The St. Mary’s High School basketball team had 19 victories as the No. 1 seed heading into Saturday’s Division 3 North final, but Watertown denied the Spartans their twentieth with a tenacious defensive effort at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.
Watertown defeated St. Mary’s, 44-36, in a low-scoring battle, halting the Lynn school’s quest to continue on to the state semifinals for the third year in a row. St. Mary’s won the state title over Maynard in 2016 and lost the rematch in 2017.
The Spartans had advanced to the sectional final with a 74-65 victory over Bedford in the North semifinals. Junior guard Jalen Echevarria led the way with 19 points. Sophomore center Joseph Abate-Walsh had 15 points while senior captain Stephen Fama had 14 points, highlighted by a spectacular move and lay-in at the end of the third quarter.
St. Mary’s led Watertown, 11-10, at the half before the Raiders surged to a 21-11 lead in the third quarter. The Spartans closed the deficit to five points (21-16) on two free throws by Leo Pacheco and a three-point-play by Chibuikem Onwuogu.
St. Mary’s looked like it might overtake Watertown in the fourth quarter. Joshua Perez and Stephen Fama combined for five consecutive points to make it a one-point game. However, Watertown took control and built its lead to 36-29. The Spartans were not able to generate much offense in the final minutes.
Jalen Echevarria was the leading scorer for St. Mary’s with 15 points. It was evident that Watertown had scouted the dynamic, 5-foot-7-inch guard because he was chased and closely guarded from start to finish.
“The effort was there, but I think we just got tight in the big moment,” said Brown. “Some guys were playing in this moment for the first time. It’s a learning experience for the young kids. I feel bad for my two seniors [Stephen Fama and Onias Mirbel]. They’ve been part of a successful program the last four years and they gave it their all. We’ll learn from this game and try to get better for next season.”
Brown credited Watertown’s defensive effort that kept the pressure on St. Mary’s outside shooters.
“We didn’t get many open looks,” said Brown. “They did a good job defensively against us.”
Watertown coach Steve Harrington said defense was the key to his team’s success.
“Once we get focused like that and play it the right way, we’re hard to score against,” said Harrington. “I thought that was the difference. We really defended them well. They’re one of the best teams we’ve played this season. We’re in a good league like they are, so I think that helps. Playing a good team like that, we’ve been battle tested as well.”