LOWELL — Pam Gonzalez watched as two of her most vital teammates were carried off the Paul E. Tsongas Arena basketball floor Saturday — within about five minutes of each other.
Both Nicolette D’Itria and Gabriella Torres had contributed to what was, at that point, a fairly comfortable lead. But if that lead was to stay comfortable, if the St. Mary’s girls were going to avoid a heart-stopping final five minutes to its Division 3 North title game, Gonzalez would pretty much have to take over.
She did. And she knew she had to.
“That actually went through my mind,” said Gonzalez, a senior, who is most definitely the leader of the Spartans.
She did what was needed. She scored (20 points). She rebounded (12). She played defense (5 steals) and she set up her teammates (3 assists). And the Spartans beat Amesbury to win the game, 59-48, to advance to the state semifinal, which will be played Wednesday (2) at the TD Garden between St. Mary’s and Archbishop Williams.
Gonzalez didn’t have to look too far to find the proper motivation.
“My teammates, they are very important to me,” said Gonzalez, who transferred into St. Mary’s last season from Revere High. “Anything I can do for them, I will.”
Coach Jeff Newhall calls Gonzalez one of the best players, in terms of temperament, he’s coached. If anything, he said, she may be a little too laid back.
But when the time came to be assertive, Gonzalez was there.
“(Torres and D’Itria) play,” she said. “We have to play for them. We wanted it.”
She said that practices helped bond the team.
“Throughout our practices and games this season, we built a chemistry that a lot of teams don’t have,” she said. “We know where everyone is, we know who to look for.
“All of my teammates, since the beginning of the year, have worked hard and have improved,” she said.
Helping Gonzalez shoulder the load was junior forward Jannise Avelino, who was a force on the floor in all those areas that don’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet. She did pull down 11 rebounds and block two shots. But that only told half the story. Aside from her 12 points, she altered a ton of Amesbury’s shots. The Indians’ Flannery O’Connor, the Cape Ann League Baker Division’s MVP, finished the game with 18 points, but could have had more were it not for the number of her shots Avelino contested.
“We needed to go out there and play for their sake,” said Avelino, referring to her two fallen teammates.
St. Mary’s has an even bigger test than the Indians, who were seeded second in Division 3 North (St. Mary’s was fourth). Wednesday, the Spartans will play Williams, a perennial thorn in their side (this year, the Bishops swept the season series).
Avelino doesn’t think the Spartans will be affected by any slack-jawed awe that comes from playing on the same floor as Kyrie Irving.
“I feel that when it comes to us,” she said, “it doesn’t’ matter where we play. We just have to go out and take care of business.”
“I’m very grateful to be playing at the Garden,” said Gonzalez. “We just need to go in there and play as hard as we can.”