BHS Girls Quintet Rolls to Sectional Championship
Bellingham Blackhawks, Division 3 Champs
Back-to-back sectional championships may not be considered a dynasty, but the Bellingham High girls basketball team is leaving its mark as one of the more formidable squads in the state.
Coach Stacy Bilodeau’s Blackhawks, who finished the regular season at 10-10 and qualified for the playoffs by winning their final game, peaked at the right time, downing Leicester, Littleton and Sutton before defeating Tyngsboro in the Central Mass. Division 3 Tournament final, 45-34, at Worcester Polytech’s Harrington Auditorium. The triumph propelled Bellingham into the state semifinals, where they were eliminated by Hoosac Valley, 63-57.
The Blackhawks broke open a 26-26 tie after three quarters by outscoring Tyngsboro, 19-8, in the final period for an 11-point advantage, the same margin they won by last year against the Tigers in the sectional final. Bellingham was led by its four senior captains—Kristen Swain had 13 points, Danielle Arcidiacono had 12, Sabrina Ulsh scored eight and Lindsey Jensen managed seven.
Bellingham led, 33-30, with five minutes remaining in the final quarter, but Jamayra Castro’s rebound put-back and Swain’s jumper in close gave the Blackhawks a 37-30 advantage. Arcidiacono’s two free throws with 1:38 remaining gave Bellingham a 39-30 edge. Tyngsboro’s Emily McPadden, who led the Tigers with eight points, converted a pair of free throws, and Jessica Cayer scored on a lay-up for Tyngsboro’s final four points.
Defense was the story during all of Bellingham’s four victories, and it was a major factor in the final, limiting Tyngsboro to three points in the opening quarter (10-3). “We didn’t handle their defensive pressure very well,” said Dan Sargent, the Tyngsboro coach. “They got the loose balls and their big frontcourt controlled the boards.”
Bilodeau, who led Walpole to a state championship in 2004, was ecstatic with her team’s clutch play in all four tourney games, but she was especially impressed with the way they handled Tyngsboro. “I’m so proud of the kids,” she said. “They beat a senior-laden team. We struggled with our offense early and had to rely on our defense. The girls executed our defensive schemes by getting stops. Toward the end, they kept fouling us. We got to the line but didn’t finish as well as we could have.” Bellingham converted eight of 15 free-throw attempts in the final 1:38 of the last period.
The four senior captains took turns weighing in on their second consecutive sectional crown. “Our defense was a big factor,” Arcidiacono said. “It’s amazing to win the sectional again. We had to come from behind after trailing in the third quarter.” Swain, who connected for three baskets in the final quarter, said, “We were shaky on offense to start the game but our defense carried us. This is an amazing team to be part of. Two titles in a row doesn’t happen that often.”
Ulsh, who became a force on the boards in the post-season, regained her offensive touch for the playoffs. She likes the way the squad’s chemistry has surfaced. “We’ve jelled at the right time,” Ulsh noted. “We’re all on the same page. Winning the sectional is what we aimed for early on. We had a rough regular season but it’s all worked out. Defensively, we were strong and I was pleased with my rebounding.”
Jensen, who would easily qualify as the team’s unsung hero, lauded the way the squad has peaked. “We started slow but got it going later,” she said. “Our team chemistry is good and our defensive has been strong. I’m happy we’ve jelled at the right time.”
The Blackhawks, who were the tourney’s 10th seed, won their sectional crown by defeating fourth-seeded Tyngsboro a second time. Tyngsboro, which plays in the Mid Wach League, entered the tourney with a 16-6 record. In the state tourney, Bellingham again faced Hoosac Valley, the team that eliminated them last year. Following are recaps of the Blackhawks’ first three victories in the sectional tourney.
Game 1: Bellingham 58, Leicester 26Relentless defensive pressure in the first quarter set the tone as Bellingham rolled to an easy triumph at Leicester in a first-round game of the Central Mass. Division 3 Tournament. The Blackhawks forced half a dozen turnovers and, led by Sabrina Ulsh’s seven points, jumped out to a 15-2 lead after the first quarter. BHS continued its up-tempo pace, outscoring the Wolverines, 15-5, in the second period for a 30-7 lead at intermission. After three quarters, coach Stacy Bilodeau’s forces were ahead, 46-18, allowing her to play all her reserves in the final stanza. Kristen Swain led all scorers with 14 points and was followed by Danielle Arcidiacono with 12, Ulsh scored 11 and Jamayra Castro had 9.
“We knew we had to pressure them quickly and get points off turnovers,” Bilodeau said. “Sabrina and Kristen played a huge role inside and finished strong. Danielle also gave us a nice inside-out game.”
Leicester coach Dave Stanick credited Bellingham’s play in the paint and also had praise for the Tri Valley League. “Bellingham has two excellent players in Ulsh and Swain, and we knew we’d have our hands full because they play in a very strong league. We weren’t surprised at the way they dominated.” Leicester, which plays in the Southern Worcester County League, entered the game with an 11-7 record and was seeded No. 7 while Bellingham came in at 10-10 and was the No. 10 seed.
Game 2: Bellingham 61, Littleton 34Defense once again played a key role, but Bellingham’s offense put the Blackhawks in the driver’s seat early in a 27-point triumph at Littleton in the second round. Danielle Arcidiacono sank five three-pointers and finished with 19 points, and Jamayra Castro scored 16 points as Bellingham jumped out to a 15-4 lead over the Tigers after the first quarter. A pair of long-range three-pointers by Arcidiacono and Castro’s seven points put the Blackhawks ahead, 34-10, at intermission. Meghan Cook’s three-point shot from the corner in the third stanza gave Bellingham its biggest lead—a 32-point cushion in the third quarter.
“Defense is where everything starts and we’re doing a good job in that area,” coach Stacy Bilodeau said. “On offense, Danielle showed what a pure shooter she can be. When she’s hot, look out. Jamayra also gave us a solid game, both on offense and defense.” Littleton, which was seeded No. 2 with a 16-2 record in the Mid Wach C League, missed a plethora of outside shots early, but coach Rick Hastings credited Bellingham for his team’s slow start and sluggish offense. “They played very good defense and that made it a tough night for us,” he said. “And Arcidiacono shot lights out. She’s got a lot of range. It’s no accident that they’re the defending champs in Division 3.”
Arcidiacono labeled the triumph as “a total team victory” and praised Bellingham’s defense. “Our defense is flowing,” she said. “It was an awesome effort overall.” Bellingham center Sabrina Ulsh, who finished with six points, said, “We need to keep our defensive intensity going. This victory was a good momentum-builder.” Castro, who has become Bellingham’s top reserve, called the Blackhawks’ win a mix of “playing hard, relying on super defense and counting on the team’s chemistry.”
Game 3: Bellingham 42, Sutton 35A come-from-behind, seven-point triumph over Sutton at WPI propelled Bellingham into the sectional final against Tyngsboro. Kristen Swain led Bellingham with 12 points followed by Sabrina Ulsh and Danielle Arcidiacono with 10 each.
Both teams took a while to get untracked, but when the first quarter ended, the Suzies led, 12-9, in spite of several turnovers. Sutton, however, stretched its lead to seven, 18-11, in the second quarter on baskets by Amy Haven and Allison Hester. But back came Bellingham on a 9-3 run to trail by only 21-20 at intermission. Keying the comeback were field goals by Arcidiacono, Swain, Lindsey Jensen and a three-pointer deep in the right corner by Jesse Magerman as the half ended.
Four Sutton turnovers in the first 21/2 minutes of the third stanza enabled the Blackhawks to take the lead, 26-21, thanks to a pair of free throws by Ulsh, a churning layup by Swain and a driving spin-around by Ulsh. The Blackhawks, leading by only 35-33 in the final quarter, got a huge three-pointer by Arcidiacono and another inside spinning drive by Ulsh for a 40-33 advantage and the eventual victory.
“Turnovers played a big role in our loss,” said Sutton coach John Doldoorian Jr. “To start the third quarter and commit four turnovers prevented us from getting into our offense. Bellingham played well and Ulsh came alive in the second half.” Bellingham coach Stacy Bilodeau again lauded her team’s defensive pressure, calling it “Bellingham’s trademark.” She also praised the work of Swain, Ulsh, Arcidiacono and Jensen. “Ulsh has regained her confidence and she takes the pressure off Kristen inside. Danielle is deadly from outside and even though Lindsey fouled out, she hustled all over the court.” Swain, who finished with 10 rebounds, said her ability to convert put-backs is “something I’ve worked at in practice.”
Arcidiacono credited the victory to defensive intensity, saying, “I wasn’t sure my three-pointer was going in, but it felt good as I released it. We were struggling a bit from the outside, so I think [the shot] was a pick-me-up.” Ulsh said that Bellingham’s edge in rebounding was a big key and “it felt good to win by grinding it out.” As for Ulsh’s 10-point effort in the second half, she credited that to confidence. “When I get the ball, I just move in with the idea I’ll either score or get fouled,” she said. “I don’t think about getting a shot blocked.”