Green Wave, Tigers to battle for D-II title
Greenfield High School has the opportunity to do something very special this season.
Sure, when the top-seeded Green Wave (20-2) takes the court at Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst this afternoon at 4 against second-seeded South Hadley High School (15-7), it will be playing in its first Western Massachusetts Division II boys’ basketball championship game since 2004. And with the trip to the finals, the Green Wave has a chance to hoist its first title trophy since the spring of 2000, when it drubbed Hoosac Valley Regional High School, 76-33, to win the fourth sectional title in school history. But what makes this game even more unique, is that the team has the makings of a small dynasty.
With only one senior among the nine players who have seen relevant playing time this season, the Green Wave will return nearly every player again next season. If Greenfield can live up to its No. 1 seeding and win today’s contest, it would give the Wave a realistic shot at possibly making it two in a row in 2014.
But that’s talk for another day. Right now, they’re only focused on the game at hand.
“Something clicked this season, and with all the conditioning we do, and with all the practice, there was no more complaining, they just understood that this was something they wanted to do,” Greenfield head coach Scott Thayer said. “They knew if they were going to reach their goals, then they were going to have to listen to Coach and this is how we are going to do things. And I told the kids after the win over Taconic how proud of them I was.
“Two weeks ago, we lost to Mahar and we were dead in the water,” Thayer continued. “It had less to do with basketball, and more with mentality. Of understanding life and how to deal with situations and control your emotions. I think basketball-wise, they’re pretty tough when they play a team right now. If they are dialed in, I think we’re good. This group gets it.”
Greenfield is coming off one of its best performances of the season in Tuesday night’s semifinal win over Taconic High School, which saw Greenfield claim a 62-49 victory against a tough Braves club. The Green Wave was successful in making life difficult for a pair of talented guards on Taconic, using an aggressive, fast-paced defensive style that was predicated on the Green Wave’s ability to run nine players into the game in short shifts to ensure the guys on the floor were fresh enough to keep that pace for all 32 minutes.
Thayer said that defense has been the strong suit of the Green Wave, and it will have to be again today if Greenfield is to win.
“We understand our limitations offensively, but our defense will keep us close,” he explained. “A six- or seven- point lead to me can feel like a 15-point lead because I know our defense is going to play hard.”
One player that has flown under the radar this season at times is junior Parker Hickey, who finished with two steals against Taconic, but was a pest throughout, using what is coach called an unorthodox defensive style to get the job done.
“His footwork on defense, it’s probably not the way you want to teach somebody to play defense,” Thayer joked about Hickey, who is a jokester himself. “But he’s probably our best defensive player. He does a great job.”
But it’s the team effort on defense that has won games for the Green Wave this season, and Thayer pointed to it again following the Taconic win, in which the Wave came away with 12 steals as a team and forced 19 Taconic turnovers on the night. Tyler Miller, Connor Eckstrom and Robin Marchese each finished with three steals to lead the team in that department. The defense will have to be on again today, as it faces a similar looking team to its own.
“South Hadley is our biggest challenge right now,” Thayer said. “I look at them as a combination of Turners Falls and Smith Academy. They are going to play aggressively like Turners Falls, they attack the hoop and kick the ball out, and they also have some skilled players like Smith Academy. That’s the reason the Hampshire League schedule is so important. It helps us prepare for the postseason.”
Greenfield will have to deal with another pair of talented guards with South Hadley in junior Avon White and senior Evan Marcus. Both can handle the ball, but White is more of the playmaker, who can also attack the basket. Marcus is a do-it-all type of player, who tends to take what defenses give him. White finished with 14 points in the Tigers’ 52-40 semifinal win over Sabis International Charter School, while Marcus led the team with 24 points.
Senior center Anthony Bullough is another player who is not afraid to get his hands dirty, making up for his lack of size — he’s a 6-foot-2 center — with a rugged style of play. Sophomore guard Cameron Earle is a threat from behind the arc, while Thomas Fitzell is another guard who isn’t afraid to shoot from the perimeter.
Offensively, the Wave plays an up-tempo style that begins with point guard Marchese, who will be one of the smoothest shooters on the floor and is a solid ballhandler. He finished with a team-high 17 points in the win over Taconic, and chipped in six rebounds to finish second on the team in that category. More importantly, he helped the Green Wave finish with just six turnovers against Taconic, perhaps his most important attribute. The x-factor down low is Lew Borden, the Wave’s big man, who can dominate in the low post when he gets going and finished with a double-double in the win over Taconic with 14 points and 10 boards.
The rest of the Green Wave lineup is full of players capable of scoring in double figures, but their unselfish play can hold the numbers down at times. Vin Funari (11 points vs. Taconic) and Miller (9 points) can shoot from the outside but also get in the dirty spots, while Eckstrom and Garrett Hudson are big men that both possess a smooth shot when they get their feet planted.
It helped add up to the team draining eight 3-pointers in the Taconic win, with six players finishing with at least one. Thayer said the unselfish play is most important, and has given the team a number of clean looks when it’s on.
“We stress to the kids that you give up a good shot to get a great one,” he said.
This is the 11th all-time finals appearance for Greenfield, which is 4-6 overall. It’s also the Green Wave’s third straight championship meeting against the Tigers, who have won the past two contests — most recently a 53-37 victory in 2004. The Tigers also posted a 50-49 win back in 2001.