By Nate Weitzer (@Nweitzer7)
HAVERHILL, Mass. - The Woburn girls’ high school basketball team is heading back to the Division 1 North finals.
The defending sectional champions advanced to the state quarterfinals by besting No. 7 Central Catholic, 65-44, in the Division 1 North semifinals at Whittier Tech on Monday night.
While third-seeded Woburn (20-3) was led as usual by star senior point guard Marissa Gattuso, the Tanners floor general struggled out of the gates, committing three turnovers while missing all three of her field goal attempts in the first quarter.
Yet she found her rhythm with seven points in the second quarter and wound up with a game-high 16 points, adding five rebounds, five assists and four steals as the Tanners won going away.
“We just came together as a team. We had a lot of nice passes and got same lay-ups by breaking [The Raiders] press,” said Gattuso. “We’re comfortable here [at Whittier Tech] and it’s always a great atmosphere to play in.”
Woburn led 25-18 at the half and quickly expanded that lead to 43-29 when Gattuso led a 10-4 run late in the third quarter. From there, the Tanners leaned on their trademark defense and showed plenty of composure against a full court press while shooting 19 of 23 at the free throw line to salt away the win.
“We were able to get stops on the defensive end and get out and run,” Woburn coach Steve Sullivan said. “I’m real proud of the team. I think they all stepped up and made plays and that’s what it’s going to take at this stage in the tournament when every team you face is a great team”
A physical Central Catholic (16-7) team closed the gap at the start of the fourth, but Tanners senior Mya Blazejowski (8 points, 3 blocks) responded with a lay-up and a triple to put Woburn up 58-42 and put the game on ice with just over four minutes left.
Freshman Ashlyn Pacheco (8 points, 3 assist) played a key role as a secondary ball handler when the defense keyed in on Gattuso, while junior Kelsey Qualey (13 points, 12 rebounds) anchored the Tanners defense and controlled the boards along with sophomore Marina Rufo (8 points, 6 rebounds).
“Marissa [Gattuso] is an unbelievable player and she runs the show for us, but teams are going to focus on her and everyone stepped up and made plays,” Sullivan said. “These girls have been in these types of games before and the situation isn’t too big for them.”
Now the Tanners will await the winner of the other D1 North semifinals matchup between No. 1 Andover (20-1) and No. 5 Billerica (17-5), with the winner slated to meet Woburn in the sectional finals at Whitter Tech at 4 p.m. this Saturday.