Jalen Echevarria (left) drives to the basket for a lay-in during St. Mary's win on Thursday night. (Owen O'Rourke)

Spartans hold late Bedford rally, advance to sectional final

DANVERS — The St. Mary's boys basketball team didn't get out to an ideal start in last Thursday's Division 3 North quarterfinal at Newburyport. The Spartans made it a point to correct that and it paid dividends yesterday night.

No. 1 St. Mary's ran out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter of Thursday night's sectional semifinal against No. 4 Bedford and never looked back, en route to a 74-65 win at St. John's Prep.

St. Mary's featured eight different scorers, led by 19 points from Jalen Echevarria, 15 from Joseph Abate-Walsh and 14 from Stephen Fama. Inching in on 1,000 career points, Echevarria's now 39 points away from reaching the milestone.

"Last week we had two guys starting that don't normally start," St. Mary's coach Dave Brown said. "With Chip and and Joey on the floor we have a little more offensive power. We told the kids that we wanted to come out flying."

Lee Pacheco scored eight points off the bench, while Josh Perez and Chip Onwuogu each added seven.

"We were pretty balanced in scoring tonight," Brown said. "Jalen and Stephen had their fair share of points. Joey got in early foul trouble and then knocked down some important shots. When teams try to take away Jalen, guys know they can be comfortable out there and they're capable of scoring at all times. We've had different guys lead us in scoring all season."

Fama grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it into the net for the game's first basket. From there the Spartans ran out to an ideal start. Abate-Walsh hit a three-pointer, Fama swished a three-pointer and Perez added basket, giving St. Mary's a 10-3 lead three minutes into the game. Echevarria joined the scoresheet and the lead bumped to 18-5 with 3:05 to play, forcing the Buccaneers to take the game's first timeout. At the end of the first quarter, the Spartans led 22-12.

The shots started falling at a better rate for Bedford in the second quarter. The Buccaneers hit three three-pointers in the period but the closest they could get to St. Mary's was within eight points. Pacheco came off the bench and gave St. Mary's a pair of baskets. At halftime, the Spartans held a 40-29 advantage.

Bedford's Rahim Williams came alive for seven points in the third quarter. Fama swished a pair of free throws to give St. Mary's a 54-40 lead midway through the quarter. Fama took command in the final minute of the quarter, with a pair of lay-ins to give the Spartans a boost of momentum heading into the fourth. The senior guard beat the buzzer with a nifty move in the paint for a layup and the Spartans led 60-44 at the end of the third.

"We played nine guys tonight in a tough environment," Brown said. "Young guys like Marvens (Rosirus) and Frankie (Imbruglia) gave us good minutes off the bench. Stephen, we want the ball in his hands late in the game as well as Jalen. They were able to settle down and knock down some free throws."

Bedford didn't go down quietly in the fourth quarter. Panayiotes Kapanides knocked in a three-pointer from the top of the key to whittle St. Mary's lead down to 5 points, 69-64, with 1:45 remaining in the game. Echevarria hit a pair of freebies seconds later, fueling a 5-1 Spartans run to close the game.

"Bedford never quit," Brown said. "They made shot after shot. Everytime we went on a run they made shot after shot, they took charges. That's a well coached basketball team. They were under control. They did a good job running their sets and getting open looks for their shooters. I don't know how many charges they took but they did a tremendous job on defense against us."

With the 74-65 victory, St. Mary's sealed its spot in Saturday afternoon's (12:15) sectional final at UMass Lowell's Tsongas Center. The Spartans will meet No. 7 Watertown for the Division 3 North title and a bid in the state semis.

"We'll try to breakdown the film a little bit," Brown said. "We'll see what Watertown likes to do and we'll see if we can get ready for them."

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