Top-seeded Hampshire stands between Green Wave and WMass finals

  • Greenfield's Kirsten Ward (21) puts in a layup past Drury defender Katie Booth (31) in the first half, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 at Nichols Gym in Greenfield Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield’s Raegan Hickey (5) does it all for the Green Wave, including applying defensive pressure when needed. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield's Katie Haselton (4) goes in for a layup over Drury defender Brooke Digennaro (2) in the first quarter, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 at Nichols Gym in Greenfield Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield’s Sam Smith (32) can be an inside terror for the Green Wave. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield’s Sam Smith (32) can drop a mid-range jumper when the opportunity arises. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The Greenfield High School girls’ basketball team has waited forever to play at Curry Hicks Cage on the campus of the University of Massachusetts. So what’s one more day.

While nothing will be officially decided until this morning at 10, it appears Mother Nature will throw a wrench in the Western Massachusetts Division III Girls’ Basketball Tournament semifinal schedule. With the impending Nor’easter hitting the area today and tonight, MIAA officials announced they would make the decision regarding tonight’s two semifinal games at the Cage this morning. Greenfield is scheduled to take on top-seeded Hampshire Regional High School at 7:30. The other Division III semifinal between second-seeded South Hadley High School and sixth-seeded Wahconah Regional High School precedes the Greenfield game at 6.

Go to www.miaa.net for updates. Tournament officials left Thursday open as a “Snow Date,” so the games can be moved.

For the fifth-seeded Green Wave (21-1), that means waiting one final day to make its first-ever appearance at the Cage, which began hosting tournament games back in the early 1990s. Greenfield’s most recent semifinal appearance came in 1990, a game that took place at Cathedral High School. The championship game then took place at the Springfield Civic Center. For Greenfield coach John Hickey, it also means tempering the emotions of the players. He believes that, although this will be the first time his players — or any girls from Greenfield ever — will play on the Curry Hicks parquet, it will not be the first time they played in a big-game environment. Greenfield took part in the Hoosac Valley Holiday Tournament back in December, played in the Spalding HoopHall Classic in January, and last week, went on the road to play in a hostile environment at Granby High School for the WMass quarterfinals.

“I’m hoping they will keep their composure,” Hickey said of playing on the big stage. “I’m hoping that playing in Springfield will help, and playing on the road at Granby in a small, crowded gymnasium will help. At this point, the kids just have to make plays. We know what Hampshire does, and they know what we do.”

The two teams know each other intimately, thanks to their meeting on Jan. 12 in the HoopHall Classic in Springfield. If the second meeting is anywhere near as exciting as the first, fans will get plenty of bang for their buck. In the first meeting, Hampshire (19-2) built a 22-point first-half lead, after jumping out to a 21-5 advantage to end the first quarter. The halftime lead was 18 (38-20), but the Green Wave did not go away.

Sparked by Raegan Hickey, who scored 15 of her 20 points in the second half, Greenfield outscored the Raiders, 49-24, in the final two frames, including a 32-17 fourth-quarter margin. Greenfield finally caught the Raiders at 56-56 with 2 minutes, 45 seconds remaining, and the teams traded baskets for more than a minute to tie the score at 62-62 with 1:29 to play. Greenfield took the lead for good when Hickey found Lizzy Howland for a layup with 1:20 to go, sparking an 8-0 Wave run to end the game.

“I think we played a little smarter in the second half and didn’t turn the ball over that much,” Hickey said. “We just made plays when we needed to. We played with a sense of urgency. That’s something we’ve talked about. We have to do that from the first tick of the clock. We need to come ready to play.”

Indeed, if Greenfield comes out lackadaisical this time around, it may be tough to stage another big comeback.

“It has to be a competitive game in the first half,” Hickey said. “If we get down big early, it’s going to be a long night, especially at a place that historically is not an easy place to shoot.”

Every high school basketball player in western Mass. will tell you that playing at the historic Cage is a goal before the season, although the environment can wreak havoc on shooters. The biggest obstacle offenses seem to have to overcome is the fact that there are bleachers behind each basket, which is vastly different than any backdrop shooters get used to in high school gyms, which primarily have walls directly behind the hoops. There is also the added pressure of playing in front of large crowd.

Hickey said he has urged his players to simply play their game. If they do that, they should be successful.

“If we have good looks and good opportunities, we have to finish,” he said. “If you are open, and you have a shot, you have to finish.”

That was something the Wave struggled with in the quarterfinal win against Granby. Some of it was an aggressive Rams’ defense, but Hickey also felt that his team did not finish well. Still, Greenfield overcame its deficiencies and prevailed 46-36. That came after the Wave opened the tournament with a resounding, 86-47 victory over 12th-seeded Drury High School in the first round.

Hampshire, meanwhile, has had a much easier path to the semifinals. The top seed earned a first-round bye and then took on an offensively-challenged Palmer High School team in the quarterfinals, won by a 95-41 score.

If Greenfield is going to be successful, it will have to find a way to limit Katelyn Pickunka, who is one of the top scorers in western Mass. with her 26.2 point average. The senior forward, who is attending Smith College to play basketball next season, scored 34 points in the first meeting between the teams and can be a handful for opposing defenses.

“She’s not scoring like she is every game for no reason. She’s a great player,” Hickey said. “She’s elusive, she’s a hard-worker. We need to do a good job of initially defending her, and deny her second and third chances. We need to keep her in check the best we can and respect the other kids out there with her.”

Pickunka is far from the only option. Much like Greenfield, the Rams gets scoring from three primary players. Along with Pickunka, Hampshire relies on freshman guard Maddie Pond and junior center Caroline O’Connor to put points on the board. Pond averages nearly 11 points while O’Connor sits at 13. The Hampshire offense also runs through freshman point guard Lila Labrie, who is a good ballhandler and will have to break the Green Wave press.

Greenfield, meanwhile, has its big three scorers of junior point guard Raegan Hickey, junior center Samantha Smith and freshman guard Katie Haselton. The trio accounts for a high percentage of the Wave’s offense, although senior forward Lizzy Howland and senior guard/forward Kirsten Ward are both very capable contributors and have knocked down big shots for the Wave. Hampshire will also press the Green Wave, and if Hickey and Co. can protect the ball, the Wave’s offense should be effective.

The winner will get a return trip to the Cage on Saturday for the WMass championship game at 2:15.