SPRINGFIELD Sharaya Haines caught fire.
And then the MassMutual Center nearly did too.
Central girls basketballs 61-45 Division I state championship win over Braintree its first state title since 2007 was sparked by a chaotic, dramatic and occasionally perplexing second-half surge. The Golden Eagles erased a 10-point deficit, overcame injuries to two separate guards, endured a stop-and-go third quarter devoid of flow due to a barrage of fouls and whistles by the referees.
They then waited for seven minutes early in the fourth quarter while the fire alarm yes, the fire alarm went off inside the MassMutual Center, halting play.
At the center of all of the chaos was Haines, who scored all of her game-high 17 points in the second half, pouring in four 3-pointers.
She was a tremendous help, fellow senior Ishanna Brown said. I think her shooting threes sparked some energy and our success tonight. It was really big. She stepped up.
But before Haines could play the hero role, propelling Central to a win in front of its hometown crowd, it needed to break out of its malaise.
The early comeback
Central trailed 30-20 at halftime and was fortunate the deficit wasnt larger.
It scored just eight points over the games first 15 minutes before finding life at the end of the first half. Coach Erik Maurer said his team wasnt rotating defensively like hes accustomed to and was taken aback by Braintrees early run. It was addressed in the locker room at halftime.
The Golden Eagles quickly made up ground.
They opened the second half on an 8-0 run, cutting the deficit, before Braintrees Mackenzie Moore drilled a 3-pointer. Phyness Baldwin and Haines answered with back-to-back 3s, and suddenly, Central had a one-point lead, finally awakening a dormant pro-Central crowd.
Brown also played a significant role in keying the run, pulling down two rebounds and firing outlet passes that led to scores, and forcing two steals within the first 1:40 of the second half.
Central also had to deal with key injuries to Makayla Thompson and Jaliena Sanchez. Thompson dislocated her right shoulder at the beginning of the third quarter, missing over four minutes of game time. An MIAA doctor popped it back in and Thompson, who has dislocated the shoulder before, said she was ready to return to the game.
She was needed.
Midway through the quarter, Sanchez was fouled on a fast-break layup, crashing to the floor on her right hip. She writhed in pain and could not put weight on it, requiring two assistants to carry her off the floor. Alayah Sweeney took Sanchezs free throws officially ending the sophomore guards day and Sanchez was later wheeled out of the arena on a stretcher.
It made us angry, Haines said, but we still stayed focused. We played the rest of the game for her.
Haines lights it up
Haines embodied that focus as well as any player on the roster, shaking off a scoreless first half to score 11 points in the third quarter, including the teams final seven points of the quarter. Central took a 38-36 lead into the fourth quarter.
Then Brown scored three points to open the quarter. Haines followed, sandwiching two 3-pointers around a Makayla Rudder put-back layup, and suddenly Central had a 49-41 lead with 4:47 left.
Then the wonkiness.
The fire alarm went off.
Emergency lights flashed throughout the arena as an automated voice recording alerted fans to an emergency situation. The majority of the fans in the MassMutual Center remained in their seats, and the players stayed at their benches, more perplexed than anything.
The Central girls handled the situation well. After all, at that point, they were used to stoppages, as officials frustratingly halted play several times in the third quarter to confer at the scoring table.
It was really tough, there was just so much built up inside, Brown said. We werent getting calls we wanted, we had to fight through it all. Those bad calls, it brought something out of us, and made us come to the realization that we needed to step up because we werent going to get any calls
Maurer thought his team relaxed as the game became more chaotic.
I thought that we loosened up a little bit when everything started to happen the way that it did, he said. We started to joke on the bench. The girls were kind of laughing about things. Even with a couple of the injuries we had. It allowed the girls to take a little bit of a breath.
After a seven-minute delay, the alarm was turned off and play resumed. Central promptly went on a 7-1 run, and the game was theirs.
We knew the first half, it wasnt our best half, Thompson said. Over in the locker room, we talked about everything to improve, weve got each others back, believe in each other, keep shooting shots. Got back out there second half, trust each other and we got it. We came back and we won.
For Haines, who has withstood shooting slumps before, it was a rewarding stretch. Maurer regularly chides Haines to shoot more often if her shot becomes available. By the fourth quarter of Saturdays win, Haines was stepped into 3-pointers off the dribble, looking as comfortable as ever behind the arc.
He joked with her to only stop shooting if she missed three 3-pointers in a row.
I was feeling pretty confident, Haines said, so sometimes I feel like they are all going to go in.
It felt like, at least in the second half, they did.
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