With 27 seconds remaining and Fenway’s second consecutive Division 4 girls’ state championship all but wrapped up, coach John Rice sent in a sub for senior guard Tajanay Veiga-Lee.
As Veiga-Lee, who was named MVP (13 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists), left the court, the Fenway fans’ section at the TD Garden rose as one and saluted the Panthers’ captain.
“[Veiga-Lee’s] represented Fenway High School for four years,” said Panthers coach John Rice, whose squad defeated Greater New Bedford 56-47 in a rematch of last year’s Division 4 final. “I was just really happy for her. She appreciated [getting the ovation], it’s a small community over there and that was special. It gave me goose bumps.”
Fenway (15-7) rallied from a disappointing season in which it was forced to forfeit four games and failed to qualify for the Boston City League tournament to ultimately finish on top.
“It just feels good, because a lot of people said we weren’t going to make it this far and win this year,” said Veiga-Lee, who also had five steals, “But look at the outcome, we came here and we won it again. It just feels great.”
Fenway’s forfeits, which were all originally runaway wins, came because it played junior varsity players that were not eligible to be on the court, once it had the games in hand.
Fenway scored the first four points of the game and never trailed, riding a 30-point third quarter to a 9-point win, despite not scoring a single point in the fourth quarter.
Cadejia Mathews led all Panthers in scoring with 15 points in the game (three 3-pointers), but was joined by Veiga-Lee (13) and sophomore center Jalissa Ross (12 points, 12 rebounds) in double figures.
Ten of Ross’s points came in the second half and her overall performance left coach Rice feeling optimistic about her future at Fenway.
“That’s just what she’s capable of,” he said of his center for the next two seasons. “We’ve just been telling her that she cant be all this potential anymore, she can’t be this division one potential anymore, she’s got to go out and dominate and she did in that second half.”
Sophomore center Nakira Examond had a huge game in the loss for Greater New Bedford, finishing with 12 points and 18 rebounds.
For coach Rice, the second time around was actually a bit sweeter.
“It almost sounds selfish to say this, but it feels better than the first one,” he said. “It’s always harder; it’s a different challenge, different mindset, different mentality. You’ve got to push the kids to find that hunger again.
"Last year we were searching for it and we had such a drive to go after it and this year was just different with the adversity we dealt with this season. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.