Matela, Gonzalez stepped up to the challenge in St. Mary’s win

St. Mary's Olivia Matela shoots a 3-pointer over the heads of Williams' Jessica Knight, left, and Bridgette O'Reilly during Wednesday's game at TD Garden. (Item Photo by Spenser R. Hasak)

BOSTON — Olivia Matela’s game-winning 3-pointer with seconds remaining might not have been the way the St. Mary’s girls basketball team drew up its final play. But with a bid in Saturday’s Division 3 state championship game on the line, the junior guard was more than ready.

“I wanted the ball and I was waiting,” Matela said. “I saw Pam (Gonzalez) with the ball and I knew that this was my shot. I just had that mindset that I knew this was going in.”

And that’s exactly what happened.

Matela’s 3-pointer from the wing gave the Spartans a 3-point lead and eventually lifted them to a 62-59 win over Archbishop Williams in the Division 3 state semifinals Wednesday at TD Garden.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Matela, who scored 12 points, said. “I’m still in awe right now. I just keep smiling. I’m really happy. Obviously it’s not just me it’s the whole team effort. We are all just grateful for everything and just have the chance to be here.

“We have been practicing this whole week and I have been shooting pretty consistently,” Matela added. “I’m glad that it played out in the game the way I wanted it to.”

Flashback to a St. Mary’s timeout a few moments before the game-winner and the plan was a bit different. Spartans coach Jeff Newhall was hoping for Gonzalez to find Van Nguyen for two, but when the play didn’t pan out the way St. Mary’s hoped, Gonzalez had to think fast.

“(The original play) didn’t work and then in a ‘refuse to lose’ manner Pam goes and grabs the rebound,” Newhall said. “The one constant in this is I told Matela to stay in the corner. She was going to stay in there no matter what apparently because the play broke down and she never moved. Now we got the ball and she’s where she was on the previous play for that shot.”

After grabbing the rebound Gonzalez had no doubts about where she wanted to go with the ball next.

“I knew that I had to find Olivia,” Gonzalez said. “I knew I couldn’t go back up for a shot. I knew exactly where she was, exactly where she stands, so I passed her the ball and knew she would make it. I had faith in her and she had faith in herself.”

While Matela stepped up late in the game, Gonzalez also had been making a huge impact on defense guarding the Bishops leading scoring Jessica Knight (24 points).

“There’s a ton of different stories here,” Newhall said. “Obviously there’s Olivia making the shot. I thought the biggest thing was Pam covering Knight. She hurt us a few weeks ago at our place and she was well on her way to hurting us again.

“We just tried a faster lineup with five guards,” Newhall added. “I’m not sure how many points Knight had after that but it wasn’t as many. Pam is super athletic. For Pam it was a matter of will and really a refuse to lose. That senior mentality that you get to this point and you either have it or you don’t.”

Gonzalez credits her hard work on improving her game inside the paint as the reason she was able to step up on defense.

“Last year I played point guard and I think that Williams still thinks of me that way,” Gonzalez said. “But I practice and I play the post. I think that them assuming I’m a guard only hurt them. She only scored two points against me. Stopping her changed the whole game.”

For the Spartans, a win to move on to Saturday’s state final tastes a bit sweeter knowing they beat a Catholic Central League rival, especially after losing to Williams twice in the regular season.

“It’s a great feeling just because we play them in the regular season,” Gonzalez said. “They usually play very aggressive against us. I don’t want to talk bad about them but they usually talk bad about us. It was time for us to step up and show them what kind of team we are and how we came together. I think beating them was the best thing that has happened so far this season.”

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