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Peaking Senators shooting for finals

Can Mahar Regional School make it two straight finals?

After stunning third-seeded Athol High School, 46-38, in an instant-classic quarterfinal match Friday night, the sixth-seeded Senators enter tonight’s WMass Division II girls’ basketball semifinal against Hoosac Valley Regional High School as the favorite. The seventh-seeded Hurricanes pulled off a stunner of their own on Friday as they knocked off second-seeded Hampshire Regional High School, 65-61, in double overtime in their quarterfinal game.

This marks the second straight season the teams will meet in the tournament and, if last year’s game is any indication, fans could be in for another epic showdown. Mahar’s 57-55 double-overtime thriller at home in the quarterfinals last season, gave the team plenty of advanced scouting on the Hurricanes.

One area the Senators (18-4) must focus on is the backcourt, because the Hoosac Valley (17-5) defense employs a press that can give guard tandems fits. Meg Rodowicz, a 5-foot, 10-inch junior is a forward who plays the front of the trap, her long body a major obstruction that’s difficult to see past. Starting shooting guard Jenn Gale (junior) will be paired with either sophomore Mckenzie Robinson or freshman Madi Ryan at guard, and they will work with Rodowicz to try and disrupt the Senators as they try to move the ball upcourt.

The good news for the Senators is that they have a pair of experienced guards capable or breaking the trap. Senior Jill Valley has played the point for coach Larry Fisher for four years, while precocious freshman Ally Parker is in her second year of varsity ball. Fisher said that breaking the trap may start with Valley and Parker but will trickle down to every player on the floor, with players like Natasha Patria, Jenelle Juskiewicz, Keanna Whitmore and Caitriona Cronin to help out. And no doubt about it: the unit has been successful this season.

“We have handled the press pretty well and teams have not been able to stay in it very long,” he said. “Hopefully, that will be the case this time as well.”

Offensively, Hoosac is led by sophomore center Emily Rosse, a 5-11 tall tree who averages 11.4 points per game. In last year’s meeting, Rosse torched the Senators for 27 points, something the Mahar coach is looking to change this time around.

“She’s a really good, strong, physical player,” Fisher began. “She goes to the hoop very well and we can’t let her get 27 points again or we are not going to be successful.”

From there, the scoring drops off a bit. Gale is the Hurricane’s best outside shooter with 9.6 points per game, including 38 3-pointers, while Rodowicz can also put the ball in the hoop. At the point guard will be either Robinson or Ryan. Robinson started much of the season but Ryan got the nod against Hampshire because she’s a better scorer. Robinson is more of a playmaker.

The Senators have been winning due in large part to their defense. In their last six wins, the Senators have held opponents to 39 points or less, including both tournament games. The team managed to limit a powerful Athol offense to just 38 points in the quarterfinals and Fisher said he expects the momentum to carry over for this game.

“The Athol win helps us with momentum,” he explained, “but at the same time, we have to put it behind us. At the beginning of the year, I thought Athol and Hoosac Valley were the two best teams in WMass, so we have to move on. And defense is going to be key again. Our man-to-man defense has been pretty strong and getting better, and that’s been a bit of a surprise because it was not our strong point last season.”

As for the offense, Mahar has not been lighting up the scoreboard, but has been proficient enough to win. Leading scorer Jill Valley (18.4 points per game) will likely again be clamped down by opposing defenders, and the team may again have to rely on other players stepping up. In the first two games, the Senators’ two youngest players have stepped up to the challenge. Parker scored 13 points in the win over Frontier, and followed it up with 10 (all free throws) against the Red Raiders. Eighth-grade center Cassie Verheyen was a huge spark against Athol, giving the Senators a team-high 14 points. Patria (9.9 points per game) can score from all over the floor, while Juskiewicz (6.7 points) is a threat from the outside.

Last winter ended with the Senators falling to Palmer High School, 53-37, in the WMass Division II title game, a game the Senators now find themselves one win away from returning to.

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