For the last three seasons, the Stoneham High School girls' basketball team has survived long enough to see action in the MIAA Division 3 North Sectional semifinals. Two years ago the Lady Spartans lost to Swampscott, 79-60, and last season they lost to Bishop Fenwick, 53-49.
This season Stoneham finally got over the seminfinal hump with a convincing 51-31 rout of Ipswich to make it to the Div. 3 North finals for the first time in the program's history.
But while the Spartans would ultimately lose to St. Mary's of Lynn, 65-53, in the finals on March 12, this season will definitely go down as one of the best in Stoneham's history.
“The seniors... what a run they made,” said Stoneham coach Angela Billings after the championship. “They made it further than any girls team from Stoneham ever has, and they got to play at Tsongas (Center). They played with a lot of heart all season.”
The Lady Spartans started the regular season off hot and stayed hot throughout. Stoneham opened the season with big wins over Wakefield and Winchester, followed by a blowout win against Watertown in which Vanessa Bramante racked up 16 points.
Stoneham would make it eight straight with a 40-31 win over Lexington and then improved to 9-0 with a 64-38 drubbing of Belmont thanks to strong efforts by Vanessa Parker (12 points), Ariana Tuccelli (10 points) and Alison Brennan with 10 markers.
The Spartans incredible win streak finally came to an end at the hands of eventual Middlesex champion Reading in a 57-42 loss. Woburn handed Stoneham yet another loss to give the Spartans their first and only losing streak of the season, but it was short-lived as a big 52-35 win over Winchester put them back in the win column.
From there Stoneham went on another impressive streak, reeling off seven consecutive wins, including a 46-24 win over Burlington, a 49-27 win over Melrose, a 52-45 win against Lexington and a dominant 46-21 win over Wakefield.
Up next for the Spartans was a home game against Woburn, one of only two teams to have beaten Stoneham up to that point. Stoneham avenged its early- season loss with a 43-36 win over the Tanners.
With a trip to Reading marking its final game of the season, Stoneham had an opportunity to clinch a share of the Middlesex League title with a win, but Reading once again proved too much for the Spartans as Stoneham lost, 69-56, to finish the season at 17-3 overall and 15-3 in the league.
The quarterfinal matchup between Stoneham and Bishop Fenwick was a rematch of last season's semifinals game, and the Lady Spartans got their revenge with an exhilarating 53-44 win in front of a raucous home crowd.
"I think the girls were definitely thinking about (last year's game)," said Billings after the win. "(Bishop Fenwick) is a good team and we knew we were playing them after they knocked us out last year so the girls were really psyched about that."
Stoneham will be losing some key players next season, including Jen Geraghty, Tuccelli and Bramante.
Check out Stoneham Patch contributor Andrew Sylvia's photographs from Stoneham's championship bout with St. Mary's on March 12.