Pictured during Wellesley’s semifinal victory against King Phillip on February 17, senior guard/captain Gianna Palli led the way for the the Lady-Raiders in Monday’s final with a team-high 17 points. Photo by Needham High Athletics.
In the finals of the Reilly Winter Classic on February 18, the Needham and Wellesley High girls varsity basketball teams played one of the most remarkable girls basketball games in recent memory. Both teams have played against each other since sixth-grade MetroWest and in AAU, so there is a tremendous rivalry between these players. It manifested itself in a 9-9 tie at the end of the first quarter and a 16-16 tie at the half.
In the third quarter, the Raiders shot out to a lead 26-18 and things looked dim for the Lady Rockets entering the fourth, especially when senior guard Marianna Jantzen sprained her ankle and had to leave the game. Wellesley, led by senior guard Gianna Palli (17 points), continued to pressure Needhamm and extended their lead to 31-21 with only 3:50 left.
At this point, Jantzen limped out of the locker room and returned to the lineup to play with Kiki McIntyre, Caroline Klemm, Julia Evans and Maeve Barker. The group drove the Lady Rockets to the most stirring comeback in the last decade.
Facing a daunting deficit of 31-21 with 3:50 to go, the Rockets deployed a frenzied full-court press against the seventh-ranked Raiders, forcing several turnovers, which were converted by McIntyre, whittling the deficit to 32-29 with 1:40 remaining. With Needham on the attack and Wellesley trying to hang on for dear life, McIntyre drilled a three-pointer to tie the game at 32 with just 39 seconds remaining. Each team traded missed field goals in the final 39 seconds, and the game headed to overtime.
In OT, Needham controlled play for at least three of the four minutes, but couldn't convert on several field goal attempts. Caroline Klemm seized a big rebound on the front end of a Wellesley one-and-one, moving the ball up the court and taking a timeout to set up a play.
On the inbound play, the Rockets whipped the ball around the perimeter and found McIntyre inside the 3-point line at the top of the arch. The sophomore guard then juked towards the basket, pulled up at the foul line, and stuck the game-winning two-pointer as the Needham crowd erupted.
Wellesley called a timeout under their basket with 3.2 seconds to go and drew up a play. The Raiders were unable to get off a shot on their final possession as the clock hit zeroes, and Needham’s incredible comeback was complete. The Lady-Rockets won by a score of 34-32, claiming the Reilly Winter Classic.
Needham was 12 for 54 from the field, shooting 22 percent, but hung in there in the fourth quarter when Wellesley’s lead had ballooned to 29-18 with less than five minutes to go.
Junior guard Kiki McIntyre led all scorers with 18 points and was chosen as the tournament MVP. Senior point guard Marianna Jantzen was also selected as a tournament all-star.