Wave pounds Palmer
GREENFIELD — New year, same result.
For the second consecutive year Greenfield High School opened up play in the WMass Boys’ Basketball Tournament against Palmer High School and for the second straight season the Green Wave absolutely throttled the Panthers, this time to the tune of a 68-25 decision in Division III first-round play Tuesday night at Nichols Gymnasium.
Sixth-seeded Greenfield (13-8) advanced to Friday night’s quarterfinal game in Cheshire, where it will take on third-seeded Hoosac Valley Regional High School. The two squads met in the season opener and Hoosac edged Greenfield, 61-59.
The key to beating Palmer both years was the play of the Green Wave defense, which may have outdid last season’s effort when Greenfield knocked off Palmer 59-20 in the quarterfinals. To call the Green Wave’s defense active would be an understatement. Rabid might better describe the defensive tenacity, which worked in unison throughout to stymie nearly everything the Panthers tried.
“It’s been a struggle all year to get to this point and I said two weeks ago we were in the best place we could be mentally and physically as we’ve been all year and we had to be that way tonight,” said Greenfield coach Scott Thayer. “I don’t think they are that bad at what they do. We just played well. Defensively, we did. We still left a lot out there offensively. Now we’ve got to sharpen things up. We’re going up to Hoosac and we played them first game and it was a war. It’s going to be another battle.”
Play like it did against 11th-seeded Palmer (10-11), and it’s a battle the Wave could win. The first quarter was perhaps the best eight minutes of defense the Wave has played all season. The Palmer offense had 15 possessions and the Wave caused 13 turnovers. The first Panther possession ended with a Garrett Hudson steal, and the second ended on a Robin Marchese theft. Palmer followed that up with a pair of traveling calls, then threw the ball out of bounds on passes twice in a row, marking six consecutive turnovers to start the game. The Panthers finally were able to score with 4 minutes, 12 seconds left in the first quarter, but the Wave defense continued the pressure. Palmer did connect for baskets on one other possession, giving the Panthers 4 points at the end of the first quarter. Greenfield coach Scott Thayer used seven players in the first quarter, changing out defenders in shifts, allowing players a quick rest, and then putting them back in to go hard on defense.
“We wanted to get guys in at the beginning of the first quarter because it’s a tournament game, guys are hyped up, and you start to hyperventilate in the first couple of minutes,” Thayer said. “We wanted to get everyone acclimated in the game, with a taste of it, and then kind of go back to our normal rotation and it worked well for us.”
Greenfield’s offense, meanwhile, started slowly. The Wave was working the ball around for good looks but the shots weren’t dropping. That’s when sharpshooter Robin Marchese helped settle the Wave offense down. Greenfield held a 4-2 lead midway through the frame, when Marchese took over and began knocking down shots, helping the Wave score 14 points in the final 4 minutes to take a 18-4 lead after one. The senior point guard was a perfect 4-for-4 from behind the arc in the first quarter and finished with 14 points in the frame.
“I noticed we were struggling a little bit scoring and I tried to get myself open and tell people to set picks for me,” Marchese explained. “They’ll listen to me, it works out great sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it was clicking tonight.”
The second quarter was more of the same, and it started right away with Palmer’s 14th turnover of the night that led to Marchese driving to the hoop and dishing the ball beautifully to Tim Cooley, who laid the ball in for the 20th Wave point. That play began a different theme to the quarter for the Wave offense, which was less about Marchese’s shooting and became the sort of offense the Harlem Globetrotters would have been proud of, full of beautiful passes and enough ball movement to leave Greenfield big men Connor Eckstrom and Garrett Hudson wide open under the hoop for bunnies.
“We move the ball, and I always say ‘Fall in love with that process of sharing the ball,’ because everyone is capable of scoring points,” Thayer said. “The thing is, sometimes we get stagnant with the ball instead of moving the ball where everyone touches it. Even if you’re not the guy shooting it, even touching it gives you a good feeling. And that’s something that we’ve been emphasizing in practice when we’re running our stuff.”
Defensively, the Green Wave held Palmer without a field goal through the entire second quarter. The Panthers did connect on four free throws, but things were ugly at the break, with Greenfield holding a 32-8 lead.
The second half was deprived of any drama, but the Wave defense continued to pour it on, stifling any chances of a Palmer comeback. Greenfield led 48-15 after three quarters and the bench players came on for the fourth quarter. The place even erupted multiple times in the fourth as freshman guard Connor Joy netted 8 points in the frame, while reserve forwards Paris Felogloy and Hazon Thomas, and junior varsity player Kevin Mendez, each scored a field goal.
When the dust finally settled, the numbers spoke volumes. Greenfield finished with what is believed to be a season-high 22 steals, including 6 each from Marchese and Hudson, and 4 from Ryan Roberts. Greenfield also caused 39 turnovers, marking the most caused by the defense in over two years. Hudson finished with a team-high 17 points to go along with 10 rebounds, while Marchese wound up with 16 points. Connor Eckstrom added 8 points, Parker Hickey dumped in 6, and Roberts, who was as aggressive on defense as any player on the floor, got things done offensively with seven assists.
Troy Remillard led Palmer with 9 points, while Nathan Murphy dumped in 6.