LOWELL — Winning 17 straight playoff games, in any sport at any level, takes incredible talent and commitment.
The further a team gets on those kinds of streaks the more it can rely on experience, which was certainly a factor for St. Mary’s of Lynn when it found itself in a much closer than expected Division 3 state title game with rival Bishop Fenwick on Saturday.
Th Spartans closed out a 45-41 win to claim their third straight state title (including a co-championship when the 2020 final was cancelled). A number of North Shore area standouts will be getting another ring, including senior stars Yirsy Queliz (Ipswich), Niya Morgen (Swampscott) and Kellyn Preira (Peabody).
All three have scored 1,000-plus points in their high school careers, and all three made a significant impact in Saturday’s win.
Queliz in particular came up huge. She dropped a team-high 18 points to go with three rebounds, five assists, three steals and a pair of blocks. Queliz wraps up her 5-year varsity run with three state titles; she’ll unquestionably go down as one of the best players in Spartans’ history and will be playing Division 1 college basketball at Northeastern.
“We don’t want to start the conversation of best teams, best players and all that, but the bar’s been set pretty high,” St. Mary’s coach Jeff Newhall said of Queliz. “She’s a five-year player, third overall leading scorer ever, and she’s the first player to win three state titles in our program. She cares about those stats more than her points.”
When Bishop Fenwick made it a two-point game in the fourth quarter, Queliz’s ability to handle the ball safely was a major factor. The Spartans were able to limit the potential of turnovers and find efficient baskets for breathing room.
“To have someone with five years of experience with the ball in her hands most of the game, it’s just one less thing that I have to worry about,” Newhall added. “There’s not many, if any, in the state that are going to take the ball from her.”
Morgen, meanwhile, was largely held in check until the final quarter. But a quick 5-0 individual run to open that final stanza, where she scored at the rim and nailed a corner triple, helped the Spartans gain the necessary separation to close things out. She, too, will play D1 ball at Bentley.
“She’s the MVP of the league, she’s played in big games,” said Newhall. “We were telling her in the third and fourth quarters, ‘Listen, we’re here because of the way you score and the way you shoot the ball. You’re not in the game to be a passer, you’re not in the game to cover their post player, you’re in the game to score.’ I guess she listened.”
Preira, one of the team’s unsung heroes who can play both inside and outside, will also play college hoop at Monmouth. She finished Saturday’s season finale with nine points, three rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.
Contact Nick Giannino at NGiannino@Salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.