LYNN — Another tough opponent awaits the St. Mary’s boys basketball team Wednesday night when the No. 1 Spartans will clash against No. 4 Bedford in the Division 3 North semifinal.
Bedford, 17-5, punched its ticket to the semifinal with a win over No. 13 Saugus in the first round and a victory over No. 5 Whittier in the quarterfinal this past Saturday.
“I’m very impressed with their scoring abilities,” Spartans coach Dave Brown said of the Buccaneers. “Their 2-guard has unlimited shooting abilities. They have a tall, athletic 4-man. He plays above the rim. They have a great player off the bench who scores very well. We’re going to have our hands full. They’re a good Division 3 team. They have a lot of experience in big games like we do.”
St. Mary’s, 18-3, earned a first-round bye and defeated Newburyport in last week’s quarterfinal. The Spartans struggled to find their rhythm in the early stages, falling behind 9-8 after the first quarter, but recovered in time for the 68-52 win over the No. 8 Clippers.
Jalen Echevarria, 58 points away from reaching 1,000 for his career, led the way with 24 points. Joey Abate-Walsh, returning from a late-season injury, scored 17 with 7 rebounds. Stephen Fama logged a double-double at 10 points and 11 assists.
St. Mary’s received a spark off the bench from Lee Pacheco. A 3-sport athlete who also plays football and baseball at St. Mary’s, Pacheco scored 10 points and grabbed 7 rebounds.
“We tell our kids to be ready when their numbers are called,” Brown said. “Lee made the first start of his career. He scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Frankie (Imbruglia) and Marvens (Rosirus) came off the bench and gave us quality minutes. If opponents take Joey and Jalen away, the other guys have to knock in shots. I know Stephen can hit them and Chip (Onwuogu) can knock them in the paint. That boosts our confidence. The open man has to knock in the shots.”
In order to slow down a Buccaneers team that likes to shoot the ball, the Spartans will need to hit their open shots. Another key for St. Mary’s in Wednesday’s game will be avoiding turnovers against Bedford’s pressure defense.
“I think we have to take care of the ball against their pressure, that’s the key for us,” Brown said. “We have to take care of the ball and avoid turnovers. We have to score. They have tremendous shooters that can put the ball in the basket. Hopefully we’re a little more healthy than we were in the first game, with Joey and Chip getting some rest.
“We have to take good shots,” Brown added. “We want to get the ball in Jalen and Joey’s hands as much as possible. We have guys that are capable. We run a balanced offense. As a coaching staff we have a lot of confidence in guys to put the ball in the basket. Hopefully the open man hits the open shot.”
The Spartans are no strangers to the grand stage that comes with making a deep state tournament in March. Two years ago, St. Mary’s won the Division 4 state championship with a win over Maynard in the final. Last season’s team went all the way to the Division 4 state final before falling short of a repeat in a loss to Maynard.
Brown has seen his team’s veterans, like senior Fama and junior Echevarria, take leadership in showing the younger players on the roster how to handle the high pressure situations that come with playing state tournament basketball.
“We have two or three guys that were instrumental to us getting to the state championship game last year,” Brown said. “Stephen and Jalen were on our state championship team two years ago. The rest of the guys are new to this. Every game is win or go home. There’s no giving 75 percent. You have to give your everything on every possession and the younger guys are understanding that. In order to advance, the top effort has to be there as well as the execution.”
Tip-off for Wednesday night’s game is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Lawrence High.