LOWELL — Another tournament game, another offensive spark for the Pentucket girls basketball team.
What has remained constant, however, has been a smothering defense, one that paved the way as the Sachems steamrolled to the Division 3 North title yesterday morning at the Tsongas Arena, their fourth such crown in the last six years.
Pentucket (21-4) capped off a remarkable three-game stretch in the finals by stifling Ipswich, 49-30, once again riding its defense to a huge halftime lead that made the second half meaningless. It will face South champ Fairhaven (22-2) tomorrow at 4:15 p.m. in the TD Garden in the state semifinals.
The Sachems have made a living out of putting down the clamps early and that was certainly the case against the Tigers. The Sachems zoomed to a 9-0 lead and didn't give up a point until four and a half minutes were gone. Ahead 10-5 at the quarter, they rode a 16-0 run to end the half to take a commanding 30-10 lead at the intermission.
In the previous two tournament games, a 56-29 win over Newburyport and a 53-27 victory over Swampscott, Pentucket led 31-12 and 25-12 at the half, giving up just four field goals in both games. Saturday, Ipswich (18-5) had only three field goals entering the second half while committing 12 turnovers.
The offensive spark, meanwhile, was someone new. After Sarah Higgins scored 24 points against Newburyport and Coley Viselli led the way with 19 points over Swampscott, junior Alex Moore keyed the Sachems yesterday, scoring all 10 of her points in the first half.
Finding openings in the lane, Moore was able to drive to the basket at will and she ended the half with two 3-pointers, the final being a desperation line-drive shot at the buzzer.
"I just heaved it and really didn't think it was going in," said Moore. "I've never had a shot like that."
Whatever the case, that was the final nail in Ipswich's coffin.
"We always play solid defense, and we know they have a good point guard (all-league freshman Masey Zegarowski) and a big girl (Julia Davis), and we did a nice job on them," said Pentucket coach John McNamara. "And I thought that (Moore) shot at the half was a psychological dagger."
Zegarowski was held scoreless in the first half and Davis had three points before getting injured just before intermission. She was unable to play in the second half, but it didn't matter at that point, according to Ipswich coach Amanda Carter-Zegarowski, who doubles as the point guard's mother.
"That really didn't affect the second half," said Carter-Zegarowski. "I thought the game was already out of hand.
"They (Pentucket) play great defense and we struggled against them the first time we played (a 42-27 regular-season loss). But we have a young team and we'll learn from this and be better prepared next year."
Offensively, Higgins had a big third quarter to lead a balanced attack with 12 points, Viselli trailed Moore by one point with nine and center Tess Nogueira finished with eight. Nogueira, Higgins and Leigh McNamara also did a nice job on the boards, especially in the first quarter.
With Pentucket ahead by a whopping 39-13 heading into the fourth quarter, every player on the roster got into the game.
Pentucket 49, Ipswich 30
Division 3 North championship
Pentucket (49): Sydney Snow 0-0-0, Alex Moore 4-0-10, Coley Viselli 2-4-9, Kelsi McNamara 0-3-3, Liza Brackbill 0-0-0, McKenna Kilan 0-0-0, Sarah Wiles 0-0-0, Leigh McNamara 1-1-3, Sarah Higgins 5-2-12, Tess Nogueira 4-0-8, Tori Lane 0-0-0, Molly McDonough 0-0-0, Emily Dresser 0-4-4. Totals 16-14-49
Ipswich (30): Shannon McFayden 1-2-5, Masey Zegarowski 3-1-7, Caroline Soucy 0-0-0, Nyra Constant 0-0-0, Bridget Cuyrran 3-0-6, Julia Davis 1-1-3, Brigid O'Flynn 0-2-2, Natalie Soliozy 2-1-6. Totals 10-7-30
3-pointers: P — Moore 2, Viselli; I — McFayden, Zegarowski, Soliozy
Ipswich (18-5):É553É17 — 30
Pentucket (21-4):10É10É19É10 — 49
Next game: Pentucket vs. Fairhaven, Division 3 state semifinal, at TD Garden, Tuesday, 4:15 p.m.
In Pentucket's three Division 3 North sectional games, it has:
— given up just 12, 12 and 10 points in the first half
— allowed only 11 field goals in the first half, including just three against Ipswich
— held its opponents to 20 percent shooting in the first two quarters
— won by an average of 24 points