Rubber match between St. Mary’s, Fenwick goes to Spartans

Fenwick's Sammi Gallant (left) dribbles against the defense of St. Mary's Pam Gonzalez (right) during Tuesday's game. (Item Photo by Owen O'Rourke)

WOBURN — Everyone that walked into Woburn High’s Carl J. Torrice Gymnasium for Tuesday’s Division 3 North semifinal between the No. 8 Fenwick and No. 4 St. Mary’s girls basketball teams knew it would go down to the wire. It literally came down to the last shot.

With a pair of free throws, Gabby Torres gave the Spartans a 3-point lead with 4.0 seconds to play. Fenwick’s Sammi Gallant raced down the court and hit a buzzer beater, but it was a 2-point shot and the Spartans escaped with the 53-52 win.

“I thought they were playing to win,” St. Mary’s coach Jeff Newhall said. “They were playing to win as opposed to playing afraid to lose. There’s a huge difference. The last time we played them (44-33 Fenwick win) we were playing passive and afraid to lose. We made some mistakes but we overcame all our mistakes to just have one more point.”

Fenwick coach Adam DeBaggis wasn’t surprised it went down to the final seconds.

“Everyone knew it,” DeBaggis said. “We were a little worried when we were down 12-0. It just came down to made shots, made free throws. We’ve always been a team that fouls a little silly. That showed up in the fourth quarter. We put them on the line a little too much and that was the difference more than any one shot.”

Gallant led all scorers with 25 points. She shot 9-of-10 from the free throw line and 7-of-14 from the field.

“St. Mary’s knew they had to come in here and stop Sammi and they still couldn’t do it,” DeBaggis said. “You can only hope to contain her. She played awesome.”

Pam Gonzalez led St. Mary’s with 17 points.

The Spartans jumped out to a quick start. Jannise Avelino (7 points) swished a pair of free throws and Olivia Matela (9 points) added a 3-pointer. After Nicolette D’Itria’s (6 points) layup, Pam Gonzalez swished a basket and a 3-pointer, and the Spartans led 12-0. Liz Gonzalez (8 points) put Fenwick on the scoreboard with a hard-earned layup with a minute left in the quarter. The Crusaders trailed 14-6 heading into the second quarter.

Fenwick’s momentum carried over. Consecutive baskets from Finola Corcoran and Annie Murphy (10 points, 11 rebounds) made it a 14-10 game. Matela gave the Spartans breathing room with a 3-pointer, boosting the lead to 17-10. Murphy capped the half with a pair of layups and Fenwick trailed 24-20 at recess.

On three occasions, Fenwick whittled St. Mary’s lead down to a point in the third quarter. But it wasn’t until Olivia DiPietro (5 points) netted a layup with 40 seconds remaining that Fenwick took its first lead of the game at 36-35. After Pam Gonzalez tied at 36-36 with a free throw, Fenwick sealed the quarter with a basket. And as expected, it was a one possession game, 38-36 Fenwick, going into the fourth quarter.

It was only fitting that it went down to the wire. D’Itria gave the Spartans a 51-48 lead with a 3-pointer and Gallant tied it on the next possession with a three of her own. Gallant hit a pair of freebies to put Fenwick ahead 50-49. That’s how it stayed until Torres (5 points) gave the Spartans a 51-50 edge on her free throws with 31.8 seconds left. Torres added two more freebies with 4.0 seconds remaining before Gallant ended the game with her jumpshot.

“There’s a lot of stories of resiliency in this game,” Newhall said. “Gabby didn’t hit a shot but she hit those four free throws under pressure. You can’t coach that. You either have that in your veins or you don’t.”

St. Mary’s advances to Saturday’s (TBA) sectional final at Tsongas Arena against the winner of No. 6 Lynnfield/No. 2 Amesbury.

“We beat Fenwick,” Newhall said. “It was a rivalry game. This is the type of game and atmosphere for why you play high school athletics. Now the challenge for me is to get them ready to play Saturday.”

Fenwick closes the season at 13-10.

“I’m proud of these kids,” DeBaggis said. “They work hard. They make my life better. I’m proud of them.”

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