Panthers roll, 50-26
NORTHFIELD — When it comes to tournament season, a strong defensive effort is often the difference.
While fifth-seeded Pioneer Valley Regional School probably didn’t need its best defensive effort to beat a clearly overmatched 12th-seeded Putnam Vocational Technical High School in Monday night’s WMass Division IV Girls’ Basketball Tournament first-round game, the Panthers turned one in anyway and made their triumphant return to the postseason a memorable one, 50-26, at Messer Gymnasium.
The game marked the first time the Panther girls played a tournament game since 2011, and it was the first time the Panthers won a tournament game since the 2005-06 season.
“They are excited,” Pioneer coach Meg Lily said afterward. “I told them to have fun because they play well when they have fun. If they let the nerves get in, forget it, but they played well tonight.”
Putnam (12-9) seemed in the game for about the first four seconds of play, after which things started to deteriorate for the Beavers. Putnam center Angelica Peguero won the opening tip to teammate Kiara Figueroa and the Beaver guard raced through the Panther defense and laid the ball in the hoop, drawing a foul in the process. She knocked down the ensuing free throw and Putnam had a 3-0 lead four seconds into the game.
That was the final Putnam lead. Pioneer took the ensuing possession and Pioneer center Gabby Carpenter showed a preview of what was to come for much of the night when she scored on a putback to cut the deficit to 3-2. Natalie Hale then stole the inbounds pass and hit an 8-foot jump shot as she was fouled. The free throw swished and Pioneer had a 5-3 lead it did not relinquish. In fact, the Panther offense clicked the rest of the opening quarter and Pioneer led 19-7 after one. Carpenter, a freshman, said that getting the early lead helped calm the nerves.
“We were a little nervous but we went out to play and had fun,” Carpenter said. “That first quarter gave us a cushion and we all relaxed a little bit.”
Carpenter finished with 6 first-quarter points and 14 total, while Hale netted 9 in the frame and tallied a team-high 15 for the game. Carpenter did much of her work under the hoop, pulling down 5 rebounds in the first quarter and finishing with 10. She also blocked 3 shots. Hale, meanwhile, did her work by driving the lane as well as getting out and running on the fast break following defensive stops. Both girls were also the recipients of many of Hailey Raymond’s 10 assists. But much of the offensive success started on the defensive end, and it was that defense that Lily was praising after the game.
“They worked hard on defense and their hearts were in there, and today they really got out and ran,” the coach explained. “I call us a running team, but tonight they took it to another level. In practice we work hard on defense all the time.”
The game was never in doubt after the first quarter, although the second quarter was not exactly a clinic. Pioneer pushed the lead to 25-10 when Brianna Jobst hit an 8-foot jump shot with 6 minutes, 12 seconds left. Over nearly the next six minutes, the teams went scoreless — a combination of turnovers, missed shots, and poor free-throw shooting to blame. The teams combined to go 0-for-7 from the line in that span and it was the story of the night as free throws were anything but free, with the two teams combining to go 8-for-22 from the line.
Pioneer led 27-12 at halftime, and in the second half, more than one person in attendance mentioned that it appeared that many of the Putnam players had all but given up, as a lackadaisical performance led to the Beavers nearly getting doubled up. Had it not been for the play of Tazhane Springer, who scored more than half (14) of the Beavers’ 26 points and kept up her tenacity throughout, it could have been worse.
Alyssa Llewelyn finished with 6 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots for Pioneer, while Caroline Merkle and Katlyn Grove reach netted 6 points.
Lily said she would like to clean up some of the offensive miscues moving forward, but the Panthers punched their ticket to the quarterfinals on Thursday night and will now travel to fourth-seeded Monson High School at 7 with a trip to the semifinals and Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst on the line.