WARE — Coming into Thursday evening’s home matchup against No. 7 Amherst, Aidyn Welsh was 13 points shy of a milestone, and Ware girls basketball coach Dan Orszulak wasn’t going to let her come up short.
“Welsh has put a lot of time in,” Orszulak said. “It happens in one night, and it’s a shame that it occurred during the pandemic instead of the gymnasium being filled with all of her classmates. Regardless, though, we’re fortunate that our athletic director, Thomas Shamgochian, worked hard to allow her parents and family members a chance to come.”
Following a 3-pointer along the wing to keep it a two-possession game through three periods, Welsh now only needed one point. However, nothing came easy for the senior to begin the fourth — especially with Daizany Mares (four points) guarding her.
With fewer than five minutes remaining in regulation, Olivia Vadnais (four points) and Chelsea Orszulak (two points) attempted a give-and-go to no avail. Moments after creating space from Mares, Vadnais located Welsh down low for a quick fadeaway that ultimately helped her surpass the 1,000th-career point mark.
“It’s definitely a weight off of your shoulders,” Welsh said. “This whole offseason, we’ve been asking ourselves if this moment was actually going to happen. I couldn’t be more thankful to be in a town where they support its athletes, an athletic director that stands behind us, and our whole school committee.
“I couldn’t be more thankful, and now we can just play basketball.”
Behind a team-high 14 points, Welsh became the 11th member in school history to achieve the milestone and first since Devin Slattery in 2019. She is also the first girl’s basketball player to hit the school marker since Jordan Halgas in 2018.
“Before the game, I talked to Slattery and Halgas, and they agreed that the feeling is going to be in your head all game,” Welsh said. “You have to get past it and play basketball. I couldn’t be more thankful to become the latest member because No. 9 and 10 are two of my closest friends.
“They both tried to give me advice to cool down, but I can’t say at the moment it worked. But it definitely played in my head.”
Despite the momentary in-game celebration, it wasn’t enough, as Amherst ultimately defeated Ware by a final score of 46-35 Thursday.
Following a last-second loss to No. 2 Chicopee earlier this week, the Hurricanes have now claimed two consecutive to improve their record to 8-1, while the Indians moved to 3-4 on the season.
“There was a lot of pressure coming into this game,” Orszulak said. “We wanted to make sure that this happened at home because how do you let it happen on the road? And some members of the team gave up their tickets so that she could invite more family members.
“It’s nice because it says a lot about her teammates and how much they support her. Now that the pressure is gone, we can concentrate on going out and getting better.”
With both teams struggling offensively halfway through the second, Vadnais took advantage by connecting with a striding Welsh to briefly push Ware ahead by seven. However, it was short-lived, as Delaney Macphetres recorded two of her game-high 18 points to cap off a 7-0 run for Amherst to even the score at 18-18 entering halftime.
Mayouri Yath was next with 12 points, while Petua Mukimba had five for the Hurricanes. Audrey Bowen (four) and Sara Hastie (three), for their parts, combined for seven points.
Despite the mini-break at halftime, both sides entered the second half in more of an offensive rhythm as Welsh and teammate Audrey LaValley (13 points) drained back-to-back hoops to help the Indians retake the lead. Before Ware could blink, though, Yath drained one of her three 3-pointers to keep the game close, with 4:50 remaining in the third.
“Amherst plays good defense,” Welsh said. “They shut my shot down every time I got the ball. Their hand was in my face each time as well. I feel like we couldn’t have all of our shots to fall. Audrey (LaValley) had a good performance tonight, but not all of our shots that would normally fall did tonight.”
In the end, a corner 3-pointer from Yath in the final minutes helped the Hurricanes come away victorious.
Ware will now prepare for its fourth game in seven days scheduled against those same Hurricanes on Monday, Feb. 15, at 7 p.m., while Amherst hits the road to face Baystate Academy on Saturday, Feb. 13, at noon.
“I thought we played hard on Monday and Wednesday night,” Orszulak said of his team’s effort. “And today, our effort didn’t seem to be in the same place. They were probably tired because we don’t have a lot of people. Hopefully, we can use a few days over the weekend to regroup because we have three more games next week.
“There are no complaints on our end because we’re fortunate enough even to be playing games. We would be OK if the league told us to play four games in a row because there are a lot of schools like Quaboag, Tantasqua, Belchertown, and Monson that aren’t playing.”