Spartans shift focus to TD Garden, Archbishop Williams

Ashley Sullivan dribbles the basketball during Tuesday's practice. (Item Photo by Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — A good mix of chemistry and hard work behind the scenes has been key in helping the St. Mary’s girls basketball team put together a run to the Division 3 state semifinals.

“Communication and bonding off the court has been important for us,” said senior guard Ashley Sullivan. “We’re a close group and we all hang out off the court. That helps our communication on the court. We know when to push it, not joke around, be serious and work hard.”

The Spartans have devoted a big portion of that work to their conditioning and defense- and it has paid dividends in the playoffs.

“Throughout the season we’ve been able to get better on defense,” senior guard Pam Gonzalez said. “We’ve done a lot of drills to help that part of our game. Conditioning has been important as well. At first we weren’t as well conditioned as we wanted to be but now we’ve become a very fast team. Things are more fast paced and the game just becomes a little bit easier once you get that.”

Now the Spartans shift their focus to TD Garden, where they’ll take on Catholic Central League rival Archbishop Williams Wednesday (2). The atmosphere can be intimidating but in St. Mary’s case it has helped the team stay focused on the task at hand.

“Once we’re there I think it’s really going to hit us,” junior guard Gabby Torres said. “We’re all excited thinking about going to the Garden. We’re just excited to be here. But I think it has made it easier to focus. It’s such a big game and we need to do really well. We’ve just been focused and using that motivation. Everyday we are just coming in and producing.”

“I think that everyone’s obviously nervous but it has only brought us together,” Gonzalez said. “We know we accomplished this together. We’re having fun with the game right now and that also helps in preparing to go there.”

After losing to the Bishops twice during the regular season, the Spartans and coach Jeff Newhall know they have their work cut out for them.

“Archbishop Williams is like the UConn of our division,” Newhall said. “Seven straight sectionals and I think they have won five of the last eight state titles. They’ve won five, we’ve won two and Fenwick has won one so it has been a CCL-dominant situation.

“We know what they’re going to do and they know what we’re going to do,” Newhall added. “I would anticipate that we’ll have every opportunity to be in this game and be able to win this game.”

With confidence in their ability to compete with the Bishops, the Spartans are eager for a chance to prove themselves.

“The last two times we have played them we just had really bad games,” Gonzalez said. “There’s no explanation for it but I think going into the game we know what they can do and they know us and the better team is going to win.”

“We’re completely focused on playing Archbishop Williams right now and from their perspective it’s hard to beat a team three times like that,” Sullivan said. “We know how they play and we’re trying to take care of what we can control.”

St. Mary’s will have to continue shooting the ball well in order to open up other opportunities on offense, Newhall said.

“We don’t have a ton of height,” Newhall said. “We have to hit some shots to open things up. The last two games we hit some shots and that opened up some things. We were able to get to the hoop. The other day we were 8-for-14 shooting 3-pointers. That enabled us to get to the hoop and then we were 17-for-20 from the line.”

But, more than anything, Newhall wants his Spartans to continue to play with the high energy that got them to this point.

“We’re not changing too much,” Newhall said. “We’ve had good success here and I’m a fan of doing what got us here. Many years ago we got to this point and tried to change too much. You learn from those things. We’ve been playing with high energy. We’ve been playing good basketball and hopefully we go in and replicate that Wednesday.”

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