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St. Mary’s defends Div. 3 girls hoop crown, edges CCL rival Bishop Fenwick


(Last Updated On: March 18, 2023)

LOWELL — Ever since she first took the court at St. Mary’s (Lynn) a few years back, Yirsy Queliz had lofty goals of winning a state championship.

Back then, few could have envisioned exactly what was in store for her or her teammates in the near future.

It is now officially safe to say the Spartans have enjoyed a dynastic run. The Northeastern commit closed her decorated high school career in style Saturday, racking up a team-high 18 points to go with four rebounds, four assists and three steals, as top-seeded St. Mary’s secured its third Div. 3 girls basketball title in the last four years by holding on for a thrilling 45-41 victory over No. 3 Bishop Fenwick at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.

“I’ve been at the school for five years,” Queliz said. “Out of those five years, we’ve made (the title game) four times, and the only time (we didn’t play) was because of COVID. It feels good to win three out of those four.”

To put things into perspective, Saturday’s victory extended St. Mary’s playoff winning streak to 17 games, its last loss coming to Hoosac Valley in the Div. 3 title game in 2019.

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The Spartans (23-2) came out on fire to start, as Queliz drained a three-pointer to help the Spartans extend their advantage to 30-15 in the final minute of the first half.

After the two programs returned from the break locked in a 30-18 affair, Bishop Fenwick (17-8) began to stage its rally. Junior standout Cecilia Kay and freshman guard Celia Neilson combined for nine points in the third, as the Crusaders outscored the Spartans 12-2 during the frame to trim it to a 32-30 contest.

Suddenly, it felt like the hardware was slowly slipping from St. Mary’s grasp.

“They’re all different,” Spartans coach Jeff Newhall said afterward. “We’re just so lucky to be able to talk about past championships. I just told them in the locker room. We’re probably spoiled to a certain degree. This is not easy. Tonight certainly wasn’t easy. We didn’t play particularly great, but I think Fenwick had a lot to do with that. So I give them credit. It’s a state championship game. They weren’t going to come here and just roll over.”

With 3:36 left in regulation, Kay pulled up for a deep three, and buried it to slice Bishop Fenwick’s deficit to 41-39. However, the Crusaders simply ran out of gas in the waning moments as St. Mary’s ramped up the pressure defensively.

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“We all knew that we were fine,” said Queliz. “Even though we were doing bad, we were still up. I just knew that we were going to stick together, and come out (victorious) in the end.”

As she looked to bleed out the remaining seconds, Queliz collected a pass, then fired the ball toward the rafters. The final buzzer sounded, and her teammates stormed the court.

St. Mary’s also received a nine-point spark from senior guard Kellyn Preira. Sophomore forward Reese Matela added eight points and nine rebounds, while senior Niya Morgen tacked on eight points for the Spartans.

Kay finished with a game-high 23 points for Bishop Fenwick.

When the postgame ceremonies concluded, Newhall stood outside the team locker room, knowing all too well what he was about to walk into. After a pause, the coach opened the door to a chorus of cheers, and was immediately drenched as a bucket of water was dumped on him in celebration.

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Was it a little cold? Sure, but the latest title made up for the brief sting.

“The locker room is a special place,” Newhall tearfully said. “There’s a lot of emotion in there. People are jumping, people laughing, and there’s people crying, myself included. It’s not the end of an era by any stretch. We’ve been doing this for the better part of 11, 12 years, this is our fifth (title). But when you have a senior class like we have, this is what they set out to do. It’s emotional because they were able to succeed in what they set out to do, but it’s a tough moment to realize that we just watched them play for St. Mary’s for the last time.”

As reported by Boston Herald