(Boston MA) This one took a while to sort out.
Tied at 18-18 at halftime.
Rockland had size and had won sixteen straight.
St. Mary’s had a persistent defense and was capable of scoring seventy to eighty points.
Something had to give.
It was the Spartans (24-2) who turned things their way in the second half.
They continued to defend well and found a way to stoke their lackluster first-half offense.
Those ingredients led them to a 53-37 win in the D3 state semi-finals on Wednesday afternoon at the TD Garden.
St. Mary’s will face Hoosac Valley in a title game rematch from last season.
“Hoosac Valley is like UConn,” said St. Mary’s coach Jeff Newhall post-game, “they are there every year.”
The Elie sisters, senior Caroline and sophomore Julia, carried the Lady Dogs in the first half combining for fifteen points. Rockland (22-3) was able to use their size advantages inside to turn lob passes into layups.
Rockland led 18-12 with 2 ½ minutes left in the second quarter.
St. Mary’s used Rockland’s scoreless time thereafter to get a shot-clock beating three (Gabby Torres) and a Yirsy Queliz steal that the freshman turned into an old-fashioned 3-point play.
“We were tied at halftime and our offense couldn’t have been much worse,” said Coach Newhall.
After two lead changes early in the second half, a pair of Maiya Bergdorf (13 points) free throws put St. Mary’s in front, 25-24, with 2 ½ minutes. They would never trail again.
“When #14 (Hannah Wyllie) was taken out because of foul trouble, we inserted Van Nguyen and went with four guards and Maiya (Bergdorf),” recalled Coach Newhall. The Spartans took off from there.
“We did a 4-1 to space out their bigs and open up the paint for Maiya,” explained senior Olivia Matela.
Defending the inside opened up outside shots for St. Mary’s. Defending the perimeter gave Maiya a chance to operate against a single defender.
“They had a lot of weapons,” said Rockland coach Diana Newcomb, “and they could bring them from wherever they wanted to.”
St. Mary’s pushed their lead to nine (38-29) after two Maiya free throws and a drive by Olivia Matela (nine points).
The deal was sealed for the team from Lynn a minute later when Maiya and Olivia hit three’s on consecutive possessions. These triples raised the Spartans advantage to eleven (44-33) and there was no coming back for the Lady Dogs.
“Van (Nguyen) sparked the win,” said Coach Newhall. “She’s a role player who sat on the bench for 2 ½ quarters today. To contribute as she did under those circumstances was special. We matched her up against a forward defensively and put as much pressure as we could on the ball.”
Julia Elie (14 points) and Caroline Elie (12 points) paced Rockland.
St. Mary’s two losses were to teams (D1 Franklin & D4 Cathedral) that will also play for state titles in their next game.
You have to like St. Mary’s chances against Hoosac Valley in the title game. Why? Granted HV won that game last year but in December of this season, at HV, it was St. Mary’s 62, Hoosac Valley 32!
Caroline Elie: “Since the beginning of the season we’ve grown tremendously on and off the court.”
Hannah Wyllie: “We would have wished for a better outcome but just to be here is a great thing.”
Olivia Matela: “We used the big court to our advantage. We play fast. The majority of our points are scored in transition.”
Maiya Bergdorf: “Coach (Newhall) kept encouraging me even when my shots weren’t falling. Players need to hear that.”
Coach Newhall: “We were here a year ago and our goal has been to get back to the state championship game again.”
Coach Newcomb: “This is the best group to come through Rockland in twenty years. They won the South Shore League and reached the Eastern Mass finals.”
Twenty years ago, the RHS coach played for the Lady Dogs when they won the state title. “I was here for the Eastern Mass game. We beat Chelsea by a pretty good margin, and then won against Bromfield in the state championship game.”
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