LOWELL, Mass. -- St. Mary’s (22-4) scored a 65-53 victory over top-seeded Stoneham (19-4) on Saturday in the Div. 3 North final at the Tsongas Center.
The 12-point margin of victory, coupled with a lead of 20 at one point in the first half, could have qualified for a comfortable win. Unless of course you are No. 2 St. Mary’s head coach Jeff Newhall.
“That was the most uncomfortable game that I think I’ve coached all year,” said Newhall, whose team will move on to face Coyle & Cassidy in the state semifinals on Monday at the TD Garden. “Even in the fourth quarter, up 19, it’s just a credit to Stoneham.”
There were times when Newhall could have felt a little uneasy about trying to grab the first Div. 3 North title for St. Mary’s. After dominating the first quarter, which included a 14-2 run to start the game, things started to unravel towards the end of the second.
St. Mary’s grabbed a 20-point lead when freshman Brianna Rudolph (seven points) blocked a shot and scored on a pull-up on the other end with 3:24 left to go in the second quarter.
After the timeout, St. Mary’s got caught out of position several times on defense and started committing fouls. When Stoneham got to the line in the penalty it capitalized with nine straight successful free throws at one point.
That ability to score point also allowed Stoneham to set up a full-court press, which worked well against a team that features three freshman who play big minutes. Stoneham went on a 17-6 run to end the half, highlighted by a NBA-range 3-pointer from Vanessa Bramante to go in to the half down, 37-28.
“In our locker room it was quiet and we had long faces,” said Newhall. “I thought we were in trouble.”
But the time to cool off did more help for St. Mary’s than it did for Stoneham. Kirsten Ferrarri opened the third with a trey and Jennie Mucciarone added two more to fuel an 11-0 run to push the lead back up to 20 in an instant.
“We went from a mind set of that we were up 20 and we are definitely going to win. To halftime we are up nine and could be in trouble. To alright we got the momentum back, but it was never a comfortable game,” said Newhall.
Stoneham was able to make a few runs the rest of the way home, but those back-breaking 3’s came back to haunt the top-seeded team.
“They went on the run and I’m sure it hurt the girls a little bit,” said Stoneham head coach Angela Billings.
Bramante was a big part of the comeback in the first half for Stoneham as she scored 14 points in the first half. But Newhall had a little wrinkle up his sleeve, as he switched Cassi Amenta on to Stoneham’s high-scorer.
The strategy worked.
Bramante was held to two points in the second half, while Amenta finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
“(Amenta) was tremendous in the second half, she played great defense,” said Newhall.