girls varsity basketball team had some of their closest wins and best performances of the season against top New England teams. Victories over a talented Miss Porter's team in the first round of the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) tournament, and a relentless Lawrence Academy squad in the semifinal helped the Bears earn a spot in the Class B championship game on Sunday, March 5 at Loomis Chaffee School.
In the championship game against Tilton School, Berkshire fought to the very last whistle before falling 54-52 to the perennial basketball power. Struggling to find their legs and converting only 13-percent of their perimeter shots to begin the game, one might have said that Berkshire was out of the game with an early 28-10 deficit. But the Bears refused to back down and with six minutes left in the first half, Berkshire began to dictate the pace and controlled the rest of the game. Crucial makes at the free throw line mixed with timely baskets helped Berkshire get back into the game. Doing what they do best, the Bears put their heads down and kept working with a focus on applying more defensive pressure and exuding more patience on offense for higher percentage shots. Alexis Moragne '19 and Autumn Truesdale '17 made key free throws to give the Bears a spark of life. Gradually, Berkshire closed the gap and brought the score to within ten when Mikayla McEwen '18 sank a three-pointer to make it 30-20 in Tilton's favor at the half.
Tilton started off the scoring in the second half in an attempt to maintain their first-half performance, but the Bears responded with vigor as Jeanna Willis '17, Moragne and Truesdale led the way. The most exciting basketball was definitely saved for the last moments of the season between these two top-ranked NEPSAC teams. The Bears gained significant momentum as they cranked up defensive pressure and forced the Rams into taking tough shots. Working to maintain quality execution of Berkshire basketball on both ends of the court, the Bears closed the gap to 40-33 with strong rebounding and finishing second chance opportunities. With six minutes remaining in regulation, Berkshire battled with great energy and the support from the fans in the crowd.
Tilton led 52-44 with 1:38 remaining in the game, and with composure and execution on both ends, the Bears chipped away at the lead. With only 22 seconds remaining on the clock, Truesdale grabbed a rebound off of a Tilton missed free throw, and she was fouled. She hit on both free throw attempts to cut the lead to 52-50 with 19.7 seconds remaining. Berkshire fouled immediately on the following inbounds, and Tilton converted one of two shots. The Bears pushed the ball up the court and Anika Helmke '18 quickly converted a layup with under ten seconds on the clock to cut the lead to 53-52. Berkshire again fouled on the ensuing inbounds, putting the Tilton shooter on the free throw line with 3.7 seconds left. After making the first attempt to push the score to 54-52, the second attempt missed, and landed in the hands of Helmke, who quickly moved the ball to Truesdale at half court. Truesdale heaved an uncontested shot from just inside the half-court line which banged off the backboard as time expired.
With an unfortunate 54-52 end to an incredible championship game, the Bears finished the season with an impressive 21-4 record, and as one of the top girls basketball programs in New England. In addition, Anika Helmke '18, Alexis Moragne '19, and Jeanna Willis '17 were named as the New England Prep School Girls Basketball Coaches Association (NEPSGBCA) Class B Western All-Stars.