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Panthers roar back, oust Eagles

  • Pioneer’s Troy Emond (3) takes a shot in the second half against Franklin Tech Saturday in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Pioneer’s Karl Wheeler (14) goes in for a layup between Franklin Tech defenders Garrett Cole (25) and Sim Maniatty (24) Saturday in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Franklin Tech’s Garrett Cole (25) pulls down a rebound in the second half against Pioneer Saturday in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Franklin Tech’s Joel Farrick (23) drives to the hoop for a layup in the first half against Pioneer Saturday in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Pioneer sharpshooter Mike Menard (25) puts up one of his five successful 3-pointers against Franklin Tech Saturday in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Franklin Tech’s Seth Aldrich (3) pulls down a rebound over Pioneer’s Jordan Loughman (20) in the second half Saturday in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Franklin Tech’s Garrett Cole (25) pulls down a rebound over Pioneer’s Jordan Loughman (20) in the second half Saturday in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Pioneer’s Karl Wheeler (14) dishes out a pass in the second half against Franklin Tech Saturday in Northfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little



For the Recorder
Sunday, March 04, 2018

NORTHFIELD — If the first 12 minutes of Saturday afternoon’s game showed nothing else, it was abundantly clear that one team hadn’t played a game in 15 days.

Franklin County Technical School took full advantage, bolting to a 10-point lead early in the second quarter and was still ahead by eight at the midway point. Yet host Pioneer Valley Regional School started to reel in the Eagles late in the half, then ran off the first 13 points after halftime, part of a run of 18 unanswered points that proved the difference in the game. Third-seeded Pioneer advanced with a 59-43 victory over Franklin Tech in the Western Massachusetts Division IV Boys’ Basketball Tournament quarterfinals at Messer Gymnasium.

The Panthers improved to 16-5 and moved on to a WMass semifinal date with second-seeded Drury High School (17-4) tonight at 6:30 at UMass’ Curry Hicks Cage. Pioneer, playing without three starters at the time, began its season with a 74-44 home loss to Drury back on Dec. 13.

Mike Menard threw in five 3-pointers and a game-high 23 points for the Panthers, 18 of them coming after halftime. Garrett Cote contributed 16 points, including 8-of-8 free-throw shooting in the game’s final 2:03, and Jordan Loughman also hit double digits with 12.

Joel Farrick topped the 11th-seeded Eagles (11-11) with 18 points and four hits from beyond the arc.

“That was my biggest fear,” said Pioneer coach Scott Thayer, whose team had wrapped up the regular season Feb. 15. “To our credit, we didn’t go down big. We hung in there, we cut it to three at the half. We needed a little more energy, more effort, more mental engagement on the defensive end. Then the floodgates opened a little bit, you could see them breathe a little easier, and then we just started to play.”

Franklin Tech nosed in front early in the first quarter and led 13-8 at the break, thanks to Farrick’s basket with just eight seconds left. Garrett Cole then began the second quarter with a putback of Sim Maniatty’s miss and Jared Bergmann (eight points) stuck a 3-pointer from the left wing, boosting the Eagles into an 18-8 advantage.

Farrick later added his second trey of the day with 4:06 to play to make it 23-15, but the visitors didn’t score again in the half. Menard stepped out for a 3-pointer and Loughman banked in a runner to pull Pioneer to within 23-20 at intermission.

“Any time you’re up 10 points, it doesn’t matter what point of the game it is, you like how it’s going,” said Tech coach and Pioneer alum Matt Llewelyn. “We were hitting our stride early and executing the game plan pretty well. They switched to zone late in the second quarter, and unfortunately that was our Achilles’ heel for the rest of the day.

“Twenty points in the second half usually doesn’t win a high school basketball game, and their defense was a big factor.”

At the top of the third quarter, Menard and Cote got the Panthers started with 3-pointers, giving Pioneer the lead at 26-23. Menard then ran off seven in a row of his own, with two at the line, a dotted-line runner and a left-elbow trey. That forced a Tech timeout with 3:15 to play, with the Eagles trailing 33-23.

Out of the timeout, Maniatty stopped Tech’s scoring drought of 9:18 with a layup and Cole hit a midrange jumper to make it 33-27. Menard answered with another three-ball and Troy Emond beat the clock with a baseline drive and score with two seconds left, lifting Pioneer into a 38-29 lead after three.

The hosts then took command while the Eagles could manage only three free throws over the next five-plus minutes. Loughman and Menard combined to score nine straight points as Pioneer went up 49-32 at the 3:16 mark. Maniatty and Farrick (twice) tried to keep Tech in it with late 3-pointers, but Cote made the game safe with 8-for-8 cold-blooded makes at the line over the last 2:03.

“We’ve got to play as a five-person unit. When we get a little stagnant, like we did in the second and third quarters, points are tough to come by,” said Llewelyn of his team’s long scoring droughts. “It definitely felt like forever, watching it. We did come back, we made a couple of baskets to kind of make it interesting.”

The Eagles lose seniors Farrick and Seth Aldrich from among their regulars, but come off a postseason trip where they posted their first-ever road playoff win in the first round.

“We had some injuries, some kids quit. This group of seven kids on varsity has stuck around and didn’t follow the crowd,” said Llewelyn. “If they’re not already, they’re going to be good young adults. That’s what we’re striving for.”

For Thayer and Pioneer, tonight’s trip to the Cage presents a rematch with a Drury team that threatened the century mark in its 96-62 quarterfinal win over Duggan Academy Saturday.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve got to put (the first game) out of our minds, and believe that we can go in and compete,” said Thayer. “It’s gonna be a rockfight. We’re pretty good if we do things the way we’re supposed to. We’re going down there guns a-blazing.”