WORCESTER — The St. Mary’s girls basketball season came to a disappointing end Saturday with the Spartans falling short of a state championship 66-49 against a strong Hoosac team in the Division 3 state final at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Harrington Auditorium.
After battling to last-second wins in two of their last three games (Archbishop Williams and Bishop Fenwick) the Spartans just didn’t have enough against a Hoosac team that hit eight 3-pointers and forced St. Mary’s into some uncharacteristic mistakes.
“It was just that we did some stuff, some mistakes we hadn’t made all year,” St. Mary’s coach Jeff Newhall said. “We fouled four people shooting 3-pointers. We haven’t fouled one all year. Just going back to the physical and emotional toll that a run like this and playing a couple buzzer-beaters in the last 10 days we clearly didn’t have enough to match what they had today.”
Pam Gonzalez once again did the bulk of the scoring for St. Mary’s with a team-high 16 points and 12 rebounds. Eighth grader Yirsy Queliz (12 points) also hit some key shots while Jannise Avelino (6 points, 8 rebounds) played well.
But overall the Spartans just had trouble matching up with the Hurricanes, who were led by Alexandria Mercier (21 points) and Alison Mendel (13).
“We got to this point because of Pam,” Newhall said. “But I thought she was a little tentative early on.
“It certainly was a tough matchup because Jannise has been playing well but they kind of had five guards,” Newhall said “We were worried about Mercier and Mendel but then other kids start hitting shots. Riley Robinson is a good player, Annabelle Canales hit a three, Averie McGrath hit a three so now you have to come out and worry about other shooters.”
Both teams went back and forth with plenty of offense in the first quarter. Avelino grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds and netted a basket while Queliz hit a 3-pointer to get the Spartans started. But Hoosac hung tight with St. Mary’s thanks to a three from Robinson.
Late in the first, Gonzalez converted a huge conventional 3-pointer to give the Spartans a 3-point lead, but Mercier responded with a trey to tie things up. The Hurricanes’ senior then hit two more threes, including a key shot on Hoosac’s final possession to tie things up at 20-20 before the second quarter.
“Late first quarter and very early second, we were in attack mode,” Newhall said. “Then for the last six minutes of the second and the first four of the third we were kind of being tentative and waiting for something to happen. That’s kind of where the game got away.”
Van Nguyen got the Spartans started in the second with a quick layup, but it was all Hoosac from there. The Hurricanes went on a 9-0 run highlighted by seven points from McGrath to grab a seven-point lead. St. Mary’s kept pace from there but Canales came into the game for Hoosac’s final possession and hit a key 3-pointer to extend the Hurricanes lead to 39-28 at half.
Gonzalez dominated the paint to start the second half, scoring seven points by the midpoint of the third quarter to try to will St. Mary’s back into the game. But Mercier helped Hoosac match Gonzalez point for point, getting fouled beyond the arc and making all three free throws. Mercier continued her dominate shooting performance and added a 3-pointer a few possessions later to push the hurricanes lead to 55-37.
Late in the fourth quarter and facing an 19-point hole the Spartans put together a small run. Christina Nowicki and Nicolette D’Itria hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Olivia Matela hauled in a steal and hit a free throw to cut Hoosac’s lead to 12. But with the Hurricanes in the bonus and Mercier shooting perfect at the line it was too little too late for the Spartans to complete a comeback.
While the Spartans didn’t finish the season the way they would have hoped, St. Mary’s has plenty to be proud of after proving once again they’re one of the state’s best girls basketball programs.
“I’m proud of them,” Newhall said “I’m proud of St. Mary’s and I’m proud of our basketball program. I think when you start talking about elite girls basketball programs in the state, I would think the name St. Mary’s would come up whether we won or lost today.”