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Mustangs buck Panthers, 67-41

MONSON — Host Monson High School put on an offensive show Thursday night that included nine 3-pointers, and the fourth-seeded Mustangs cruised past sixth-seeded Pioneer Valley Regional School, 67-41, in Western Massachusetts Division IV Girls’ Basketball Tournament quarterfinal action.

The Mustangs (14-8) came out firing on all cylinders and had a 7-0 lead before the Panthers (14-8) even knew what hit them. Pioneer did make a game of it, clawing back to within four points midway through the first quarter (11-7), but Monson ended the first on a 8-2 run to build a 19-9 lead.

It was hard to imagine that things could get worse in the second quarter for Pioneer, but it happened. The early going saw the Panthers hanging around to the nine-point deficit, and the score was 23-14 with 5 minutes, 5 seconds remaining, at which point things took a sharp turn for the worse. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Karyce Welsh pushed Monson up to a 15-point lead and sparked a 14-0 run that would have closed out the half were it not for a Natalie Hale jumper from the free-throw line at the buzzer to give Pioneer its only two points in the final five minutes of the half. Still, Monson went into the dressing room with a 37-16 lead, and things seemed all but over.

The first half saw the Mustangs drain six 3-pointers, including four by Welsh. The other two were supplied by Miranda Couture.

“We knew coming in that they had a two shooters and the girls knew it and knew they had to get out on them,” Pioneer coach Meg Lily said. “It was the extra step, that extra heart to get out on that shooter. We just didn’t do a good enough job of that.”

Monson also got the job done in the post, fighting for loose balls and using the edge in aggression to win balls on both ends of the floor.

“They were getting to a lot of loose balls,” Lily said. “We had to box out and fight for the loose balls, and even when we did box out, they were using their strength to get in and take the ball away from us.”

Pioneer played nearly the entire second half right around a 20-point deficit. Though the Panthers could not close the gap, Monson had no more success increasing its lead. The game was never in doubt over the final 16 minutes, although the Panthers did continue to play hard, fighting for a number of loose balls that resulted in jump balls.

“We played tough right until the end and I’m proud of the girls for that,” Lily said. “We just have some learning still to do.”

Offensively, it was a frustrating night for Pioneer, which never seemed to get comfortable and rarely had a clean look. The Panthers found themselves forced into shooting contested shots from the outside or, when they got into the paint, had a lot of traffic to fight through, resulting in contested layups and tough inside shots.

Natalie Hale had a solid game for the Panthers offensively, leading all scorers with 20 points, but she was the lone player able to create a shot for herself. Gabby Carpenter and Alyssa Llewelyn, two Panther post players, had Monson defenders continually draped all over them and were limited to 9 and 4 points.

Couture hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second half for Monson and finished with four made 3-pointers and a team-high 18 points. Welsh, courtesy of her four first-half 3s, ended with 14 points. Katie Sweeney had the other 3 for Monson and joined teammates Rachel Gordon and Jackie Duggan with 8 points.

While Monson will move on to play top-seeded Quaboag Regional High School in the semifinals at Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst next weekend, the Panthers still have something to look forward to. Not a Panther senior took the floor Thursday night, and the team will lose just two.

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