It pays to get hot at the right time, and the St. Mary's of Lynn girls basketball team turned up the heat just in time for a scorching hot playoff run. As a result, the 18-6 Spartans are playing for another Division 3 state championship Saturday at Worcester Polytech Institute (noon) against the Western Mass. champs from Hoosac Valley (20-4) in Cheshire.
After posting a 6-6 record during the Central Catholic League, St. Mary's has won four straight playoff games to reach the title game, and have relied on some late game heroics to keep on advancing.
After blowing out Watertown (62-32) in its playoff opener, St. Mary's shaded Catholic Central League rival Bishop Fenwick, 53-52, in the North semifinals, then bested Amesbury in the sectional title game, 59-48. On Tuesday, they eliminated a tough Archbishop Williams squad, 62-59 in the state semis at TD Garden.
"We knocked off two league opponents, and another Cathedral is still playing (in the Division 4 finals)," said Spartans coach Jeff Newhall. "It definitely helps that we're used to playing good competition every game. That's something you can't replicate. We grind it out all season and hope that we're not too worn down physically and mentally by the end. The Central Catholic League has been dominant in Division 3 for the past seven years; we've won it twice, Fenwick once, and Archbishop Williams four times.
"We've had two games come down to the final possession, Fenwick and Williams, but all season long we've been in tight games. We made one more play than either of them, so we're still here."
When it comes to clutch performances, St. Mary's has counted on senior Pamela Gonzalez. She's scored 1,420 points in her career and put up double-doubles the last three games with 17 points and a dozen rebounds against Fenwick, 20 points and 14 caroms in the North final win over Amesbury, and 23 points and 11 boards against Williams.
When Jannise Avelino, a 5-foot-11 junior center from Peabody, got into foul trouble at the Garden, Gonzalez took over in the middle for the final 12 minutes because she was their tallest starter.
The Spartans are a threat both inside and outside. Gabby Torres, a junior guard from Peabody, had 14 points (including 4 treys) to spark the win over the Archies, and senior guard Ashley Sullivan, who is also from Peabody, hit the big 3 in the win over Fenwick.
Another key player is junior Olivia Matela from Swampscott, who drained the winning 3-point basket with five seconds left in the state semifinals to break a 59-59 tie. Matela finished with a dozen points and four 3-pointers.
The Spartans have a lot of depth, and know they'll need to be at their best against Hoosac Valley. The Hurricanes are a familiar foe for Newhall.
"We played them in 2014, the last time we won the state championship," said Newhall. "I think this is the fifth time in six years they're going for a state title. I know their coach (Ron Wojcik) and am familiar with the team because after we played five years ago, they started coming to our February tourney the next few years. They've built a winning tradition, and we expect another close game. Hopefully we can pull it out at the end."
The Spartans will be seeking their third state title in the past eight years, also winning it all in 2011.