The St. Mary’s High School girls basketball team left little doubt that it was best-in-the-state caliber this season with a 74-36 victory over Hoosac Valley in the Division 3 state championship game Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester.
Coach Jeff Newhall and his staff couldn’t have been happier or prouder with the performance of their entire team against the Western Mass. champions who had lost only one game this season.
The Lady Spartans, fresh off their 47-45 TD Garden thriller with defending state champion Archbishop Williams, took control early against the Lady Hurricanes and unleashed their potent offense, tenacious defense, strong rebounding, and everything else to build an immense 40-point lead at one juncture.
Brianna Rudolph picked up where she left off after her 31-point tour-de-force performance at the Garden. Rudolph scored 10 straight first-quarter points on her way to a game-high 26. The 5-feet-8-inch senior was Lady Jordan-esque throughout the State Tournament.
The other members of the Big Three, seniors Sharell Sanders and Jennie Mucciarone, made their presence known in claiming the program’s second state title in four years.
Sanders had 13 points, including a three-pointer in the first quarter that basically said to the opponents: “If you leave me alone, I will make you pay.”
After picking up three first-half fouls, Mucciarone returned to the court for quarter No. 3 and scored six points overall while dishing out four assists, a couple of the spectacular variety following crisp crossover dribbles.
Junior guard Sophia Holmes contributed valuable minutes off the bench and scored one basket.
“I thought Sophia came in the second quarter and she played eight minutes and we built the lead,” said coach Newhall. “I thought that was a key spot for us for someone to come off the bench. That was a big stretch.”
Sophomore Gianna Moschella, who returned to a starting role following ACL surgery, was a force in the Spartans’ 29-point outburst in the third quarter, scoring 12 points on five hoops and 2-of-2 from the line. She finished with 14 points. Moschella looms as a star in the future.
“I didn’t know I had it in me honestly,” said Moschella. “I just set out to do one thing. I tried to play my heart out. I was aggressive and I wanted it. I owe it to the assists. Jennie had so many assists. Once I saw the opportunity where there was no one [defender] on the court, I knew I had to get to that spot and make that layup. I wanted to play for the seniors so I looked at it like it was my last game ever and I wanted to make everyone proud.”
Kayla Carter, whose improvement this season was stellar and a major factor in the team’s 24-2 campaign, had 10 points and was also 2-for-2 from the line.
Freshman center Temitayo Falayi had one free throw while freshman guard Mia Nowicki scored two points.
After the game, Jeff Newhall was enveloped by reporters in the DCU press room, telling the assemblage that his team accomplished a goal it had set at the start of the 2013-14 season.
“We finished what we set out to do and it was little anti-climactic at the end but I think we took their hearts in the third quarter with that run to start the half,” said Newhall.
The St. Mary’s coach felt his team played one of its best games of the season in the state final but added that the progression toward this goal was steady and the overall effort in the post season was outstanding.
“We’ve been progressing and playing well the whole year,” said Newhall. “We definitely played excellent today. I also think that the league [Catholic Central] we play in prepares us for games like this. We beat one of our league teams in the semifinals of the North and we beat one of our league teams in the Eastern Mass. finals. We have been challenged all year and that’s the reason we were ready today.”
Rudolph, who has learned that she was named to the Boston Globe All-Scholastic Team and the Boston Herald Dream Team, was excited to be a part of a state championship team for the second time in her sensational career.
“I feel great that we just won a state title for the second time in four years – it’s a great accomplishment,” said Rudolph. “I felt like today we came out and played together. Everyone was scoring and the people on the bench, Sophia, Temitayo, and Mia all contributed. This being my last game I wanted to go out with no regrets, no would haves. I felt after that win at the Garden anything was possible. I felt the state title was ours to have and everybody came with that same energy.”
Sanders, the dynamic point guard who’s heading to Caldwell College in New Jersey, said the feeling among the players was that the state title would be the perfect way to end this season and the seniors’ careers.
“My feeling was that I can’t leave high school without another state championship so we knew that we had to go in and give it our all and if we play the way we play all the time, we’ll win the state championship,” said Sanders.
From Disney to DCU, the Spartans were champions once again.