LOWELL — Yirsy Queliz has been the symbol of St. Mary’s run of dominance in Division 3 girls’ basketball. So it was fitting that she would throw the ball high in the air for the final time to punctuate a repeat state championship and third overall since finishing as co-champions in 2020.
The top-seeded Spartans withstood a comeback attempt from Catholic Central rival Bishop Fenwick to win Saturday’s Division 3 final, 45-41, at the Tsongas Center. Queliz led St. Mary’s in her senior sendoff with 18 points.
“I felt like I was in the WNBA, winning a state championship at the end,” she said. “It felt amazing.”
The Spartans (23-2) laid down 10-2 and 11-2 runs at separate stages in the first half to pull away early. Whenever the No. 3 Crusaders (17-8) scored inside, St. Mary’s quickly pushed the ball back up the floor, with Queliz and Kellyn Preira (9 points) spearheading fastbreak buckets.
But the tone changed in the third quarter. Bishop Fenwick used a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to 32-30. Its zone defense took advantage of a Spartan side that came out of the half lethargic and missed shots they typically make. St. Mary’s scored just 2 points in the frame.
“I said to them when the [third] quarter was over, ‘We have eight minutes to win a state championship and we’re still ahead. I don’t think you could possibly play any worse,’” said St. Mary’s coach Jeff Newhall.
Niya Morgen tossed in 5 quick points to start the fourth quarter, giving St. Mary’s just enough of a cushion to seal the win.
“They’re more mentally tough than I am,” Newhall said.
The Crusaders suffered two blowout losses to their league rival in the regular season, but the young team never quit. Junior center Cecilia Kay slipped in crafty inside scores and knocked down two 3-pointers to finish with a game-high 23 points.
“The whole mantra tonight was to leave everything on the floor, and I think the girls did that,” said Bishop Fenwick coach Adam DeBaggis. “I’m not an easy coach to play for; I’m pretty demanding. They did so much all year — worked so hard watching film and all the stuff I asked them to do — so unbelievable heart and effort today.”
The victory marks the end to a two-year reign for one of the state’s premier trios who will each play in college next year. Queliz (Northeastern), Preira (Monmouth) and Morgen (Bentley) all eclipsed 1,000 career points and won back-to-back championships. Even Newhall exited the locker room after celebrating with tears in his eyes.
“I think it’s emotional because they were able to succeed in what they set out to do,” Newhall said, “but it’s also — it’s a tough moment to realize that we just watched them play for St. Mary’s for the last time.”
Queliz started at St. Mary’s in eighth grade after moving from the Dominican Republic. In five years, she made four state finals (2021 had no state tournament) and won three championships (co-champs in 2020). The 5-foot-5-inch point guard goes down as one of the best players in program history.
“It means a lot to me, leaving my family and just coming to basically make a whole new life,” Queliz said. “I didn’t know that all this was gonna happen, so it feels good.”
St. Mary’s 45, Bishop Fenwick 41
at Tsongas Center, Lowell
Bishop Fenwick (18-8) 8 10 12 11 — 41
St. Mary’s (23-2) 16 14 2 13 — 45
BISHOP FENWICK — Caitlin Boyle 4 3 11, Cecilia Kay 9 3 23, Celia Neilson 2 0 4, Anna Fertonani 1 0 3. Totals 16 6 41.
ST. MARY’S — Yirsy Queliz 8 0 18, Niya Morgen 3 0 8, Kellyn Preira 4 0 9, Jillian Roberts 1 0 2. Totals 16 0 37.
3-pt. goals: Cecilia Kay 2, Anna Fertonani; Yirsy Queliz 2, Niya Morgen 2, Kellyn Preira.
Ethan Fuller can be reached at email@example.com.