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Mahar dunks Hawks

ORANGE — It was a game of survival for sixth-seeded Mahar Regional School on Tuesday night.

The Senators had to first overcome a poor start on the offensive end that saw them score just 17 first-half points, and then had to withstand a massive offensive assault by 11th-seeded Frontier Regional School over the final five minutes of the game, in which the Red Hawks cut a 22-point deficit down to four.

In the end, the Senators advanced to Friday night’s WMass girls Division II basketball quarterfinal game with a 44-39 victory in a first-round contest at Grzesik-Bixby Gymnasium.

After both teams struggled to put the ball in the hoop in the first half, Mahar finally got the offense going in the third quarter when it outscored the Red Hawks, 16-4, to turn a 17-13 halftime lead into a 33-17 advantage. The Senators (17-4) then scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to increase their lead to 39-17 with 5 minutes, 22 seconds remaining.

But Frontier (11-10) did not quit, and a layin by Olivia Riordan (9 points) with 5:09 left was quickly followed by a steal from Red Hawk guard Mindy Esposito on the inbounds pass, and she turned around and laid the ball in the hoop for another quick bucket. That set the Hawks in motion, and the team did not allow another field goal to the Senators the rest of the way. Mahar helped out the Red Hawks by shooting 5-of-9 from the free-throw line the rest of the way, and committed numerous turnovers.

Frontier took advantage with junior Amanda Calvo leading the way, as she scored 10 of her team-high 14 points in the final five minutes, with a pair of 3-pointers in that span. Jordan Rowe (10 points) also hit a pair of 3-pointers, including her second from downtown with 20 seconds left that cut the deficit to 43-39. After back-to-back misses from the foul line by Mahar’s Ally Parker with 15.6 seconds left, Frontier grabbed the rebound and got the ball up the court, but the Senators played tough defense and Riordan was forced to throw up a contested 3-pointer with five seconds left. Cassie Verheyen pulled down the rebound, got fouled, and hit one free throw to seal the win. It’s not the first time this season that Frontier has attempted a big comeback in the end, but it was too little, too late.

“We’ve been known to do that a little bit too,” Frontier guard Sydney Judge said. “Amanda hit some really big 3s, and we never give up. It was a good effort in the end.”

Mahar coach Larry Fisher was not as thrilled with the late-game situation, but felt his team simply got caught clock-watching.

“Our legs were a little bit tired, and I think we were looking at the clock and wanted it to expire a lot quicker than it did,” he said.

The game started out exactly as Frontier wanted in that the Senators were stymied throughout the first half on the offensive end. Leading scorer Jill Valley (18.4 points per game this season) was shut out. Freshman guard Parker stepped up in a big way, scoring the game’s first six points and netting 13 of Mahar’s 17 points in the first half.

“Frontier was clogging up the middle on Valley, and it kind of threw her out of sorts for a few minutes,” Fisher said. “But Ally had the lane to the hoop many, many times and she did it.”

Parker finished with 13 points for Mahar while Jenelle Juskiewicz added 9 points.

While the offense was not all there for the Senators, the defense was solid, holding Frontier to just two points in the first quarter and not allowing the Red Hawks a field goal until 5:45 remained in the half. Things never got much better until the final five minutes of regulation. Scoring points had been a problem all season for Frontier, and in the end, despite a strong defensive effort by the Hawks, it was the offense that did them in.

“It’s a problem we’ve had all season,” Frontier coach Frank Keimig said. “If you look at any of our box scores, we are not a big offensive team. It looked like it was finally coming around (at the end of the season), but we let people take us out of our offense too easy.”

Mahar moves on to the quarterfinals Friday at 7 in Athol against the rival Red Raiders (19-1), who earned the third seed in the Division II tournament and have already beaten the Senators twice this season.

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