Archbishop Williams coach Jim Bancroft knows the UMass-Boston court all too well.
The 10-year coach’s last two appearances ended with losses to Fairhaven in 2012 and Coyle & Cassidy in 2011.
This year it was different. Archbishop Williams defeated Ashland, 59-42, on Saturday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell to become the Division 3 South champions for the second time in four years. The Archies will face North champion Pentucket in the EMass championship game Monday at TD Garden.
Second-ranked Archbishop Williams (21-5) opened the game with an 8-2 run, but Ilyza Holman, who led the Clockers with 15 points, buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cap an 11-2 run by Ashland (17-7) to end the first quarter.
Archbishop Williams fought back in the second quarter to take a 28-22 lead into halftime.
“[Coach] told us that their team was mostly seniors, so they weren’t ever going to let up, so we just had to work harder than them,” Archies sophomore forward Alana Gilmer said.
But it was Archbishop Williams that didn’t let up.
The Archies picked up their intensity in the third quarter and went on an 11-3 run by getting out on the break and scoring on transition to forge a 39-25 lead. Archbishop Williams held Ashland to 5 points in the third quarter.
“I told them experience doesn’t matter,’’ Bancroft said. “I said once the game starts the experience kind of goes out the window to who wants it more. It was kind of even in the first half, but second half I think we showed them that we played better and we wanted it more.”
Gilmer outscored Ashland in the second quarter by herself, 11-9, and finished with 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Pentucket 38, Watertown 24 — Pentucket had the scouting report on how to stop Watertown: Keep Gabby Coppola from getting into the lane, where she had been so dangerous throughout the tournament.
Knees bent, hands outstretched, and an eye toward Watertown’s junior point guard, the Sachems held Coppola to 4 points and beat the Raiders at the Tsongas Center.
“We tried to get the ball out of her hands a little bit early,” said Pentucket coach John McNamara. “But we just made sure we had good gap defense, good help defense on her so that she couldn’t penetrate to the hoop and get to the rim and draw fouls. I think we did a good job of that.”
Sophomore point guard Kelsi McNamara, John’s daughter, drew the responsibility of defending Coppola for much of the game. Even when McNamara was beat off the dribble, she knew she had a teammate furiously shuffling behind her to cut off lanes to the basket.
“We knew that she was a really good point guard,” McNamara said of Coppola. “We knew we had to contain her because she was really good at going by people. That was our main goal of containing her and making sure she had to give up the ball so that other people would have to dribble it.”
Out of its offensive rhythm, Watertown (13-11) had difficulty finding its range from the outside. By halftime, Pentucket (24-1) had only allowed two field goals — one in each quarter — and led, 23-6.
“They defend so well that it stops you from running what you want to run,” said Watertown coach Pat Ferdinand. “That’s their key. It’s like a test of wills. Who’s able to do what you do for the longer stretch? We had moments, we had spurts, but we’re still a young team and the environment was a little bit of a shellshock in the beginning.”
Top-seeded Pentucket, on the other hand, had played at Tsongas Center before.
Last year’s Division 3 state champions received 15 points from both McNamara and senior Nicole Viselli. McNamara had 8 of Pentucket’s first 12 points despite playing on a taped-up right knee she strained on Wednesday in Pentucket’s semifinal win over Ipswich.
“It bothered me sometimes,” McNamara said. “But this was such an important game that I knew I just had to play through it. When it’s taped and stuff it feels pretty good.”