Joseph Abate-Walsh scored 16 points in Monday's win. (Item File Photo)

Spartans prepare for a battle with Watertown

LYNN -- From the outside looking in, it might've seemed natural to foresee challenges along the way for the St. Mary's boys basketball team when the Spartans were moved up from Division 4 to Division 3 this past offseason. But if there's any team that can stare at a challenge without backing down, it's the Spartans.

So far, so good for St. Mary's in their return Division 3 North. The No. 1 Spartans took care of business in the quarterfinal against No. 8 Newburyport with a 68-52 win after shaking a sluggish start. Thursday night, they bounced No. 4 Bedford from the postseason with a 74-65 win in the semifinal.

Now the Spartans shift their attention to this afternoon's (12:15) Division 3 North final against No. 7 Watertown at UMass Lowell's Tsongas Center. The last time St. Mary's appeared in the Division 3 North final was 30 years ago in 1988, when current Spartans coach Dave Brown wore the blue and yellow uniform.

"Watertown has a very good coach (Steve Harrington) and a very successful program over the past 10-15 years," Brown said. "They're used to winning. They have a couple very good players, three of their starters are sort of role players but they can all play. Their point guard runs the offense well. They don't play that many guys so hopefully we can get them in a little bit of foul trouble."

The Raiders defeated No. 10 Essex Tech in the first round, No. 2 Lynnfield in the quarterfinal and No. 6 Pentucket in the semifinal. With a pair of upsets in Watertown's resume, Brown expects the Raiders will come ready to play.

"They're a Division 3 powerhouse," Brown said. "They know once you get into the state tournament all the records get thrown out the window. They played two games on the road and they won them both handily."

Offensively, the Spartans will aim to limit their turnovers and keep their go-to scorers out of foul trouble. The bright side for St. Mary's in Thursday's win is the Spartans featured three different double-digit scorers in Jalen Echevarria (19 points), Joey Abate-Walsh (15) and Stephen Fama (14, 10 rebounds). But turnovers limited the Spartans from boosting their lead over Bedford throughout the night.

"After watching film from Thursday night's game, we have to keep our turnovers down," Brown said. "We didn't get as many shots at the basket as wanted to. We have to keep the guys we need on the floor. Joey got in a little bit of foul trouble so we have to limit the fouls and keep turnovers down."

Brown also hopes that a strong contingent of Spartans fans will make the trip to Lowell, as there was plenty of St. Mary's support in the stands Thursday night.

"I have to give a big shout out to the St. Mary's student fan base," Brown said. "Support like that in a big tournament game goes a long way. If we don't have their support, we might not have gotten that victory. Not only them, but also my family members and former players. It's always nice to see them come out and support the program. That goes a long way in a tight game."

Defensively, the Spartans stressed communication in Friday's practice as they prepared for this afternoon's game.

"We have to do a better job communicating," Brown said. "We allowed too much penetration into the paint. Our communication on defense hasn't been as a good as it was at the beginning of the season. Every team relies on certain players and if you can take away their main scorers that makes other guys beat you.

"When you get to this point it just comes down to who executes better," Brown added. "Hopefully we can execute and defend, and that'll give us a chance to win the game."

The winner of today's game advances to Tuesday's (4) state semifinal at TD Garden against the Burke, the South sectional champion.

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