LONGMEADOW — Tuesday night's matchup featuring two of the region's best girls basketball teams in No. 5 Northampton and No. 9 Longmeadow didn't disappoint, as Amanda Mieczkowski's basket in transition helped spark a late 13-2 run for the Blue Devils.
With the game still up for grabs during the final minutes, Northampton continued its run as Riley Allen secured a missed layup and then connected with Emily Sledzieski (10 points) for an up-and-under score -- forcing Lancers coach Tim Allen to call a timeout with only 12 seconds remaining in regulation.
"We haven't played with many big leads as we had against good teams like Northampton so far this season," Allen said regarding his opponents late fourth-quarter run. "Also, you know, when you hold a team offensively down like Northampton for three quarters, everybody in the gym should've known they were going to make a run.
"The Blue Devils are incredibly well-coached, talented; they continually run different sets, so I always had a feeling the run was coming -- it was just a matter of when. We just needed to calm down and get a few more stops."
In the end, Ilana Koffman recorded two of her five points in the final seconds to secure Longmeadow a 44-39 victory over Northampton.
"I wouldn't say we shut them (Blue Devils) down, but we were in a good spot defensively," Allen said. "Instead of playing zone, we focused on our man-to-man coverage that features so much basket-line help that it looks like zone. But with all that said, though, Hanna Minardi cleaned up numerous mistakes, and I've never, in all my years, coached somebody better at team defense than her.
"She knows where to be, knows how to help, knows how to get blocks without fouling, and she's an absolute special player on both ends of the court."
Tuesday also marked senior night for a trio of Lancers in Julia Cardaropoli (one point), Kofman, and Minardi (game-high 22 points).
"Tonight meant the world because I love playing with each of them," Minardi said. "I've played with both Julia and Ilana since Kindergarten, so being able to win and work as a unit is the best feeling."
Following a slow opening quarter, which produced a combined 15 points, Cardaropoli surprised Northampton's defense with a quick backdoor pass. Two plays later, Minardi further extended Longmeadow's cushion to 18-8 halfway through the second.
"I have to give credit to my coaches and teammates for helping me become the player I am today," Minardi said. "My mom and dad have been especially huge helpers because they're always hooking me up.
"I just have an awesome support system, and I think that's what it truly comes down to at the end of the day."
Despite the Lancers still controlling possession through the third, Mieczkowski's shot kept the game close. Longmeadow, however, quickly responded with a buzzer-beating trey after 24 minutes.
In a losing effort, McGrath posted five points, while Caroline Tanner earned four. Olivia Dubuque, for her part, had two points.
"Northampton has a special bunch of seniors themselves in Jill McGrath, Tanner, Mieczkowski, Dubuque, and Lewandowski," Allen said. "They've got a long playoff push ahead of them -- I'm sure of it.
"They're talented, smart, well-coached, and certainly a team to be reconned with."
With the regular season officially over, Allen is eager to see what the future has in store for his squad.
"We're thrilled to be in the tournament," he said. "It's good that we have a week to start going back to the drawing board and prepare. But once you get into the tournament, no matter what the seedings are, anybody can beat anybody.
"It looks like Division II now has eight teams in it, so it's going to be competitive. Overall, though, we want to continue focusing on getting better and staying as close as we are as a team."