With a premium on defense, this morning's Division 3 girls state championship between Pentucket and Sabis International may not be the prettiest game of the day at the DCU Center in Worcester.
But the North champion Sachems (22-4) and the West champion Bulldogs (21-5) couldn't care less. They're just happy to be in the title game and will take a victory any way they can get it.
Sabis, located in Springfield, is particularly thrilled with its opportunity. A charter school that opened in 1995, it has never experienced anywhere near this year's success.
Head coach Tom Campagna, who has directed the program from the outset, summarized the Bulldogs' elevation after whipping Sutton, 54-29, in Wednesday's West/Central state semifinal game.
"I knew we had a good shot at making the tournament this year, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be talking about going for a state title," said Campagna. "I thought we would have a good team. We played the toughest schedule we've ever played — (Springfield) Central, Notre Dame (of Hingham), Minnechaug. I wanted us to be tested."
And for the most part, the Bulldogs have passed their tests and are geared for Pentucket in what should be an extremely competitive matchup. Both teams ride their defenses and can be inconsistent offensively.
Led by junior guards Jazmine Collins and Shyanne Wellington, Sabis averages 18 steals and a whopping 47 rebounds per game. In the Bulldogs' rout of Sutton, they dominated the boards, forced 23 turnovers and allowed just nine field goals.
"They really go after it and they trap and press all over," said Pentucket coach John McNamara. "We're going to have to take care of the ball. They're the fastest team we've played and it's different for us, playing a city team.
"We'll need a team effort. We have five players who can handle the ball. It's just a matter of making good passes and coming to get the ball."
Defensively, Pentucket will need to contain the athletic Collins, who averaged 17.8 points per game and has already reached 1,000 points in her career. She gets good help from freshman guard Janaiya Sanchez, who averages 11.1 points and leads the team in 3-pointers with 36.
Wellington, at just 5-foot-6, averages 8 points, but leads the team with 10 rebounds per game.
The Sachems, who have won four sectional crowns in the last six years and advanced to the state title game in 2010 only to lose to Lee, will be looking to continue getting off to a good start and riding their defense.
In four tournament games, Pentucket has given up 30 points or less every time and allowed more than seven points just once in the first or second quarters.
"I didn't necessarily think we'd be here, but I thought we'd have a good team and we're playing well now," said McNamara. "If we play the way we have been playing, we'll be okay."
And okay could be enough for the school's first state basketball title.
Road to the finals
Pentucket 56, Newburyport 29
Pentucket 53, Swampscott 27
Pentucket 49, Ipswich 30
Pentucket 53, Fairhaven 29
Sabis 56, Ware 50
Sabis 39, Lenox 36
Sabis 54, Sutton 29
One common opponent
Both Pentucket and Sabis upgraded their schedules this year and ran across one common opponent in Notre Dame of Hingham. The Sachems split with Notre Dame, losing 47-41 at home and then winning 61-57 on the road, while Sabis lost to Notre Dame 63-48.