BOSTON — The third time proved to be the charm for the St. Mary’s girls basketball team.
Catholic Central League rival Archbishop Williams defeated the Spartans twice during the regular season — both by double-digit margins. But the Spartans won the one that counted, defeating Williams, 62-59, in Wednesday’s Division 3 state semifinal at TD Garden.
Tied at 59 with 22.1 seconds to play, junior guard Olivia Matela swished the winning 3-pointer from the wing. Williams took the ball with 5.4 seconds to play but the Spartans denied the Bishops a final shot attempt.
“We just played great,” St. Mary’s coach Jeff Newhall said. “There was a certain degree and we talked about ‘how many times are you going to let them hit you before you actually hit them back?'”
Pam Gonzalez led St. Mary’s with 23 points. Gabby Torres scored 14 points and Matela added 12. Torres and Matela each netted four 3-pointers. The Spartans hit 10 3-pointers in the winning effort.
“We don’t have a ton of size,” Newhall said. “If you look at our lineup in the second half, Pam’s our tallest player. She’s really a guard. But we do have good, quality shooters.”
The win marks St. Mary’s first Division 3 Eastern Mass. title since 2014. St. Mary’s will play Hoosac for the state championship (TBA).
Jessica Knight (game-high 24 points) scored 4 of Williams’ first 6 points, leading the Bishops to a quick 6-1 edge two minutes in. Torres accounted for St. Mary’s first basket on a layup, and caught fire from there. Consecutive hoops from Gonzalez and Yirsy Queliz (7 points) made it a 10-7 Williams lead coming out of a St. Mary’s timeout. Then Torres hit back-to-back 3-pointers to help the Spartans carry a 20-14 lead the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter highlighted two different styles of attack. St. Mary’s continued to rely on its outside shots, while Williams drove to the basket and did the bulk of its scoring at the free throw line. Torres wowed the crowd with a 3 from the parking lot to put St. Mary’s ahead, 30-24, near the end of the half. But a 5-0 Williams run closed the gap to 30-29 at halftime.
After Matela started the second half with a 3, Williams made a run to regain the lead. Lexi Hansen capped the 9-2 rally with a 3-pointer, giving the Bishops a 38-35 edge midway through the third. Gonzalez shifted momentum back in St. Mary’s favor with the last 5 points of the period. The Spartans led, 46-42, heading into the fourth quarter.
It went down to the wire in the final period. Van Nguyen (3 points) picked the right time to make her mark by converting an and-one with 2:45 remaining. Nguyen’s freebie whittled Williams’ lead down to 55-54.
“During the season Van played predominantly two or three quarters of JV,” Newhall said. “I have to be honest, even in this game it took me two and a half quarters before I got the fortitude to put her in. She’s helped us. In a blowout loss three weeks ago against Fenwick we had no choice but to go to her. I think she gained some real valuable in-game experience that night.”
Williams answered with a bucket before Gonzalez sprinted down the floor and tied the game at 57-57 with her own and-one. With the game tied at 59-59, Matela sent St. Mary’s to the state championship game with her final long shot.
“Olivia’s our best shooter,” Newhall said. “That’s how you win basketball games. Hustle play to get the ball. Dribble, drive and the IQ play is to kick it to the corner. Olivia catches it, she’s ready, puts it up and it goes in.
“Olivia’s around 37, 38 percent for the season for 3. In that NBA, that’s good, never mind high school.”
Now it’s on to Division 3 West champion Hoosac.
“We have one more game,” Newhall said. “We have to go out there and we have to play the way we’ve been playing. It’s great basketball. It’s hard, fast and it’s a refuse to lose mentality. You can’t coach that. We’ve had it and we can’t lose it in the next 72 hours.”