LYNN — You don’t need to remind the St. Mary’s girls basketball team of how its season ended a year ago. With another shot at Catholic Central League rival Fenwick in Tuesday night’s Division 3 North semifinal, the No. 4 Spartans have a chance to avenge last season’s quarterfinal round loss to the Crusaders.
“Ever year when the season begins we kind of assume we’re going to play them three times,” St. Mary’s coach Jeff Newhall said. “Last year’s loss was motivation for the summer and the fall to work harder and make sure we didn’t get the same result. Now that we’ve played 25 games and there’s 16 teams left in the state, we kind of assumed we’d play them again and here we are. Anytime St. Mary’s and Fenwick get together, you’re going to get high intensity and max effort out of both teams.
“Our league is very strong,” Newhall said. “If you look at the (Division 3) state champions in the past 10 years, with the exception of one I think (the CCL) has had nine of them. I think last year we were the two best teams and we had to play in the first game. One of us had to go home in the first round. Now that we’re in the semifinal round I’m not surprised we’re there and I’m not surprised they’re there. On the other side of the bracket, there’s two good other teams in Amesbury and Lynnfield. This is just one game on the way to the North final for whoever’s the winner.”
St. Mary’s looked fluid and ready in Friday’s quarterfinal round win over No. 12 Watertown, a 62-32 victory. Pam Gonzalez and eighth-grader Yirsy Queliz scored 14 points each for St. Mary’s, who worked a stifling defense in forcing Watertown into a flurry of turnovers. Nicolette D’Itria scored nine points and hauled in four rebounds, while Gabby Torres scored seven points with three rebounds.
“When we play well I think we’re a pretty good team,” Newhall said. “We have a tendency from time to time when the intensity isn’t great and we’re not making shots. Watertown’s a young team and I’m not sure they were ready for the pace of play. We kind of came out flying and ended it right away. We lost three in a row toward the end of the year which was kind of concerning. Since then we’ve won three in a row (Saugus, Amesbury, Watertown) and we’re playing with a renewed sense of energy. We’re hoping to carry that into Tuesday.”
Newhall expects Tuesday’s game will be much closer. The Crusaders are the No. 8 seed in the bracket but they defeated No. 1 seed Latin Academy last Friday (on the road in come-from-behind win) and are playing some of their best basketball at the right time.
“We’ve played each other five times in the past two years,” Newhall said. “We have one double-digit win, they have one double-digit win. The other three games were either final-possession games or went to overtime. I would expect a 32-minute or more game Tuesday.”
Newhall highlighted St. Mary’s keys to victory.
“I think on offense we have to shoot the ball better than we did when we last played them,” Newhall said. “We shot 9-for-48 from the floor. They’re a good team. They’re scrappy, they know how to win, they know how to prepare to win. They have the league MVP (Sammi Gallant) on their side. She’s been a solid player for them and a thorn in our side. We have to try to limit her, you can’t stop her. On offense we have to get into a flow for the game which we didn’t do last time.”
It’s no surprise the Spartans are in the middle of the conversation in Division 3 North. Entering this week, St. Mary’s was one of just four schools in Massachusetts with four teams (boys and girls basketball, boys and girls hockey) still in the hunt in their respective state tournaments.
“I think there’s always a competitive feel in the school to be one of the teams that continue to move on,” Newhall said. “In the fall, the golf team won the state championship, the boys soccer team made the state final and the football team made the state final. We had four teams coming into the week and we lost one Sunday, and it took a five-round shootout to beat them. Credit to all the kids and the coaches. The fan support from the alumni and the city of Lynn has been great.”
Tip-off for Tuesday night’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Woburn High.