Boys basketball: Mahar locks down late, secures season sweep of Athol 54-36


Staff Writer

Published: 02-02-2024 9:21 PM

ORANGE — The first meeting of the season between the Athol and Mahar boys basketball teams saw the Senators outscore the Bears 22-7 in the fourth quarter to earn a comeback victory. 

When the two rivals met for the second time on Friday in Orange, it was Mahar that once again took over in crunch time. 

The Senators held a 36-28 lead heading into the final eight minutes but opened the fourth quarter on an 11-0 run to take command of the game. Athol was unable to make up the difference, as Mahar pulled away with a 54-36 independent victory to sweep the season series against the Bears.

“At halftime we talked about taking care of the basketball,” Senators coach Chad Softic said. “It was an embarrassing effort in the first half in regards to protecting the ball. We took care of the ball and made Athol play longer defensively by moving the zone side-to-side. We got some better shots and to our kids credit, they made the shots. You have to make big plays against good teams to win and we did enough of that in the second half tonight.

“I’m happy for [Athol coach Brian Patria],” Softic added. “They’re moving in the right direction. They have good sportsmanship, they work hard. They’re doing all the right things. They’re going to beat someone who’s really good in the tournament. I just hope it isn’t us.” 

Patria noted after the game how similar it felt to the first game against Mahar, where Athol (13-2) was one quarter away from earning a win over its rivals – the lone team to hand them a loss this season.  

“It was similar to that first game,” Patria said. “We battled for three quarters but in the fourth we had some mishaps. The shots weren’t falling our way and we struggled to put the ball in the hoop. That’s credit to Mahar. That’s a really good team who’s well coached. That’s a Western Mass. champion caliber team. We just fell short by eight minutes.” 

While it took the Senators (12-3) a half to settle in on the offensive end of the court, their defense was ferocious all night. 

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The Bears’ two leading scorers, Angel Castillo and Ben Kearney, were held to a total of 16 points – Castillo scored six points while Kearney had 10. Neither scored in the fourth quarter. 

“We were dialed in defensively all night,” Chad Softic said. “Lucas Isrow did a great job on Angel and Derek Collins did well on Kearney. Danny Finch came in and helped out there. Those are two good players and we had really good recognition and awareness on both of them.” 

Mahar opened up a 13-9 lead after one and held onto a 23-18 lead at the half. Collins poured in a 3 and added a bucket in the third, keying the charge as the Senators pulled ahead 36-28 after three quarters. 

Marshall Ames opened up the fourth quarter with a basket for Mahar. Jayden Delgado got the ball in the post and added a basket, Morgan Softic swished a 3 before Will Barnes hit a turnaround shot inside and suddenly the Senators lead ballooned to 45-28 early in the fourth quarter. 

Ray Castine halted the run with a basket for the Bears but Barnes and Delgado followed it up with baskets for Mahar, helping put the game out of reach. 

Morgan Softic led the way with 15 points in the win. Collins finished with 12 points, Barnes tallied 11 points, Delgado had seven points while Isrow finished with five points for the Senators. 

Castine tallied 10 points while Colby Goodwin scored five points for Athol. 

The win was the third in a row for Mahar and its fifth win in its last six outings. The Senators are hitting their stride at the perfect time, finding a winning formula as they’ve put themselves in contention to take home the Hampshire League South title. 

“We played complementary basketball,” Chad Softic said. “The last two weeks we’ve been playing really well. We had to play zone [defense] early in the season because we couldn’t play man which is embarrassing. We’ve worked really hard at it and the kids have bought into doing it. We’re not good enough to run away from anyone. They’re grinding and working hard. Our defense is there. It keeps us in games.” 

It’s never easy losing to a rival, but Patria said his team will learn from it as they prepare for two tough opponents next week before the postseason begins. 

Athol is still one win away from clinching the Hampshire League North and can do so with a win over either Mount Greylock or Smith Academy next week. 

“It’s a learning curve for us,” Patria said. “When the level of competition gets raised, we have to raise our team level of play. Everything has to be raised up. Everybody is gunning for us. Mt. Greylock will be a tough one. Smith Academy will be tough. This kind of games gets us ready for everything moving forward.”