coasts past the competition in Florida tourneyThe St. Mary’s High School girls basketball team had enjoyed the full Disney experience: trips to the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Universal Studios, and Animal Kingdom, a characters’ breakfast with Mickey and Donald and the crew, and Florida-like temperatures in the 70s.
But there was still one unfinished piece of business to take care of when Jeff Newhall’s Lady Spartans took to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex’s Jostens Center floor for the championship game of the KSA Classic Saturday afternoon.
What stood in the way of a perfect St. Mary’s sweep of the tournament was the Halifax High School Gryphons, the defending Nova Scotia provincial (state) champions led by a player from the Turkish national 16-under team.
The Gryphons played tenacious man-to-defense and looked like they might deny St. Mary’s not only the championship trophy but the prestige of returning to Massachusetts with a 4-0 record.
But the three seniors (Tori Faieta, Kirsten Ferrari, and Cassi Amenta) two freshmen (Jennie Mucciarone and Brianna Rudolph) in the starting lineup, super sixth player Ann-Marie Idusuyi and other reserves wouldn’t allow the trophy to go to their Canadian neighbors.
Faieta was simply terrific in the second half, scoring 18 of her 24 points as St. Mary’s pulled away to a convincing 54-37 victory over Halifax. Faieta, who also had 13 rebounds and blocked 11 shots, received the Tournament MVP medal at the post-game awards ceremony.
Ferrari was the true glue for the Lady Spartans in their three victories over St. Theresa of Ontario, Monticello, Kentucky, and ultimately in the fourth quarter of the championship game. Ferrari took the ball and the game in her own hands by dribbling past the Halifax defense for five of her game-high nine assists in the final eight minutes of play.
And then there was Cassi Amenta, whose 20-point, 10-rebound, 6-block performance (in 20 minutes) in the semifinals totally dismantled one of the better teams in western Kentucky where basketball is king. You can’t play the game of basketball better than Amenta did in the Spartans’ runaway 63-35 victory over Monticello.
The Disney tournament also represented the unveiling of St. Mary’s star-studded freshman class that without fear of exaggeration, may be the best in the state. Jennie Mucciarone had three 3-pointers in the semifinals and her outside shooting touch and superior ballhandling will soon draw comparisons to former Lynnfield star Shae Fitzpatrick (who went on to play at Brown).
Brianna Rudolph had 12 points in the semifinals and can run the floor, play tough defense, and finish off plays with the experience of an older player.
Freshman guard Sharell Sanders provided the most spectacular moment of the tournament. With St. Mary’s running out the clock and Halifax still closely guarding her, Sanders promptly dribbled the ball behind her back, through her legs – and buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
No wonder the Lady Spartans were dancing at the awards ceremony – and Anne-Marie Iduyusi gets the MVD (Dancer) nod there. The Spartans had defeated three very good high school teams while showing their class, sportsmanship, depth, and talent on a national stage.
Head coach Jeff Newhall, who was interviewed by ESPN after the title game, knew he had organized a special happening, a basketball tournament and an exciting experience the players will remember the rest of their lives.
“We certainly didn’t know what we were getting into in terms of playing in a national tournament,” said Newhall. “We played very well and the game against Halifax provided a real test for us. Not only did we have a great experience in Orlando and win a tournament, but I think we improved as a team. We not only got a great trip out of it, but I think we’re a better team leaving here than we were coming in.”