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Tigers oust Athol, 66-62

Athol's Molly Cleveland (4) fires up a baseline runner over South Hadley defender Julia Carey (14) during first-quarter action of the visiting Raiders' 66-62 WMass Division III Girls' Basketball Tournament quarterfinal loss Thursday night in South Hadley.
Recorder/J. Anthony Roberts

Athol's Molly Cleveland (4) fires up a baseline runner over South Hadley defender Julia Carey (14) during first-quarter action of the visiting Raiders' 66-62 WMass Division III Girls' Basketball Tournament quarterfinal loss Thursday night in South Hadley. Recorder/J. Anthony Roberts

SOUTH HADLEY — The ride is over for the Athol High School girls’ basketball team.

The Red Raiders fell to host South Hadley High School, 66-62, in the quarterfinals of the Western Massachusetts Division III Girls’ Basketball Tournament Wednesday night in what was a nail-biter right down to, for Athol, the bitter end.

The Red Raiders were down by 3 with eight seconds remaining after Tanner Favreau dropped in a trey to make it a one-possession game. Athol head coach Dan Bevis called a quick timeout and the message was clear: foul, and foul quickly. The Raiders touched up the Tigers’ Kara Callahan immediately on the inbound play and held on to some hope as the first of to free-throws spun in and out of the hoop. The hope was, however, short-lived when the South Hadley senior dropped in the second and put the game out of reach for the Raiders. It was a disappointing end to a very successful season for Athol.

“They made the plays, it’s their home gym, we know that they’re a tough team at home, and haven’t lost here for a couple of years,” said Bevis. “We came down here with a good game plan, I thought we executed it very well but you’ve got to give them credit, they made some big shots in the second half, and that was the difference in the game.”

The Red Raiders took to the locker room at the half with a 29-24 lead, after a second quarter in which they dropped in 21, 12 of by Molly Cleveland, who had a terrific night. Cleveland was dominating in the paint, dropping in three field goal in the frame, and hitting six of seven free-throws in the stanza, the last three from the charity stripe coming after being fouled on a 3-point attempt as time wound down.

Athol came out strong in the third but South Hadley chipped away, and with 2:55 remaining, Callahan sunk a pair of freebies to give South Hadley a 40-39 lead. The quarter ended with the score knotted at 45, and the noise in the gym was deafening.

Athol scored first in the fourth on a hard Cleveland push to the hoop to build a 51-47 advantage with six and a half minutes remaining. The Tigers then went on a 6-0 run, putting them up 53-51, a lead that they would not relinquish. Athol fought hard but could not close the gap.

“I think we got a little tired,” reflected Bevis.” We stopped rebounding, and you just have to give them credit. They’re one of the hottest teams in western Mass. right now. We played with them, and I’m very proud of our girls.”

For Athol (19-3), even through this disappointment, the future looks bright. It is a squad that featured no seniors and will return to the floor next year completely intact, and a year older and wiser.

“It’s disappointing to lose, and it’s my job now to challenge them going into next year, and maybe have this game be at home instead of on the road.” Bevis said.

Cleveland was the game’s high scorer with 24 points. Julia Salmond dropped in 16 for the Raiders, and Favreau contributed 9. For South Hadley, Sophia Gatzounas poured in 20, Callahan netted 16, and Samantha Gawron put in 11, including three long 3-balls.

South Hadley (17-5) , the No. 4 seed, advances to the tournament semifinals to be held at the Curry Hicks Cage, and will face a tough task because it faces top-seeded Sabis International Charter School with a spot in the finals on the line.

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