PEABODY — Some teams are built to shine when the pressure’s on. The Bishop Fenwick girls basketball team certainly falls into that category.
Fenwick didn’t have its best of regular seasons this winter. The Crusaders finished at 11-9 and qualified for the state tournament on the last week of the regular season, needing a win in their final two games to earn a berth.
Now that they’re in the tournament, the No. 8 Crusaders are flourishing on a stage that’s familiar to them. Fenwick’s run in Division 3 North started with a 48-6 win over No. 9 East Boston in the first round. In the quarterfinal, the Crusaders pulled off an upset over a familiar foe with a 55-52 win over No. 1 St. Mary’s.
That gave the Crusaders a spot in Wednesday night’s Division 3 North semifinal against the No. 13 Stoneham Spartans.
Stoneham, 7-15, qualified for the tournament under the Sullivan Rule. Similar to Fenwick, the Spartans haven’t shied away from the pressure that comes with playing in the tournament. They pulled off upsets over No. 4 Greater Lawrence in the first round and No. 5 Manchester-Essex in the quarterfinal.
“They play tough, aggressive defense,” Fenwick coach Adam DeBaggis said of the Spartans. “Manchester-Essex looked like the better team but Stoneham played harder. I don’t think they’re going to care that we’re the higher seed. They play hard either way. The biggest thing is they play tough man to man defense.”
Although Stoneham doesn’t boast a winning record, Fenwick won’t take that into consideration.
“Come this time of the year, it’s not about records,” DeBaggis said. “It’s just one game. They play very hard and they’re a lot better than their record indicates.”
Unlike Saturday’s quarterfinal game against St. Mary’s, the Crusaders don’t have much familiarity with Stoneham. That makes preparation for Wednesday’s game, along with finishing opportunities, all the more important.
“They probably know very little about us and they won’t fear us,” DeBaggis said. “We played Manchester-Essex in the playoffs before. Maybe they would’ve had some fear against us. I don’t think Stoneham will fear us. I like games like this, where you don’t know much about your opponents. It comes down to whether or not the girls can finish where it matters. I think we’re both even in the sense that we don’t know a lot about each other.”
Working in Fenwick’s favor is the fact that the Crusaders are back to full health. Senior Fredi DeGuglielmo and junior Jaxson Nadeau returned to the team for the closing stretch of the regular season after battling injuries. DeGuglielmo missed a portion of the season with a foot injury while Nadeau missed 14 games as she recovered from a torn ACL.
“It definitely helped,” DeBaggis said. “We’ve had good timing this year. Jaxson came back, Fredi came back a week before Jaxson. We had a huge win against Masco towards the end of the season. We lost by five to St. Mary’s a couple weeks ago but that was a good game for us. We got healthy towards the end of the season and that helped us.”
It’ll also help Fenwick’s cause that a handful of its players have been part of deep tournament runs in recent seasons. The Crusaders went to the Division 3 North final last season. In 2015-2016, Fenwick won the Division 3 state championship.
Despite the experience, DeBaggis feels it always comes down to who’s playing a better game on the given night.
“Girls like Fredi and Jennie (Meagher) have been on the team for four years,” DeBaggis said. “They’ve been to three North finals. They’ve been to the TD Garden and won a state championship. I don’t think that matters as much. In big games, players can be nervous. I think it helps a little but it really comes down to who’s going to play best on that given night. We certainly have girls who’ve been in those moments before.
“Fredi and Jennie in particular have played 13 or 14 playoff games,” DeBaggis added. “That’s almost a full season.”
The keys for Fenwick against Stoneham will be playing strong defensively and knocking in open shots.
“We play at a higher speed than most teams do,” DeBaggis said. “Defense and making shots will be important. We’ve faltered at times when we haven’t hit shots and layups. If we can lock them up on defense, that helps us.”
Tip-off for Wednesday night’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Triton High.