Fenwick finds its stride in time to defeat Austin Prep

Fenwick's Annie Murphy (right) scored 14 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in Tuesday's win. (Owen O'Rourke)

DANVERS — The No. 8 Crusaders may not have started strong, but they found their stride at just the right time in the fourth quarter to cruise to a 45-25 win over No. 9 Austin Prep in the first round of the Division 3 North state tournament Tuesday night at St. John’s Prep.

The Cougars found lightning in a bottle and scored six unanswered points in a 35-second span to close out the third quarter and pull to within seven, 26-19, going into the final quarter.

But the fourth quarter belonged to the defending North champion Crusaders. With 4:10 to go in the game, it was still a nine-point game at 31-22, Fenwick, but the Crusaders went on a 10-0 run and it was lights out for their Catholic Conference League rivals.

Sophomore Annie Murphy dominated the paint at both ends of the court, finishing with yet another double-double with 14 points, 15 rebounds (eight off the offensive glass), three blocked shots, two assists and two steals.

Senior captain Sammi Gallant (12 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) struggled in the early going finding her shot, but she, and fellow senior captain Olivia DiPietro (7 points, 3 rebounds) provided a spark in the fourth quarter when the Crusaders needed it most.

“Early tonight I think we were nervous, a bit frazzled, but we managed to pick it up in the second,” said Fenwick coach Adam DeBaggis. “Sammi is just Sammi and did what she has done all these years and that is finding a way to hit a big shot, like she did in the Bedford final last year, when we need it most.

“She and Olivia are both playing hurt, and Olivia is still swollen and black and blue, but she just gutted it out particularly late in the game tonight.”

With 11 combined turnovers, the first quarter wasn’t pretty for either team, which ended with Fenwick leading 8-3.
Both teams picked up the pace in a back-and-forth second quarter as the Crusaders stretched their lead to nine, 21-12, on a DiPietro buzzer-beating bucket (from Gallant).

Sophomore Liz Gonzalez (7 points, 11 rebounds) opened the second half with a 3-pointer to stretch the lead to 24-12. After a Prep free throw, a DiPietro hoop gave the Crusaders their largest lead at 13, 26-13, with about three minutes left to play in the third.

With one minute left, the Cougars threw up three prayers, and made three prayers, to get back in the game, trailing by only seven, 26-19 with one quarter to go.

Enter Gallant, DiPietro and Murphy. A Murphy offensive board and putback followed and  bucket and two free throws by Gallant (sandwiched around a Prep free throw) bumped the lead to 31-20.  Two Cougar free throws got the lead back into single digits at 31-22, but that was as close as they came the rest of the way.

Elizabeth Pica (5 points, 7 rebounds) also contributed for Fenwick.

With the win, the Crusaders advance to a quarterfinal contest Friday at 7 p.m. at theNo. 1 Latin Academy Dragons.
“They have a good mix of talent, some size, and some speed from what I saw last week,” said DeBaggis of the Dragons. “But I’ve learned to not care about records as we are a good team. We are trying to get better each day and peak at the right moment. That’s always been the goal.”

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