By Gianna Addario
---- — HAMILTON — The Bishop Fenwick girls basketball team found itself in all-too-familiar territory preparing for last night’s Division 3 North semifinal against Catholic Central League rival St. Mary’s of Lynn.
The Crusaders had lost to the powerful Spartans twice during the regular season, but felt they had the chance to finally chance to get by one of their most physical opponents with the right game plan. Unfortunately, St. Mary’s had other ideas.
Despite injuring her ankle in the game prior, Catholic Central League Player of the Year Brianna Rudolph put her team on her back as the Spartans downed Fenwick, 68-35 at the Hamilton-Wenham Regional gymnasium.
“You knew you had to play St. Mary’s at some point (in the tournament),” said Fenwick (13-8) head coach Adam DeBaggis. “We wanted to play them a third time. We played them really well the second time we played them (a 10-point loss), so we felt pretty good about it, actually.”
With the win, the Spartans (21-2) earned a bid to the North final Saturday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, where they’ll play the winner of tonight’s Winthrop/Manchester-Essex game.
Rudolph went off for 12 of her game-high 36 points in the first quarter as St. Mary’s took a 14-9 lead. Fenwick senior captain Kate Lipka kept her team in the game early on, knocking down numerous jumpers in the opening frame.
St. Mary’s offense was too much for Fenwick to shut down, though, as it took a convincing 28-16 advantage into halftime behind Rudolph’s 21 first half points.
“She’s the best player on the court and played that way,” noted St. Mary’s head coach Jeff Newhall. “Certainly in the first half she was the person that seemed more in rhythm of the game than anyone else.
“Brianna was a little banged up. She did get hurt (last) Friday, but we’ve been treating it right and her practice was limited so that she was 100 percent (last night).”
The Crusaders had several open looks and took a ton of shots throughout the game, but the shots simply weren’t falling. On numerous occasions senior point guard Gianna Pizzano (team-high 13 points) would take it to the basket herself to trigger some momentum on offense.
Sophomore Colleen Corcoran, who on any given night is probably the Crusaders’ top offensive player, struggled to get anything going in the paint, mostly due to St. Mary’s smothering defense on the 5-foot-10 center.
“She wasn’t getting the looks she normally does,” DeBaggis explained. “Our guards weren’t able to get the ball into her. I felt like we weren’t looking to her enough, either; that was part of the problem. St. Mary’s shuts down any sort of team offense and you end up having to run man-to-man.”
By the end of the third St. Mary’s had a 19-point lead, with help from sophomore forward Gianna Moschella of Peabody. The Spartans pushed their lead to 26 points (51-25) to start the fourth as Rudolph hit back-to-back buckets and a conventional three-point play.
Lipka finished with 12 points, including two three-pointers, four rebounds and a pair of steals. Junior Lexie Rose added four points while Pizzano finished with five rebounds to go along with her 13 points. Corcoran pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.
“I’ve been saying all year that this is one of the most improved teams I’ve coach,” added DeBaggis. “I’m proud of them for that because there were a lot of questions marks heading into the season.”
St. Mary’s 68, Bishop Fenwick 35
Division 3 North semifinal
Bishop Fenwick: Rose 1-2-4, Porcaro 1-0-2, B Corcoran 0-1-1, Mancinelli 1-0-2, Pizzano 5-3-13, C Corcoran 0-1-1, Brennan 0-0-0, Lipka 4-2-12. Totals 12-9-35.
St. Mary’s: Sanders 3-3-9, Rudolph 16-4-36, Moschella 1-3-5, Carter 0-3-3, Mucciarone 1-8-10, Falayi 0-3-3, Idysuyi 1-0-2. Totals 22-24-68.
Halftime: SM, 28-16.
3-pointers: BF, Lipka 2; SM, none.
Records: SM, 21-2; BF, 13-8.