It’s tourney time for 10 local teams
It’s a whole new look for the Western Massachusetts Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball Tournaments this season.
WMass has added Division IV while welcoming (although not all too warmly) a number of teams from the central part of the state. With the addition of the fourth division, tournament officials felt that there were not enough teams in the western part of the state to fill out each of the brackets, thus a number of teams from the central part of the state (most of which are near the WMass border), were placed among the western Mass. fields. While not everyone has been a huge supporter of introducing “foreign” teams into the West tournament, many coaches are willing to roll with it, including Turners Falls High School boys’ basketball coach Gary Mullins, whose team earned the fourth seed in the Division IV tourney and may run into top-seed Quaboag Regional High School, which comes out of central Mass.
“It’s going to be weird if Quaboag runs the table and wins the tournament,” he admitted. “Will it work out in the long run? Are we better off going forward with four divisions? I guess in the state-wide picture we are. It’s not fantastic, but the populace of the MIAA and its members think its the best thing for basketball, so I’ll be a willing participant.”
Mahar Regional School boys’ basketball coach Chad Softic said he is actually excited by the prospect of having central Mass. teams introduced, even though the Division III field does not have any such teams this season.
“I don’t really have any ill feelings either way,” he said. “It’s still the same old characters in Division III, but I think it’s kind of cool to have the addition of the other teams and to see how those games turn out.”
On the boys’ side of things, five area teams qualified, with three in the Division III field and two in Division IV. Mahar (15-5) earned the fourth seed in the 11-team Division III field, which proved to be huge, because it not only ensures the Senators of not having to travel in the first two rounds, but it also gave the Senators a bye until the quarterfinals. The Senators will host fifth-seeded Wahconah Regional High School Friday night at 7.
“I thought it was pretty much where we would land,” Softic said. “I know we had some struggles this season, but we also had eight wins against tournament teams. And getting the fourth seed, we always tell the kids that while you hate to put a number at the beginning of the season, you really have to win as many games as you can. Only four teams get home games until we go to (Curry Hicks) Cage.”
Division III is led by top-seeded Sabis International Charter School (13-7), which is followed by Renaissance School, which went a perfect 20-0 in the regular season.
Greenfield High School (12-8) picked up the sixth seed and will open up with a first-round game against 11th-seeded Palmer High School in a rematch of last season’s quarterfinal game that saw the Green Wave turn in a defensive performance for the decades en route to a 59-20 victory that got the Wave started on its way to a run to the WMass Division II title game. Should Greenfield get past Palmer, it would head to third-seeded Hoosac Valley Regional High School (14-6) for a quarterfinal game Friday. Greenfield and Hoosac played in the first game of the season, and Hoosac edged Greenfield 61-59 that day.
The third team from the area to make the Division III field is Pioneer Valley Regional School, which makes its return to the tournament for the first time since the 2009-10 season. The Panthers went 10-10 this season and earned the 10th seed, which pits them with a first-round game at Monument Mountain Regional High School. Coach Dave Hastings said he was happy with the matchup and that his team had been preparing for the Spartans.
“Overall, I’m about where we expected to be and playing who I thought we would be playing, and we’ve been practicing for Monument since our last game,” he explained. “I think our opportunity is there. It’s a matter of the kids coming out and executing.”
As for the Division IV field, Turners Falls (16-4) picked up the No. 4 seed in the 14-team bracket. The seed ensures that the Indians will not have to travel until a possible semifinal date at Curry Hicks Cage, although Coach Mullins said his team is not looking ahead. Turners Falls opens Tuesday night with a first-round game against 13th-seeded Pioneer Valley Christian School, which means the Indians will have to find a way to slow down Genesis Arias, who leads western Mass. in scoring at 29 points per game. Should the Indians get past the Eagles, they would move on to potentially host fifth-seeded Lenox High School on Friday. A win in that game would mean a potential semifinal game against top-seeded Quaboag next week.
Franklin County Technical School also qualified for the Division IV field, earning the 12th seed after going 13-7, and will travel to Lenox Tuesday to take on the fifth-seeded Millionaires, who went 14-6 this season. Should Franklin Tech pull off the upset, it would possibly take on its cross-town rival Turners Falls in the quarterfinals.
Smith Academy earned the second seed in Division IV, while Granby his the third seed. Hopkins Academy picked up the sixth seed.
Five local teams also qualified on the girls’ side. Three local teams made the 13-team Division III field, with Athol High School earning the fifth seed following an 18-2 regular season. The Red Raiders slotted in just behind fourth-seeded South Hadley High School (15-5) and third-seeded Granby High School (18-2), the only two teams to have beaten Athol this season. Sabis leads the Division III bracket with a 17-5 record and is followed by second-seeded Hoosac (19-1).
“Throughout the last couple of weeks we were hoping to get to the four seed to have that potential quarterfinal home game, but in the end our strength of schedule killed us,” Athol coach Dan Bevis said. “The beauty of the Division III field is that there are seven or eight teams that could win this.”
Athol opens up tonight at 7 against 12th-seeded Frontier Regional School, which qualified with a sub-.500 record (8-11) but tied for second in the Franklin County League North Division. The Red Raiders and the Red Hawks met twice during the regular season and Athol won both games, albeit by a combined six points. The Red Raiders know that nothing can be taken for granted, especially after last season when they went 19-1, earned the third seed, and were upset in the quarterfinals by 10th-seeded Mahar.
“There is some familiarity there, having played them twice,” Bevis said. “They were both close games, but I don’t think we played up to our potential in either game. We are really trying to put forth a good effort. We’ve used what happened last season as motivation all year. You want to put yourself in the best possible situation going into the tournament, and once you’re there you don’t want to have any regrets.”
The winner of the Athol/Frontier game will likely move on to play South Hadley, a team that beat Athol, 68-56, on Jan. 26.
Mahar also qualified for the Division III tournament with a 10-10 record and will travel to seventh-seeded Mt. Greylock tonight at 7 for a first-round game. A win would set up a quarterfinal game Thursday at Hoosac Valley.
In the 14-team Division IV field, Pioneer (13-7) picked up the fifth seed after winning the FCL South Division. Just like on the boys’ side, Quaboag was awarded the top seed in Division IV, while Ware High School (15-4), Holyoke Catholic High School (15-5) and Monson High School (12-8) round out the top four teams. Pioneer opens tonight at home against 12th-seeded Putnam Vocational Technical High School, and would move on to potentially play Monson in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Franklin Tech earned the 14th and final seed and will travel to Holyoke Catholic tonight at 7.