St. Mary’s girls hoops shifts its focus to Amesbury

St. Mary's coach Jeff Newhall leads a drill during practice. (Item Photo by Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — The St. Mary’s girls basketball team had plenty of reasons to feel proud after Tuesday’s win over rival Bishop Fenwick in the Division 3 North semifinal round. No. 4 St. Mary’s avenged last season’s tournament loss to the No. 8 Crusaders and, in the process, showed no shortage of heart and determination in the closing stages of the 53-52 win.

Now the challenge is turning the page on Fenwick and preparing for Saturday’s sectional final against Amesbury. Tip-off for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at UMass Lowell’s Tsongas Arena.

“We’ve been talking about Amesbury, the next game,” St. Mary’s coach Jeff Newhall said. “Once we got to Wednesday, the past few days have been about refocusing, working hard, talking about Amesbury and focusing on doing what we need to do to get the win.”

The Indians are the No. 2 seed in the bracket. They finished their regular season at 16-4 and defeated Bedford (49-37) and Lynnfield (65-50) en route to the sectional final. In Wednesday’s win over Lynnfield, Amesbury was led by Flannery O’Connor (22 points), Avery Hallinan (11 points) and Allison Napoli (11 points).

“We know they have two good players. O’Connor, who was the Cape Ann League Player of the Year, and Napoli. They have a great supporting cast. They have athletes and some younger kids. We played them earlier in the season (73-36 Spartans win in the Spartan Classic in February). They were coming off a tragic day. By no means do we think we’re going to see that same team.”

The Spartans survived a late Fenwick surge in Tuesday’s win. As expected, Pam Gonzalez brought her A-game to the floor and led St. Mary’s with 17 points. Key contributions from role players, a late 3-pointer from Ashley Sullivan and four free throws in the closing seconds from Gabby Torres, were crucial in the win.

“We’ve been a cohesive group,” Newhall said. “We’ve done a lot of stuff together. We’ve traveled to Florida, Cape Cod and Portsmouth (N.H.). We’ve had very limited issues. That’s sort of why we’re still alive. Everyone has a role on the team. The kids that were on the bench to start the game hit the free throws and the three to put us ahead. They’re a cohesive group. They understand their roles and the potential they may be called on.”

Newhall said the Spartans looked solid in practice leading up to Saturday.

“Thursday was a high-intensity, fast-paced practice,” Newhall said. “I thought had a good practice Friday. The atmosphere was pretty loose, which was good to see. They’re focused and they’re excited. You talk about how big the stage is what’s at stake but they’re kids. You don’t want them to think about anything more than Amesbury and a 32-minute game. They’re excited to play Saturday.

“It’s my hope that they go out and play well,” Newhall said. “If for some reason that’s not good enough, at least we can go out and say ‘we gave it our best shot.’ If we don’t we have regrets for a while. We don’t want to be in that position Saturday afternoon.”

The Spartans won’t look to do anything different against the Indians. St. Mary’s has brought a good level of energy through its tournament run and the on-the-go decisions have been another positive. They’ll rely on those two areas to help them earn the win.

“I think we need to continue to play the way we’ve been playing,” Newhall said. “We’ve played with more energy and the basketball decision making has improved. That doesn’t necessarily translate to points every time but those are two areas you can somewhat control. If you can do well in those categories you can play well. These are two things we’ve been focused on since the tournament started. It seems to be working for us and we’re sticking to it.”

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