ITEM PHOTO BY KATIE MORRISON
Stephen Fama finishes a steal with a layup on the final play of the game in the Spartans’ win on Monday night.
By MIKE ALONGI
LYNN — St. Mary’s sophomore Jalen Echevarria didn’t have the best shooting game on Monday night, but he rose to the occasion in the closing minutes, hitting the game-winning basket with five seconds left in overtime to seal a 59-55 win over Cathedral High School in a rematch of last year’s Division 4 EMass title game at TD Garden.
“He’s got ice in his veins, he lives for those big moments,” St. Mary’s coach Dave Brown said of Echevarria. “He’s improved tremendously over the offseason, and it’s showing. We all know this kid is the real deal, and he’s been on the varsity team since he was in eighth grade for a reason. He’s got heart, and everyone in the city of Lynn has known that since he was five or six years old.”
Echevarria finished the game with seven points and three rebounds, but his real impact came on the defensive end of the floor. Senior point guard Jonny Mercado finished with 15 points despite battling a bad ankle, while senior forward Jonathan Mola just missed a double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds. Junior guard Stephen Fama had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds and senior guard Mike Cerulli finished with seven points and six rebounds.
Brown pointed to Mola and Fama as keys to the win, citing their ability to use their size to their advantage.
“Stephen is an effort guy, he gives 100 percent effort every time he’s on the floor,” said Brown. “He’s always coming up with loose balls and rebounds, and he was able to fight and do that tonight. Jonathan was able to use his size in the post tonight, and him knocking down that mid-range jumper was huge for us.”
If you had walked into the gym without knowing it was early January, you would have sworn you were watching a tournament game in March. Both teams were flying all over the court, forcing steals and tipping passes and making every single shot difficult on both sides. It was just a two-point game at halftime, with Cathedral holding the slim 27-25 advantage.
The Spartans were finally able to grab the lead with about three minutes left in the third quarter, their first lead since going up 2-0 to open the game. It didn’t last long, however, as Cathedral ended the third with a 40-39 lead.
The fourth quarter, and overtime, belonged to St. Mary’s. The Spartans began to move the ball better on offense and kept up their hard work on defense. They were up 46-45 late in the fourth until a Cathedral three-pointer made it 48-45 with 1:31 left.
Then, down 50-48 with 19.2 seconds left, the Spartans held the ball for the final shot and a chance to win or tie. Mercado went up for a layup and missed, but Fama was right there waiting and grabbed the rebound and put it in with six seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Once in overtime, both defenses locked down. After five quick points from both teams, the score remained 55-55 for the final three minutes of the game.
Cathedral had a chance with less than 20 seconds left to get the go-ahead basket, and they put the ball in the hands of their best player, senior Calvin Cheek (21 points, five rebounds). He drove into the lane to try and draw a foul, but Echevarria swooped in and knocked the ball loose for the steal and took it all the way, giving the Spartans a 57-55 lead with 4.5 seconds remaining. Cathedral made one final attempt to score, but Fama came up with another steal and hit a basket as time expired to give the Spartans the win.
“The guys played their guts out in this one, it was impressive,” Brown said. “We knew we’d be in for an incredibly tough game, and that’s what we got. But we don’t win games on offense, we win them on defense. And our defense was able to keep us in the game and we were able to make the plays to win at the end when we needed them. Great win for us in the [Catholic Central] League.”
St. Mary’s will be back in action on Saturday against Fontbonne Academy.