Bubble Watch: Mahar, Athol, Pioneer boys; Pioneer girls all fighting for postseason lives

  • Greenfield’s Lillia Kachelmeyer goes up for a breakaway layup against Frontier in the second quarter Tuesday night in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Mahar’s Jacob Tenney (14) and Noaha Chabot (24) defend Hampshire’s Ian Dunlap (0) during action last week in Orange. Mahar is one of several teams on the tournament bubble, and the Senators need wins in two of their final three games to punch a Division 3 ticket. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Pioneer’s Sofia Walker shoots against Mohawk earlier this season. The Panthers need to win their final three games to qualify for the postseason. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Athol’s Bryce King (3), shown here last week against Greenfield, and his teammates are fighting their way toward a postseason berth. The Red Raiders need to win out and get some help to punch a tournament ticket. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 2/12/2020 10:10:26 PM

The madness is fast approaching.

We’re just nine days away from the seeding meeting for the Western Massachusetts Basketball Tournaments, and there is still a bit of uncertainty surrounding the local high school teams. There are teams already firmly into their respective fields, others likely to clinch soon, and then there are the teams that are already in win-or-go-home mode as we speak.

With that in mind, let’s strap in, grind through some remaining schedules and figure out which local high school hoop teams are in, out, and squarely on the bubble.

Boys Basketball

IN (4): Frontier (14-3), Greenfield (11-6), Turners Falls (10-8), FC Tech (13-6)

BUBBLE (3): Mahar (8-9), Pioneer (7-10), Athol (7-11)

OUTLOOK: Here’s what we know: four teams are already into the Big Dance, led by last year’s Division 3 semifinalist Frontier. The Red Hawks have continued to rack up wins, and they sit at 14-3 overall, champions of the Hampshire League North, entering Thursday’s big tilt against Greenfield. That’ll close out league play, and a win would enable Frontier to run the table at 8-0. They close with independent games against Drury (11-6) and Southwick (2-14). If they can win all three, a 17-3 mark would look quite nice for the Red Hawks as far as seeding goes.

Greenfield also has three games remaining beginning with Thursday’s home game against Frontier. A win would provide a nice boost for seeding purposes, but it would also be damaging for bubble team Athol. (More on that in a moment.) The Green Wave picked up a nice independent win over Murdock earlier this week, the same team that knocked them out of last year’s Division 3 tournament. After the Frontier game, Greenfield closes with home games against Mohawk and Pioneer.

Turners Falls has been in the bubble discussion for weeks now, and somehow wound up qualifying with room to spare. At one point this season, the Thunder sat at 2-7, and their postseason hopes seemed dire. But Turners got hot at the right time, and riding its three-headed monster of Chace Novak, Marcus Sanders and Anthony Peterson, the club has won eight of its last nine games to punch a postseason ticket. The clincher came on Monday night, as Novak banked in a buzzer-beating hoop to sink Hopkins Academy on the road and get the Powertown to win No. 10. This is certainly a team that no one will want to see in their bracket during the Division 4 postseason.

Franklin Tech rounds out the qualified bunch, and the Eagles have flown under the radar a bit while simply handling their business in the Tri-County League North. A league championship is still within reach, as a win in the regular-season finale against Duggan on Monday would assure at least a share of the title. There’s also a potential State Vocational Tournament appearance on the horizon. Big man Garret Cole leads the Recorder area in scoring with 17.5 points per game.

As for the bubble, three teams in our area are up against it right now.

Let’s start with the aforementioned Athol, which can’t get in via the .500-record criteria as it sits with 11 losses. But, the Red Raiders can still qualify if they can find their way into at least a share of second place in the Hampshire League North. Frontier has already secured the league title, but Athol (3-3 in the league) is just one game behind Greenfield (4-2) for second place at the moment. If the Green Wave take another loss Thursday at Frontier, then Athol’s destiny would be back in its own hands. If that happens and the Raiders can beat Mohawk Thursday and then close with a home win on Monday against Smith Academy, they’re dancing with at least a piece of second place in the North.

Out in Orange, the boys from Mahar have a bit of a sticky situation on their hands. Coach Chad Softic’s club sits at 8-9 entering Thursday’s road game at Belchertown (8-10), which is also fighting for its postseason life at the moment. The Senators need to win two of their final three games to get into the Division 3 field, and that’s going to be no easy task with games still remaining against Turners (Monday) and Leominster (Wednesday). Mahar would be best served taking care of business before the finale against Leominster. The Central Mass. Blue Devils are currently 13-4, and trying to beat them on the road with a spot in the postseason on the line sounds like a particularly tall order.

Pioneer is also still alive in the postseason hunt, though the Panthers have perhaps the toughest road ahead to get into the tournament. The Messer Men need to win their final three games to qualify for the Division 4 tournament, and that slate begins Thursday with a road game at Hampshire League South-leading Hopkins Academy (12-6). After that, Monday night features a home game against Belchertown, followed by the finale on Wednesday at Greenfield.

Girls Basketball

IN (4): Greenfield (14-4), Mahar (12-6), Frontier (12-6), FC Tech (15-3)

BUBBLE (1): Pioneer (7-10)

OUTLOOK: The girls basketball postseason picture is much clearer, with four teams already in and just one still remaining with a chance to join them.

For the fifth year in a row, Greenfield captured a league championship on Tuesday night with a 44-37 win over Frontier at Nichols Gymnasium. Despite losing three of its star players from last year’s WMass Division 3 runner-up season, the Green Wave are 14-4 and in good shape to take another crack at reaching the Cage. Guard Katie Haselton toppled the 1,000-point mark this season, and the junior is the top scorer in Franklin County with a healthy 21.1 point per game average. Greenfield has hit its stride at the right time, as Tuesday’s win was its 10th in a row after a 4-4 start. There’s a chance for a huge win Thursday on the road at Taconic, one of the top teams in all of Western Mass. regardless of division.

Mahar and Frontier are both comfortably in as well, and joined by Hopkins Academy, that makes four teams from the Franklin County League North that have qualified for the postseason. The two teams meet Friday night in South Deerfield in a key spot, with second place in the league still up for grabs behind Greenfield. The Senators won the first meeting, 61-58, in Orange. The Red Hawks have rounded into form down the stretch, winning 11 of their last 13 games to get into the tournament. Friday’s game is a big one for postseason seeding purposes in the Division 3 field.

If you’re seeking a truly dominant team this winter, look no further than the Franklin Tech girls. The Eagles, which have held opponents to 20 points or fewer five times this winter, captured the outright Tri-County League North championship thanks to Wednesday’s victory over Sci-Tech, and if they can close with wins over Renaissance (Friday) and Duggan (Tuesday), they’d enter the tournament with a sterling 17-3 mark. Technical and vocational schools often struggle to receive a good seed in the tournament due to strength of schedule, so every win helps if the Eagles have visions of scoring a first-round home game.

The lone bubble team left on the girls side, Pioneer needs to win its final three games to earn a postseason berth. Sound familiar? Must be something in the water in Northfield, as the boys team is in the exact same predicament.

The Panthers’ path begins Friday with a tough road game at Putnam (10-7), a team that currently sits in second place above them in the FCL South. The Beavers held on for a 51-45 win back on Jan. 2 when the teams met the first time around in Northfield. If Pioneer can survive that one, it closes with league games against Southwick (Monday) and Turners Falls (Tuesday). Those are both teams that the Panthers beat the first time around. Stay tuned.

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