WEST NEWBURY — Pentucket sent a loud and clear message to the state basketball world as it kicked off its quest for a second straight Division 3 state title.
The Sachems are ready to defend.
Led by a stifling defense, the Pentucket girls opened the game on a 14-2 run, and led by as many as 27 points in the second quarter. The top-seeded Sachems steamrolled No. 8 Bishop Fenwick 55-29 in the Division 3 North quarterfinals Saturday.
“I saw a couple of our opponents in the stands scouting us,” said senior Alex Moore. “And we showed them that we are excited to play and ready to win another state championship.”
“I think this can set a tone for the rest of the tournament,” said senior Tess Nogueira. “We showed everyone that we aren’t taking it lightly because we are defending state champs. We are ready to play and we are taking this seriously.”
Pentucket (22-1) wasted no time dispatching of Fenwick (14-8).
The Sachems employed an aggressive trapping defense that allowed the Crusaders only three baskets in the first half — including just one hoop in the entire second quarter. That basket came with only 20 seconds left in the frame.
“We really came out firing on all cylinders,” said senior Coley Viselli. “We had been waiting for a week and a half to play, and we were ready to go. We were talking, rebounding, rotating and knew when to go for the ball.”
Sophomore guard Kelsi McNamara led the Sachem full-court press with seven steals in the first half and 10 for the game. The 6-foot Nogueira dominated in the paint, blocking six shots and grabbing nine rebounds and Moore also applied plenty of pressure.
“At my height, it’s always fun to get a few blocks,” said Nogueira. “But everyone came out with tons of energy and quickness. We were aggressive, but not so much that we were getting called for fouls.”
Fenwick did not reach double digits until there was 3:13 left in the third quarter, as the Sachems began shuffling in their backups.
Viselli led the offense with 13 points, including three 3-pointers, while McNamara had 10 and Moore and McKenna Kilian each had eight points.
“Our game is based on defense,” said coach John McNamara. “We want to be aggressive and work hard. We have a lot of veteran players that have been through this before. We don’t feel like we are defending a title, we are going after another title.”
The Sachems will return to the court on Wednesday in Beverly against the winner of today’s quarterfinal between No. 4 Ipswich and No. 5 Winthrop. Pentucket down the gritty Tigers (18-3) 45-40 in the regular season.
“We wanted to come out, play hard and show everyone here that we can play defense and deserve to win another title,” said Moore. “We stepped up, and we want to keep playing this way through the tournament.”