Natick senior Brenna McDonald scored 32 points as she led the third-seeded Redhawks to a 64-54 overtime victory over the previously unbeaten No. 2 seed Mountaineers to advance to the Division 1 Central final for the first time since 2016.

 

WORCESTER — In a rematch of the last two Division 1 Central semifinals between Natick and Wachusett, the two teams went to overtime for the second year in a row – but this time it was the Redhawks that came out on top.

Natick senior Brenna McDonald scored 32 points as she led the third-seeded Redhawks to a 64-54 overtime victory over the previously unbeaten No. 2 seed Mountaineers to advance to the Division 1 Central final for the first time since 2016.

"It's an incredible feeling to be able to head (to the sectional finals)," McDonald said. "I've personally have never been because we we've lost to (Wachusett) twice here and then to a different team team another game.

"Outside of me personally, I just want our team to go as far as possible because I see the potential in some of our younger players and I just want this to be as great of an experience it can be for them."

It was the third year in a row in which the Redhawks had faced the Mountaineers in the Central semifinals. Wachusett defeated Natick in 2018, 53-46, before going into overtime with them last year.

Now, the Redhawks face top-seeded Franklin (22-0) in the sectional finals on Friday (8 p.m.) at Worcester State University.

"This overtime, we had the momentum going our way," Redhawks (20-2) coach Dan Hinnenkamp said. "When we played them last year, I believe we were up by seven in the fourth quarter and then they got the momentum going.

"I think I recall calling a timeout around the six minute mark maybe and I think we were down by seven and I said, 'Hey, there is a ton of time,' and we started chipping away and started playing good defense, we made some shots," Hinnenkamp added. "The rest of the team stepped up. Alana Ciccorelli, who was a tad hesitant hit a big bucket at the end, and I think we had a little bit of a momentum swing going our way and I think we carried that over into the overtime. Last year, we were on the wrong end of that momentum, this year, we were on the right side of that momentum."

Natick trailed Wachusett (20-1) by as many as seven points in the fourth quarter but proceeded to finish the quarter on an 11-4 run to send it to an extra session.

McDonald hit back to back layups to cut it to a one-possession game. After a layup by Charlotte Head brought the lead back up to five, senior Delaney Ross hit a pair of free throws and McDonald finished a layup with the harm to tie the game at 50. Head then came down with a layup on the other end to make it 52-50, Mountaineers but Cicorelli scored her only points of the game on a layup to tie it at 52 and force it to overtime.

"This time it was just a mental game where we stayed in the game," McDonald said. "Even though we played down in the first half, we brought ourselves back up and didn't let it get into our heads, we just took it to them."

McDonald specifically took it to Wachusett scoring 26 of her game-high 32 points in the second half and overtime.

"It started with our defense and our confidence," McDonald said. "In the first half we were being too tentative, letting them control the pace and in the second half, especially in overtime, we just played our brand of basketball and get rebounds and we did well."

"I think in the first half she was being a little bit hesitant," said Hinnenkamp of McDonald. "I told her at halftime that she hadn't attempted a free throw yet, which basically meant that she really wasn't taking it hard to the basket as we wanted and so second half, you can see the intensity in her eyes a little bit and I think just sheer will on her part. I thought she had a phenomenal second half.

 "I haven't seen her play that dominant in awhile," Hinnenkamp added. "She's had herself a good season. I thought she looked great against some teams, but she really in that second half, had a different mentality."

The Redhawks struggled in the first half, being held to just four points in the first quarter. Natick trailed by as many as 11 in the second half before they began to chip away at the deficit.

The Redhawks, led by McDonald went on an 8-0 run to cut their deficit to two, before Wachusett senior Belle Lanpher (25 points) hit a three at the end of the third quarter to give the Mountaineers a five point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Ethan Winter is a senior multimedia sports journalist at the Daily News. He can be reached at 508-626-3987 or ewinter@wickedlocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @EWints. Sign up for the Sports Headlines Newsletter, which is sent to your email every morning by clicking here for the MetroWest Daily News and here for the Milford Daily News.