The Lynn English girls basketball team needed a win over a fired-up Medford High team to qualify for the State Tournament, and it wasn’t going to be easy.
It was Senior Night for the Lady Mustangs and they had every intention of closing their careers with a victory and spoiling the Lady Bulldogs’ dreams of a postseason appearance.
But Head Coach Mackenzie Charles – who called a tremendous game and somehow remained calm despite 32 minutes of intense basketball and a frantic down-to-the-wire finish – and his determined group of players found a way to get it done.
Junior guard Juliana Perry swished four consecutive free throws, two with 21 seconds left, and two more with nine seconds left, to help English beat Medford, 34-31, and lock up their tenth victory of the season.
English will be making its first postseason appearance since Freddie Hogan took the Bulldogs to the Garden in 2014. Two of Hogan’s greatest players, Jeanette Anderson and Diondra Woumn, along with former English star Travone Berry-Rogers, Angel DeLeon, an assistant on Hogan’s staff, and Todd Burton, a former college and ABA player, are assistant coaches on Charles’ current staff.
Hogan sent Charles a text message offering his congratulations on the return of the Bulldogs to the MIAA Tournament.
“I told him, ‘if you build it, they will come,’ and it’s the start of a new chapter in English girls basketball,” said Hogan. “He’s building a great program and doing a great job. I’m very proud of him. I congratulate MacKenzie, his players, and his coaches. It’s great for the city.”
The biggest play of the game occurred late in the fourth quarter, when freshman guard Kylia Reynoso tipped a rebound of a missed free throw to Perry. Instead of Medford having the ball for a go-ahead possession, Perry eventually went to the foul line and was simply as clutch as can be, going 4-for-4.
“It was a little nerve wracking but I had faith when I went to the line – I was representing Dorothy Ezemba, so I did it for her,” said Perry. “We didn’t let go. We have a lot of faith in this team. I think Coach Charles is a great coach. He pushed us hard in practices and games, but he didn’t let go of us. His energy kept up and he really helped us win this game.”
“Hitting those free throws was huge,” said Charles. “Kylia made a big play on that rebound prior to that to get us the ball.”
In addition to Perry’s heroics, junior Maylin Echevarria made a major contribution with 11 points and nine rebounds.
“I just came out ready to play and I wanted to make it to the State Tournament,” said Echevarria, a 5-foot-9-inch forward. “This is a happy moment for everyone. We’re fortunate to have an amazing coach who pushes me to my level and who inspired me to have my passion for basketball.”
Junior Mashayla Johnson helped the Bulldogs get out to a quick 6-0 lead, matching Perry with an early three-pointer.
Reynoso, definitely a player to watch over the next three seasons, brought inspired leadership and defense to the Bulldogs before getting in to foul trouble.
An unsung hero in victory was junior Stacy Abreu, who contributed four points, strong rebounding, and in-the-paint defense for the Bulldogs, who did a good overall job of containing Medford’s freshman standout Sarah Bien-Aime in the second half.
Charles scheduled 19 games this season. His team surged to a 6-2 start, but with a young squad, there were some obstacles along the way. English regrouped, edged crosstown rival Classical by one point in a must-win situation Wednesday night and then 24 hours later, they reached deep to beat Medford, completing a run of four straight victories to qualify for the State Tournament.
For Charles and his staff, it was a goal accomplished, his first State Tournament berth following five and six-win seasons in his first two years as coach.
“It feels real good to get there. I’m happy for the kids, they put in all the work,” said Charles. “The kids persevered. They were so resilient.”
In a nice gesture before the game, the Medford High players present English’s only senior, Pamela Rosales, with flowers.
Director of Athletics Dick Newton called English’s march to the tournament one of the biggest stories in years in the girls’ athletics program.
“I’m so proud of Mackenzie, his staff, and all the players,” said Newton. “For them to qualify for the tournament is a tremendous accomplishment.”