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Tigers claw Green Wave

  • Recorder/Mike Phillips<br/>Greenfield’s Vincent Funari goes up for a shot as South Hadley’s Patric Sears defends during the Green Wave’s 55-49 loss in the Western Mass. Division II boys’ basketball title game Satruday at Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst.

    Recorder/Mike Phillips
    Greenfield’s Vincent Funari goes up for a shot as South Hadley’s Patric Sears defends during the Green Wave’s 55-49 loss in the Western Mass. Division II boys’ basketball title game Satruday at Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst.

  • Recorder/Mike Phillips<br/>Greenfield’s Lew Borden takes a shot over South Hadley’s Anthony Bullough during the Green Wave’s 55-49 loss in the Western Mass. Division II boys’ basketball title game Satruday at Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst.

    Recorder/Mike Phillips
    Greenfield’s Lew Borden takes a shot over South Hadley’s Anthony Bullough during the Green Wave’s 55-49 loss in the Western Mass. Division II boys’ basketball title game Satruday at Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst.

  • Recorder/Mike Phillips<br/>Greenfield’s Vincent Funari goes up for a shot as South Hadley’s Patric Sears defends during the Green Wave’s 55-49 loss in the Western Mass. Division II boys’ basketball title game Satruday at Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst.
  • Recorder/Mike Phillips<br/>Greenfield’s Lew Borden takes a shot over South Hadley’s Anthony Bullough during the Green Wave’s 55-49 loss in the Western Mass. Division II boys’ basketball title game Satruday at Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst.

AMHERST — Greenfield High School rode its defense to the doorstep of a Western Massachusetts Division II boys’ basketball championship.

However, it was the top-seeded Green Wave’s lack of a consistent offense that led to a 55-49 loss to No. 2 South Hadley High School in the WMass finals Saturday at Curry Hicks Cage. Greenfield’s defense made South Hadley work for every basket it scored, and, even down by five points with under a minute to go, the Green Wave’s Lew Borden was on the receiving end of an errant South Hadley pass. Spotting up for a 3-point attempt from the top of the arc, Borden was inches wide of hitting a shot that would have cut the deficit to two.

“I didn’t think there was a sense of urgency until the last six minutes,” Greenfield coach Scott Thayer said. “But, saying that, Lew hits that 3 and we’re down two with 20 seconds left. That’s a place we wanted to be after the way we played.”

It was a game in which Greenfield never held a lead. Robin Marchese, the second-leading scorer for the Green Wave, was the primary focus of South Hadley’s defense, and the Tigers’ job of keeping Marchese out of rhythm left him scoreless on the evening.

Greenfield’s first points of the game would come from senior Tyler Miller (10 points) on an and-one play, cutting an early 4-0 deficit to 4-3. South Hadley jumped out to a 11-5 lead after that, but Greenfield in turn used its defense to create offense. Borden (team-high 14 points) started a 6-1 run with a shot under the basket. Then, a few plays later, Garrett Hudson stole the ball and finished at the other end off a pass from Borden. With the score whittled down to 12-9, Vin Funari (13 points) stole another pass, and went the distance himself to cut the score to 12-11 going into the second quarter.

It was that sort of defensive pressure that had South Hadley coach Jeff Guiel nervous coming into the game.

“Historically (Greenfield) is great in the half-court. It was the full-court defense, on this big floor, that was even better than we thought. We spent several days practicing for that. We practiced the run-and-jump with them, and I thought we would be OK with them. But they still disrupted us,” Guiel said.

In the second quarter, the South Hadley guards stole the show. The starting backcourt of Evan Marcus (12 points) and Avon White (13 points) slashed their way into the lane to create interior offense, and freshman Griffin Fitzell (seven points) knocked down back-to-back threes to help the Tigers go on a 10-0 run through a majority of the quarter.

“(South Hadley) was the aggressor tonight,” Thayer said. “They have two good guards and we couldn’t handle them like we wanted to.”

But even then, Greenfield knocked down back-to-back 3s, sandwiched between a Marchese steal, to cut the deficit to 24-19 going into halftime.

In the third, the Wave got within two points, 25-23, when Borden grabbed his own missed shot twice before converting under the basket. But South Hadley would stage a 7-1 run after Borden’s basket to extend the lead to 32-24. To compound problems for Greenfield, Marchese twisted his ankle on the possession following the Tigers’ run. It knocked Marchese out for a bulk of the third before he returned in the fourth, although he played the remainder of the game with a hitch in his step. After three, South Hadley held a 38-28 lead.

South Hadley would extend the lead to 13 in the opening moments of the fourth. But Greenfield was not about to let the game go.

Borden came back down the court on the following possession and converted on another offensive rebound, drawing a foul in the process, but he missed the and-one chance. Four plays later, it was Borden again for Greenfield, scoring on an overhead hook shot with his back still to the basket.

“We thought we had an advantage inside, and when we got it going, we did,” Thayer said. “But we didn’t get it down there enough. We were playing outside-in, instead of inside-out.”

Funari would knock down a 3 coming off of a screen by Connor Eckstrom, cutting the deficit to 41-35. But again South Hadley answered. The Tigers bounced their lead back out to 10 points, and seemed poised to hold the double-digit lead through the final minutes.

But the Green Wave still had one more run in them.

Down 51-41 with 1:30 to play, Miller started the run with a baseline jumper. After a missed South Hadley shot, Funari found Miller on the break to cut the lead to six. After a free throw from White made it a seven point game, Borden drew a foul and knocked down both of his free throws to make it a five-point game.

Then, on the ensuing inbounds pass, the Tigers’ T.J. Fitzell tried to bounce the ball off a Greenfield defender’s back. Fitzell missed the defender, and the ball came to Borden. At the top of the arc, Borden went for the quick shot to try and cut the deficit. But his shot clanked off the right side of the rim. South Hadley would add three more free throws to go up 55-47 before Borden made a layup as time expired.

After averaging 10 points per game during the regular season, and a 17-point performance in the win over Taconic High School in the semifinals, Marchese had a tough night offensively, going scoreless in Saturday’s game.

The loss marks the end of Miller’s and Rahul Malik’s career for Greenfield, but the team will return a majority of the rotation players, something that Thayer hopes will work to his advantage.

“It’s unfortunate for Tyler and Rahul that we didn’t win,” Thayer said, “but we’re a young team. If you had asked me on Dec. 1 if we’d be here, I don’t know if I would have thought that. But we had a great start, they bought in early, and when you have a young team buy in early, you can have a run of success. But we have to put the work in. If we don’t, it’s all for naught.”

The Green Wave finish the season with a 20-3 record.

South Hadley (16-7) advances to the Division II state semifinals Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the DCU Center in Worcester, where it will play Central Mass. champions St. Bernard’s Central Catholic High School of Fitchburg.

For more photos of the game, visit The Recorder’s Facebook page.

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