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(West Newbury MA) St. Mary’s got better as the game went along defeating Pentucket, 59-37, on Friday night.
The Spartans junior guards (Yirsy Queliz and Niya Morgen) were a game-long problem for Pentucket in their season opener.
“They might have the best backcourt in the state,” said Pentucket coach John McNamara afterwards.
Niya had seven three’s in twenty-seven points while Yirsy added eighteen points.
The points were one thing, but the defense and court-sense of both players was noticeable.
“Our guard play eventually took the game over,” explained Spartans coach Jeff Newhall post-game.
“They’re good friends,” added Coach Newhall. “They play AAU together. They are used to playing together. There is no weakness in their games.”
The Pentucket student section was in place as was an ever-playing band. There was a playoff-game atmosphere.
The Sachems started well, and even had a 6-2 lead, as St. Mary’s tried to settle in.
But as time went on, it became apparent that Pentucket was going to have trouble scoring and that St. Mary’s wouldn’t.
Yirsy Queliz created a turnover with seconds left in the first quarter and cashed it in to give the visitors their first lead, 9-7. They would build on that lead the rest of the game.
Niya Morgen carried St. Mary’s in the second and third quarters. The Swampscott transfer drained six three’s in those quarters.
One of Niya’s three-pointers was a step-back three.
“Niya made some big shots to keep us alive,” said Coach Newhall.
The Spartans extended a 24-18 halftime lead to 41-28 after three quarters.
The Pentucket problem wasn’t a lack of shots. The issue was making some shots.
“We had some good looks,” said Coach McNamara, “but against a good team you have to make shots. The defense can only hold on for so long.”
Abby Dube paced Pentucket with fifteen points. Gabby Bellacqua added eleven points mostly on free throws.
This game was an endowment game so it will have no effect on tournament standings.
“We haven’t played Pentucket in ten years,” said Coach Newhall. “The last time was in 2011 when we beat them in the Division 3 North semi-finals and went on to win our first state championship. Before that, we used to play them all the time.”
“John (McNamara) and I planned to have this game last year but couldn’t,” said Coach Newhall. “Any time we can play a quality opponent on the road that can challenge us we’re willing to do it. Some teams aren’t willing to host us.”
“We had nothing to lose in scheduling them,” said Coach McNamara, “since it’s an endowment game. We knew that they were loaded. It was a learning experience for us. We start our season next week against Georgetown.”
It was easy to be impressed with Yirsy Queliz. Coach Newhall summed her up this way: “Yirsy has been a starter since she was in eighth grade. She does everything. She may not score a ton but she’s a tremendous ballhandler. She’s probably the best on-the-ball defender in the area.”
Yirsy’s teammate, Niya, is equally good at handling the ball and tonight showed the ability to hit outside shots and get to the basket.
“St. Mary’s is probably one of the top five teams in the state,” said Coach McNamara. “They have four kids who can create their own offense. There are probably three scholarship kids on that team.”
Coach Newhall was happy with the win and especially liked his team’s play at the end. “I was impressed with our fourth quarter defensively and using the clock for good possessions,” he said. “We had Yirsy with the ball, the court spread, and ran good sets.”
Yirsy said afterwards that “Pentucket was a tough team.” Niya added that the “team had to chill out without fouling.”
Both girls agreed that because they have played together so much, “they’ve built chemistry.”
Yirsy and Niya ran a perfect pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter.
This is the last season in the current Pentucket gymnasium. Coach McNamara said afterwards that he was going to miss the place.
“One of my best memories of this place was beating a very good Masco team here my first year of coaching,” said Coach McNamara. “They had been to the Tsongas the year before and had everyone back. We were the new kids on the block.”
Bob Romeo (former Masco coach and now North Reading coach) was in the house tonight. I also saw Coach Dollas and some of his Amesbury players in attendance.
Graduated outside shooter Arielle Cleveland was also spotted afterwards. Pentucket could have used her shooting tonight.
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