The Bishop Fenwick girls basketball team presents a new look from a familiar league for Hoosac Valley.
For the third year in a row, the Hurricanes will face a different Eastern Massachusetts team from the Catholic Central League in the MIAA Division III state championship, and the Crusaders (22-4) have beaten the other two teams to beat the Hurricanes in the championship game — St. Mary's (Lynn) and Archibshop Williams — to book their spot at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
The Crusaders actually started their run through Eastern Mass. on the heels of a crunching loss to Archbishop Williams, 66-29, in the penultimate game of the regular season. The loss put the Crusaders in a four-way tie for the CCL Large title, but turned up fueling a championship run.
Crusaders coach Adam DeBaggis, in his fifth year with Bishop Fenwick, said his team used the loss to the Archies as motivation.
"Actually, my first thought that night was that this could really work in our favor, because we hadn't gotten beat that bad all year," DeBaggis said. "You can lose a lot of confidence, but I think we reacted to it exactly as we should, which was regrouping and saying 'hey, we aren't unbeatable.'"
Fenwick responded by winning its season finale, then the Crusaders ran through the Eastern Mass. D-III North tournament.
Fenwick, the second-seed, turned in wins over No. 7 Amesbury, 69-32, and No. 3 St. Mary's, 56-40, to set up a matchup with No. 1 North Reading for the North title. In the championship game, the Crusaders produced a 65-47 win to bring home the program's first sectional title since 1990.
In the state semifinals, Fenwick took the rubber match against the Archies 56-43 at the TD Garden in Boston.
Fenwick was led by 5-foot-10 center Colleen Corcoran with a team-high 15 points, and Sydney Brennan and Sam Mancinelli each added 12. Fenwick held a 9-point late, but had to withstand a late run by the Bishops to advance.
"I told my team after the game that I was amazed," DeBaggis said. "I was amazed at what they did. Just because not that I didn't believe in them, but they overcame a team ... that had been to the Garden four straight years and we had never been there.
"We played like the team with experience. Definitely showed a level of maturity and poise."
Fenwick's strong season has been anchored by the play of Corcoran and Brennan. Corcoran, the 5-foot-10 senior co-CCL MVP, is committed to Division II Le Moyne next year, and Brennan provides a dynamic option for the Crusaders in the backcourt.
"Both have been starting since their freshman year," DeBaggis said of his duo. "At the time, it was one of those things where [I knew] these girls are going to be leading this team some day.
"They bring consistency. At practice and at games, they are just so consistent with their play and how they lead."
Brennan leads the team with 16 points per game during the playoffs, and Corcoran is averaging 14. Against Archbishop Williams, the pair had 12 and 15, respectively.
Samantha Mancinelli and Fredi DeGuglielmo have stepped up as third scorers in the playoff run, but it has been either Brennan or Corcoran leading the team in scoring during the playoffs.
The Crusaders have scored 56 points or better in all four tournament games, and have topped 60 in two playoff games. With Corcoran and Brennan averaging 30 points combined, options open up for Fenwick on the perimeter and on the block to allow the Crusaders to reach their consistent point totals.
Bishop Fenwick benefits from putting points on the board, but perhaps its the defensive numbers that are more telling for the Crusaders.
Fenwick is giving up just 40.5 points per game in the playoffs, including the 43-point defensive effort in the state semifinals against the Archies. No team has topped 50 points against the Crusaders when Fenwick has won, and only the Archies and Arlington Catholic reached the mark in Fenwick's four losses this season.
"The thing about defense is, you can always play good defense," DeBaggis said. "Offensively, sometimes your shots don't fall. That's what we try to stress. Essentially, in basketball you can be playing really well but not winning because your shots aren't falling. We play defense first, and I think that does lend itself to offense more."
The Crusaders won't pressure as much as Hoosac Valley does. Instead, Fenwick looks to control games from the half court, whether in a man-to-man or zone defense. Using communication and help defense, Fenwick tries to close the gap on shooters to force one-and-done possessions.
Contact Geoff Smith at 413-496-6254.