The Ipswich High girls basketball team knows that in order to get to the Division 3 North final at Tsongas Center in Lowell three days from now, it will have to go through the defending Div. 3 state champions.
Therefore, tonight’s semifinal contest at Beverly High against those reigning titlists from top seeded Pentucket (7 p.m.) is one of the more anticipated games on the schedule as the two rivals go head-to-head for this second time this year.
Though this will be only the second postseason meeting between the two teams they’re quite familiar with one another, having met 11 times since 2004. That includes last year’s North final game in which the Sachems cruised to a 49-30 victory.
But Ipswich has proven it can hang with the Sachems — especially back in January’s regular season matchup. Ipswich led after three quarters (35-32), but ultimately fell to the hosts in West Newbury, scoring just five points in the final quarter.
“Ipswich has always been a well-coached and prepared team,” said Sachems head coach John McNamara, who is 9-0 against Ipswich since taking over the program in 2007. “I think they’re a much better team this year (and) I’m sure they built off the experience they gained last year. They’re one of the best teams in the state, capable of beating any team in the state, regardless of division.
“I expect a close game again. At this time of year, there are no secrets as both teams know each other very well. I’m sure both teams will be ready to play; it should be a great matchup.”
Pentucket went undefeated (15-0) in the Cape Ann League, winning its third straight league crown. The Sachems’ only loss came at the hands of Notre Dame of Hingham in a nonleague matchup.
What’s more, Pentucket has earned a pair of Div. 3 North sectional titles and made two appearances in the Div. 3 state title game in recent years.
Needless to say, Pentucket’s senior captain trio of Alex Moore, Tess Nogueira and CAL Large Player of the Year Coley Viselli has experienced its fair share of tournament play.
“Pentucket’s the team to beat,” said Ipswich captain Brigid O’Flynn. “We’re ready to take on that challenge. We know we have the skill to beat them and the heart to play with them.”
Ipswich boasts a 19-3 record, which two non-league losses in addition to their setback vs. Pentucket. The Tigers have shown tremendous growth over the past year and continue to awe with their young talent: sophomores Masey Zegarowski (15 points per game) and Caroline Soucy (10 ppg.) along with freshman Jenna Gagnon.
Senior captains Julia Davis and O’Flynn bring their leadership and post games to the Ipswich attack. Davis, who was named CAL Small Player of the Year along with Zegarowski, is the team’s second-leading scorer (14.3). O’Flynn has great tournament poise and is hoping to make her sixth Div. 3 North final appearance (including 2 in soccer, 2 in lacrosse and 1 in basketball).
One thing is certain: Ipswich isn’t about to let the past dictate which way tonight’s game will go. The Tigers are looking to play their game and focus on establishing an early lead.
“That’s the goal; to go out and really compete against them,” said Ipswich head coach Mandy Carter-Zegarowski. “We haven’t been able to beat them in the past, so I know it would be great to play well (tonight) and get the win.
“We need to believe. Pentucket is coming off of a state title and lives off of their confidence with a great deal of talent. We need to come in and believe that we can win, too.”