How good is the St. Mary’s High School girls basketball team?
Very good. Make that one-of-the-elite teams in-the-state level good.
Coach Jeff Newhall’s Lady Spartans beat one of the best teams in western Massachusetts, undefeated Sabis, 54-36, in the Spalding Hoop Classic last Thursday at the James Naismith Court on the campus of Springfield College.
After visiting the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, the St. Mary’s contingent made a stop in Fitchburg and bested St. Bernard’s High School, 56-38. The Lady Saint Bernards are the third-ranked team in central Massachusetts.
Nice road trip, especially for junior guard Sharell Sanders who picked up her second MVP trophy (she also earned top honors at the Boverini Tournament) of the season at the invitational tournament in Springfield. Sanders had 10 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, and six steals versus Sabis, a Springfield charter school and a Division 3 state finalist a year ago.
“Sharell played excellently,” said Newhall. “She’s the key for us, especially at the defensive end of the floor. Most of our team defense is built along the fact that she puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the ball and keeps people out of the middle of the floor.”
All junior guard Brianna Rudolph did was wow the crowd while contributing a career-high 25 points. Junior guard Jennie Mucciarone netted nine points.
Sabis has a win over Notre Dame Academy who had beaten defending Division 1 state champion Andover.
Newhall praised Spalding Hoop Classic officials, calling the invitational tournament “the best single game that I have had a team participate in during my 11 years as a head coach. I thought it was a professionally run tournament and they made every team and every player feel like they were professional players.”
The tournament committee gave backpacks and Hall of Fame tee shirts to each player and provided a post-game meal for the team.
The players also had the opportunity to watch the No. 1-rated player in the country, 6-feet-7-inch Mercedes Russell whose Springfield (Oregon) team handed Massachusetts No. 1 ranked Braintree its first loss of the season. Russell will be attending Tennessee.
In the win over St. Bernard’s, Mucciarone displayed her phenomenal shooting touch and finished with a game-high 22 points. Rudolph had another strong outing, tallying 18 points.
Emily Morris turned in strong performances versus Sabis and St. Bernard’s.
“Emily had some great games,” said Newhall. “She had nine rebounds in the second and third quarters against a big Sabis team and changed the way they were playing,” said Newhall. “At St. Bernard’s, Emily helped us build a four-point lead after one quarter into a 17-point lead at halftime. She’s continues to be an important player off the bench.”
Newhall also singled out the work of Jen Cook (5 points in the second quarter versus Sabis), Emily Doyle, and freshmen Gianna Moschella and Kayla Carter.
St. Mary’s clinched a state tournament berth with its win over the Saint Bernards.
“We’ve accomplished what we’ve wanted to do so far: success early on in the Catholic Central League, win the Boverini Tournament, and qualify for the State Tournament,” said Newhall. “Last year it took us until Feb. 15 to get into the State Tournament. To be able to do it almost a month earlier, I think it shows the improvement this team has made so far.”
After blitzing the best in western and central Massachusetts and downing four of the top 25 teams in the ESPN state rankings (Sabis, Lynn English, Coyle Cassidy, and Arlington Catholic), the St. Mary’s girls basketball team has a good chance to be playing at Tsongas Center, TD Garden, and the DCU Center in March.