Green Season: Inside the 2000 Greenfield basketball season, 20 years later — Part 6 (Tourney time)

  • Greenfield’s Luke Martin goes up for a basket against Mohawk in the 2000 Western Mass. Division II semifinal held at the Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst. Martin and the Green Wave captured a 64-45 victory to punch a ticket to the championship game. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/24/2020 3:56:53 PM
(NOTE: This is Part 6 of Green Season: Inside the 2000 Greenfield basketball season.)

Tourney time.

After an impressive 18-2 run through the regular season, the 2000 Greenfield High School basketball team was set for the games that mattered most. If they were to join the ranks of some of the best teams in program history, they’d have to take care of business on the big stage.

The immediacy and magnitude of the situation made this particular postseason special. With a predominantly senior-laden lineup and rotation, the pressure was on for Greenfield to win a Western Mass. title. This was the shot. The road map was clearly marked. The Green Wave had to do what this group had never done before.

“We were going to be a different team the next year. We all knew it,” recalled Greenfield coach Scott Thayer. “Even though that was never spoken, we all had that mindset. It was our last dance, so to speak.”

When the seeds came out for the Western Mass. Division II Tournament, there were no surprises. Greenfield was the No. 1 seed, followed by No. 2 Athol, which went 19-1 and won the Hampshire League East Division title. Monument Mountain earned the No. 3 seed and Mohawk was No. 4.

The Green Wave earned a bye into the quarterfinals. They met No. 9 South Hadley, which knocked off No. 8 Drury in an opening-round game. Greenfield and South Hadley would play quite a memorable game a year later in the WMass final, though we’ll get to that in a later edition.

GAME 21 (March 3, 2000): No. 1 Greenfield 76, No. 8 South Hadley 58 — Western Mass. D2 quarterfinals, Nichols Gymnasium

It was a slow start for the Green Wave, which got pushed by the Tigers. South Hadley was quick and aggressive, and at the start of the first half, the visitors made the Wave look slow and timid. Greenfield led 36-24 at the half, but South Hadley took charge with a 13-3 run in the first four minutes of the second half.

“They came out with nothing to lose and we didn’t match their intensity right off,” said Greenfield guard Billy Finn of South Hadley.

Finn and forward Aaron Clark led a physical attack that helped Greenfield go on a 15-0 run for a 54-37 lead with 7:47 remaining in the game. The Wave extended that lead to 23 points (62-39) before cruising to the victory.

“Green Wave digs in, leaves Tigers in dust,” read the headline in the next day’s Recorder.

Billy Thomas’ 16 points led four players in double figures. Clark went for 14, Deyvehn East followed with 13 and Finn added 10. John Woznakewicz added nine boards and seven points, and Tim Burns chipped in nine points.

The Division II bracket was creating storylines all over the place. No. 2 Athol was upset by No. 7 Southwick, 63-58, in another quarterfinal. Mohawk survived a wild quarterfinal game of its own, as Mark Ledwell stole a pass underneath the Warrior basket and put in the layup with 5.5 seconds remaining to give the Warriors a 63-62 victory over No. 5 Hampshire Regional.

That set the stage for a memorable semifinal between teams that had never met before in the postseason.

GAME 22 (March 6, 2000): Greenfield 64, Mohawk 45 — Western Mass. D2 semifinals, Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst

John Hickey remembers it well. The Greenfield native was in his first year as the head coach at Mohawk Trail Regional, moving down Route 2 for his first boys’ basketball head job after being on Thayer’s staff at GHS the previous two years. As luck would have it, the two teams were set to meet in the semifinals.

Hickey’s first season at Mohawk was a marked success. The Warriors qualified for the tournament for the first time since 1993-94, finishing with a regular season mark of 15-5. The program was coming off a disappointing 6-14 mark just one year prior.

“To get to the semifinals that year was great and a great experience for the kids,” recalled Hickey, now the girls’ basketball coach back at Greenfield, his alma mater. “The kids were jacked. I knew we had a tough matchup because Greenfield had a great offensive team but I still think they were even better defensively that year. They did everything. We knew we had a steep hill to climb.”

Hickey’s decision to leave GHS for Mohawk was not an easy one. While he wound up having plenty of success in West County, he also knew what he was walking away from prior to that 1999-2000 campaign. He was 32 years old when he took the gig.

“It was tough because I knew what we had coming back here in town but I also went in the summer and happened to watch the Mohawk kids play after Greenfield in a summer league game,” he said. “I knew the job (at Mohawk) was open and I thought, ‘Geez, they’ve got some talent.’ They had a deep bench and I felt there was something there that would be good to work with. It might be a good time to step out on my own and give it a start as the head guy. Tough decision to leave but good decision to step on my own and prove myself as a varsity coach.”

Hickey knew plenty about the Greenfield roster. He came on board when that senior class came in as freshmen.

“That was an athletic, fun group of kids,” Hickey said. “Billy Thomas was one of the funniest kids I ever coached. I have fond memories of him. That entire group, those kids all worked hard. It was no surprise they had success.”

For Thayer’s part, coaching against a former assistant meant the season had come full circle. Greenfield opened the ’99-’00 campaign with a game against Pioneer, where Thayer coached against Perry Messer, his former head coach when he was on staff in Northfield.

“It was difficult because you’re losing somebody who is just like you,” said Thayer of Hickey moving to Mohawk. “Hick was ascending and a great coach in his own right. He wanted to do his own thing and who can blame him.”

The Recorder previewed the game between the two sides, and Hickey compared the situation to when a former Boston legend returned as the head coach of another NBA team.

“It’s like Larry Bird going back to Boston,” Hickey said back in 2000. “He loves the place, but you know he wants to beat them bad. That’s a different comparison but I want to win big time. I want to prove to people in this town we can play with them.”

“He knows what I’m going to do, I know what he’s going to do,” Thayer said of Hickey in 2000. “It’s a matter of which kids execute the best.”

It was the first-ever meeting between Greenfield and Mohawk in the postseason. While the Warriors fought throughout, an upset was never in the cards.

“Mohawk Trail Regional High School was simply outmatched,” read the lede to Cam Ward’s article in the Recorder.

On the same night that the Boston Bruins traded Ray Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche, Greenfield used a swarming man-to-man defense to limit Mohawk to just four field goals in the first half, while the Wave built a commanding 36-16 halftime lead. The top-seeded Wave started the second half on a 10-0 run and never looked back en route to the 64-45 victory.

“I told my guys if we played Greenfield 10 times, we might beat them twice,” Hickey said after the loss. “I was hoping one of those two times would be tonight. The better team won.”

Greenfield’s balanced offense was on full display. Burns (13 points), Martin (10), Finn (9), Clark (7), Thomas (7) and East (7) were all involved. Looking back, Thayer said that semifinal game was the one that stuck out to him in the Western Mass. tourney.

“The hardest game was probably the Mohawk game,” he recalled. “Just with all the things going into it and the dynamics. We took care of our business but a lot of emotions were at play there.”

“Scotty and I still joke around about that game,” Hickey said. “That was the finals. Should have been, anyways. It was a fun game. Fun coaching against my former school and kids I had coached previously.”

Greenfield had gotten over the semifinal hump. After losing in that round at the Cage the past two seasons, the Wave were into the championship game for the first time in five years. With upsets on the other side of the bracket (both No. 2 Athol and No. 3 Monument Mt. lost in the quarterfinal round), the finals opponent would be No. 6 Hoosac Valley Regional High School. The Hurricanes defeated Southwick, 65-58, in the other semifinal.

Check back next week for Part 7 of this series, “An emphatic title.”

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