CARVER - The Crusaders have certainly started out strong in this year’s state tournament. While being seeded fifth among 16 teams in the bracket dictated by their 15-5 regular season record, they’ve made quick work of both of their opponents thus far. They also have a matchup with a nearly undefeated St. John Paul squad on the way.

Carver hosted Blue Hills in the first round and made good use of its home court advantage. They defeated the 12th-seeded Blue Hills squad, 55-36, mostly thanks to a resilient defense that wouldn’t back down, starting from the opening tip. In the first quarter, they used a 1-3-1 full-court press to create chaos early in the shot clock, and when Blue Hills crossed the halfcourt line, the team would have a depleted shot clock to work with. This structure helped the Crusaders force five first quarter turnovers, which fueled a 23-6 opening quarter. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, Carver had control.

“I think the girls really committed to the defensive end of the court. We knew that 20 (Jamillia Ross) was very good, we knew that 2 (Tia Cumberbatch) could handle the ball and shoot, both of them. We knew we had to face-guard them and try to keep the ball out of their hands. In the games we scouted and films we had, we figured about 70 percent of their scoring was coming from those two players. We committed to keeping the ball out of their hands. Full-court deny on (Ross), half-court deny on (Cumberbatch) and it seemed like we did OK. We limited their scoring and I think they did a good job,” coach John Rozen said after the win.

In anticipation of the game against South Shore Tech, Rozen expected the defense to be the x-factor.

“They’ve got two bigs. One of them is 6-foot-3 and the other one is 6-foot-1 and they’re a good size. We’re going to have to defend down low. They try to feed them a lot so we’re going to have to dig down on them and pressure the ball when they get it in their hands.”

He added, “They don’t have a ton of outside shooters, but they’ve got a couple good guys that can handle the ball, enough to get it fed down low. We think we can run the floor on them, so that’s kind of the plan.”

The plan worked Monday night. They stuck to it, and the strategy lifted them to their second tournament victory. The defense was as good as advertised, forcing South Shore Tech to cough it up 26 times in the first half, and 40 times overall. The Vikings couldn’t handle the Crusaders’ constant, relentless ball pressure. The full court press forced the Vikings to play a bit out of their comfort zone, which benefitted Carver on the scoreboard. The Crusaders jumped ahead to a 10-0 start, until the Vikings battled back to come within three points at the end of the first quarter. After that, it was all Carver as the Crusaders stormed onto South Shore Tech’s home turf and came out victorious, 69-37.

The three-point shooting has been spotty through the first two games, but the Crusaders haven’t needed it so far. The offense has been mainly comprised of easy scores in the paint and points scored off turnovers with a quick pace of play on the fastbreak. The threes did begin to fall in the later stages of the game as the Crusaders hit six in the second half, two by Emma Simmons, two by Jordan Vitale, and one for both Maddie Mueller and Sydney Harrington.

“We started to go back into a defense that really got us here. We face-fronted their two best ball handlers and everyone else played help man-to-man defense. That really seemed to click and because it was running so well, we stayed in it. The shots didn’t come early, Emma and Maddie, usually, are consistent with threes. We were hitting nothing early, so we just fed off the points off the press in transition. Then, the threes came in the second half. Once those start falling, it takes the wind out of a team, it’s like a dagger.”

Simmons, the team’s most recent 1,000-point scorer, has had her struggles so far early in the tournament. She finished the game against SST with eight points, seven of them coming in the second half, and her first field goal was scored a minute into the third quarter.

Next up, Carver is matched up with the tournament’s number one seed, St. John Paul, which finished the regular season with a 19-1 record. It’ll be an uphill battle for the Crusaders, but their recent performance gives them, and coach Rozen, plenty of reason to be confident.

“I’ve seen St. John Paul, so I know what they’ve got. They’ve got some good athletes, they’ve got a good post player. We know what they’ve got and they’re athletic, so we’re going to have to play good defense and we’ll see what happens. It should be a good matchup.”

Carver faces St. John Paul in the semi-finals in Taunton on March 5, in what will be one of the most anticipated games the tournament has had to offer so far.