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Tigers swat Panthers

  • Above, Pioneer’s Jordan Loughman (20) drives to the hoop defended by Maynard’s Ian Fowler (1) during their MIAA Division IV state semifinal game Monday night at American International College in Springfield. Below, Pioneer sharpshooter Garrett Cote (13) takes it to the hole against Maynard. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Pioneer’s Jordan Loughman (20) takes a shot over Maynard defenders during their MIAA Division IV state semifinal game Monday night at American International College in Springfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Pioneer’s Garrett Cote (13) takes it to the hole against Maynard during their MIAA Division IV state semifinal game Monday night at American International College in Springfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Pioneer’s Jordan Loughman (20) puts up a shot guarded by Maynard’s Sean Primiano (11) during their MIAA Division IV state semifinal game Monday night at American International College in Springfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Pioneer tips off against Maynard at the start of their MIAA Division IV state semifinal game, on Monday, Mar. 12, 2018 at American International College in Springfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Pioneer’s Jordan Loughman (20) drives to the hoop defended by Maynard’s Sean Primiano (11), left, and Ian Fowler (1) in the first quarter of their MIAA Division IV state semifinal game Monday night at American International College in Springfield. Recorder Staff/Dan Little



Recorder Staff
Monday, March 12, 2018

SPRINGFIELD — Sometimes, it’s just not your night.

Despite doing a respectable job on the defensive end to hold defending state-champion Maynard High School and its up-tempo offense in check for three quarters, the offense was nowhere to be found and Pioneer Valley Regional School had its season come to an end with a 70-38 loss in the MIAA Division IV State Boys’ Basketball semifinals at Butova Gymnasium on the campus of American International College.

Pioneer’s lack of offense came after the Panthers scored 15 points in the first quarter but then went on to score 11 points over the next 20 minutes, a span that carried to the midpoint of the fourth quarter. The Panthers went into the second quarter down 21-15 but netted just six points in the second quarter and four more in the third . When the fourth quarter started, the Tigers held a 45-26 lead. At that point, Maynard pulled away, scoring the first 16 points of the fourth quarter with the wind taken out of Pioneer’s sails.

“We knew coming in what they were capable of,” Pioneer coach Scott Thayer said. “For whatever reason, we just weren’t mentally engaged like we had been the past couple of weeks. We missed some shots that were good shots, and we couldn’t stay connected to them long enough. And when they made that run, it just kind of snowballed from there.”

Although Pioneer (18-6) struggled to knock down its open looks, the Tigers’ defense also contributed to the struggles. After a wild first quarter, Maynard (24-3) switched to a zone in the second and swarmed to the ball, causing numerous turnovers. The result was a power-outage for the Pioneer offense.

“He made a nice adjustment to go to the zone,” Thayer said. “Man-to-man, we were getting good looks. We just couldn’t get it going.”

Despite the offensive struggles, the Panthers remained within striking distance for much of the game thanks to a defense that did not quit. Maynard led 37-21 going into the second half, but the Pioneer defense limited the Tigers to eight points in the third quarter. The problem was that after Garrett Cote hit a 3-pointer 44 seconds into the second half to cut the deficit to 37-24, Pioneer scored just two points in the rest of the third quarter.

“We told them, ‘We’re not playing as bad as we look, we just couldn’t get shots to go in and feed off that energy,” Thayer said. “When you see that ball go through the hoop a little bit you have a little more pep in your step and you defend a little harder. You can only defend for so long without putting the ball in the hoop.”

The first quarter turned into a track meet with the teams combining for 36 points, with Maynard jumping out to the 21-15 lead. Chris Bastian accounted for 10 of the Tigers’ 21 points as the Panthers struggled to contain his inside presence. Maynard grabbed an early lead it never relinquished and ran the lead to as high as eight points at 21-13, before a pair of free throws by Cote with less than a second left cut the deficit to six points heading into the second quarter.

Bastian’s big first-quarter caused the Panthers to have to sag in on defense, which helped ignite the Tigers’ outside efficiency, which came courtesy of Tommy Smith. With Maynard holding a 25-18 lead with less than four minutes to play, the forward began getting hot from the perimeter. Back-to-back 3-pointers stretched the Tigers’ lead to 31-18, and Smith hit another later in the frame to help Maynard build a 37-21 lead at the break.

Another force on Maynard was the play of guard Corey Olivier, who averaged 30.3 points per game during the Central Massachusetts Tournament. The Panthers limited the senior to 8 points, but he also finished with 8 assists and 4 rebounds.

Smith finished with six 3-pointers and went on to lead the Tigers’ offense with 24 points, while Bastian added 18.

Karl Wheeler had a strong final game for Pioneer with 14 points, while Jordan Loughman added 9, and Cote finished with 7.

Thayer said he was most pleased with his team for laying a foundation for years to come. None of the players on the team had even been born the last time Pioneer won a WMass title, and he believes that the large contingent of Pioneer fans to make the trip to Springfield on Monday, including numerous young players, will help the program get back to the state tournament.

“We will be back,” he said. “It’s been a long time since this school has been in this situation, but it only takes one team to turn it around. By the turnout we had, with all the little kids, and seventh and eighth graders that follow this team, the ball is rolling up hill and this team started that.”