Jeff Newhall has led his St. Mary’s teams to two state titles, taken Marblehead to the brink of a third, won a tournament at Disney and several Boverinis, and produced a string of victories over the most elite programs in any division.
So when Newhall calls Tuesday’s night’s dramatic 53-52 victory over Bishop Fenwick “the next best victory we’ve ever had,” it means a lot.
The game immediately enters the category of instant classic. St. Mary’s and Fenwick are league and post-season rivals and their meetings of late have been down-to-the-wire affairs. Both student bodies and fans turned out in large numbers to support their lady hoopsters.
There were many clutch baskets. Ashley Sullivan and Nicolette D’Itria (6 points) each had huge three-pointers, with Sullivan’s downtowner launching as the shot clock neared zero.
Pamela Gonzalez likely locked up All-Scholastic honors with a team-high 17-point performance. Olivia Matela (9 points on three 3-pointers) and Jannise Avellino (7 points) helped St. Mary’s bolt to a 12-0 advantage. Yirsy Queliz (6 points) showed that she’s ready for prime time right now.
In the end, Gabby Torres was the clutchest of all, hitting four free throws in the final 31 seconds to provide the margin of victory. The Spartans made their free throws count, shooting 17-of-23 from the line.
The Spartans needed every one of Torres’ tosses because Fenwick star Sammi Gallant (25 points) hit a basket that many thought was a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer. But referee Julie Ruane was on top of the play, immediately signaling that the basket was a two-pointer, setting off a Spartans’ celebration.
“I really have to commend the officials,” said Newhall. “People that question why there’s three officials in the State Tournament, that’s why. Because if there weren’t a third person here, that has to be a three-pointer and we’re still playing.”
Sullivan closely defended Gallant on the last-second shot and Gonzalez helped out on the decisive play.
“I think [Ashley’s] defense and Pam’s little show from the post [made a difference] from it being a three-pointer,” said Newhall.
The St. Mary’s coach expected another close game between two great rivals.
“I thought it would be four quarters or more,” said Newhall. “It was heavyweight contest. It was back-and-forth. We just kept fighting. There were a lot of stories of resiliency in this game. Gabby hits those free throws under pressure. You can’t coach that – you either have that in your veins or you don’t. I though Pam played pretty possessed all night. Ashley hit a big three. The kids were fired up because of what happened last year.” St. Mary’s advances to the Division 3 North Sectional final Saturday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.