By Gianna Addario
---- — The Ipswich girls basketball team has seen its fair share of opponents this season. Among them— Cape Ann League opponent North Reading at the end of January.
The Tigers’ 26-point victory might have been just another regular season win at the time, but now that the two teams will meet next week in the Division 3 state tournament first round, the game has become that much more meaningful.
Ipswich drew the No. 4 seed and will host the 13th seeded Hornets on Wednesday (7 p.m.) and isn’t taking anything for granted. The Tigers realize their regular season record is wiped clean and there’s no thing as a guaranteed win the postseason.
“It’s a new season and new start and we have to come out on both ends of the court,” said Ipswich head coach Mandy Zegarowski. “I’m very excited about having a home game and that we didn’t bye, because sometimes you’re waiting around all week for the game.
“I like that we’re playing Wednesday, especially because we played last Sunday, Monday and Thursday. We’re just trying to take one game at time right now and be prepared.”
Ipswich finished 17-3 this year with losses to Div. 3 counterparts top seeded Pentucket and second seeded St. Mary’s. On Thursday the Tigers capped off their regular season with a road win against Arlington Catholic and are using that motivation moving forward.
“I’m proud of the girls, it’s very hard to win in that gym,” noted Zegarowski. “They came in focused after the loss to St. Mary’s on Monday.”
Sophomore Masey Zegarowski poses as an offensive threat to any team she faces in the tournament. As the leading scorer (14.9 ppg.) on the team, Zegarowski can hit the 3-pointers and drive in the lane. Her speed and skill are rarely matched by those who have the job of guarding her.
Also in Division 3 North, Bishop Fenwick is on the same side of the bracket as the Tigers. The eighth-seeded Crusaders will play against No. 9 Stoneham at St. John’s Prep on Wednesday (7 p.m.).
On the other side of the bracket, sixth-seeded Hamilton-Wenham hosts No. 11 Watertown on Thursday at (7p.m.).
In Division 1, seventh-seeded Masconomet is cautious about their opening round matchup against No. 10 Cambridge. The Chieftains host the Falcons on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Cambridge poses somewhat of threat to Masconomet as their star, Donnaizha Fountain, has the potential to take over any game with her scoring ability. The Georgia Tech-bound Fountain is coming off one of her best season performances against Watertown, in which she scored a game-high 32 points.
“I think the real key is how we play and not so much how the other team plays,” said head coach Bob Romeo. “We have to go fast and score off our defense. Fountain is a challenge because she’s such a great offensive player and it’s hard to stop her. A big question is also what the girls around her do”
The Chieftains (15-5) ended their season with a win over Revere in the Spartan Classic and are trying to transition that victory into the brand new season.
“I like the way my team has played down the stretch,” added Romeo. “I told them that in the state tournament one team moves on and the other team goes home thinking of all the things they could’ve done differently.”
Junior Nicole Femino has come on strong in the later part of the season, putting up a 42-point game against Newburyport in the final home game. Junior Hannah Kiernan and senior Claudia Marsh have been consistent in their roles, but will most likely elevate their play in the postseason.
Also in Division 1, fourth-seeded Peabody hosts No. 13 Methuen on Tuesday. The Tanners earned a trip back to the postseason for the first time in three seasons.
This season has been a re-birth for the Tanners as legendary head coach Jane Heil earned her 500th career victory in late December and finished 16-4 overall.
Danvers has an interesting draw in Division 2 as the Falcons will host their Northeastern Conference rival Gloucester on Thursday (7 p.m.) in the first round.
The two teams split their regular season matchup as the latter game was decided by a point in overtime in favor of Gloucester.
“There’s something about playing a tournament game against a team in your league,” explained Danvers head coach Pat Veilleux. “I guess it’s better to play against the devil you know than the devil you don’t know. Gloucester did all the right things to win four straight. We’re up against it with Gloucester and I just think the world of them and what they’ve been able to do in the last three weeks of the season.”
Danvers (12-8) got in a tri-scrimmage against Masco and Bishop Fenwick yesterday and is looking forward to playing a tournament game in their newly renovated gymnasium.
Salem punched its playoff ticket in the regular season finale. Winning three straight to qualify for the tournament, the 14th-seeded Witches take on Arlington Catholic at Woburn on Thursday (7:45 p.m.).
Though Salem has many girls out with injury, the week off will certainly be beneficial to the Witches (10-10).
GIRLS BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE TUESDAY Division 1 -- Methuen at Peabody, 7 p.m. WEDNESDAY Division 1 -- Cambridge at Masconomet, 7 p.m. Division 3 -- North Reading at Ipswich, 7 p.m.; Stoneham at Bishop Fenwick, 7 p.m. WEDNESDAY Division 2 -- Beverly at Chelsea, 7 p.m. THURSDAY Division 4 -- North Shore Tech at Lynnfield, 7 p.m. SATURDAY Division 3 -- Pentucket/Stoneham winner at Danvers, 7 p.m.