Boys basketball: Mahar hoping to find its way into the state tournament

  • Mahar’s Gavin Sullivan (5), middle, drives to the hoop between Lenox defenders Michael Butler (23), left, and Brendan Armstrong (21) earlier this season in Orange. The Senators close out their regular season Thursday against Chicopee Comp. PHOTO BY DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 2/22/2022 4:30:56 PM
Modified: 2/22/2022 4:30:32 PM

If you’re looking for a hidden window into the new statewide basketball tournaments, you might want to stop by Grzesik-Bixby Gymnasium in Orange on Thursday at 3 p.m.

That’s where the Mahar Regional School boys basketball team will conclude its regular season, welcoming Chicopee Comp to town for a matinee, non-playoff tilt.

The Senators are an interesting case study in the new statewide tournament format. Head coach Chad Softic’s team went 5-13 in the regular season, including a winless 0-12 mark in Hampshire League South action. Still, because Mahar plays such a difficult schedule (the rest of the teams in the HL South are likely postseason-bound), its power ranking under the new formula has the club on the bubble for a top 32 spot in the MIAA Division 4 Tournament.

Teams can qualify for the state tournament in one of two ways now: a .500 record or better automatically gets you in, regardless of where you’re ranked in the state formula, or you can finish inside the top 32 of your division no matter what your record might be. The Sens would get in under the second of those two options, though they entered this week on the outside looking in — checking in at No. 36 in Div. 4.

“I told the kids, the tournament really started for us on Sunday at practice,” Softic explained.

After failing to qualify for the PVIAC’s new Western Massachusetts tournament, Mahar had two non-playoff games tacked onto its schedule this week. Every hoop program in Western Mass. will play at least two games this week, regardless of postseason status, bringing teams’ total to 20 games on the year. The Senators traveled to Springfield and a game with Commerce on Monday, heading home with a 51-49 victory. Now with six wins to its credit, Mahar will play its 20th game on Thursday when it hosts Chicopee Comp (3-15) at 3 p.m. in Orange.

Why the early start? The MIAA has designated 6 p.m. on Thursday as the cut-off for games to be considered for state tournament purposes. If Mahar can win that game, Softic and Co. hope that the two extra wins they snagged this week might be enough to climb four spots and sneak into the top 32.

“We talked over the weekend about this week and it was, ‘we can’t lose to Commerce, we can’t lose to Chicopee Comp,’” Softic said. “We can only control what we can control. Whatever happens after that, it’s not up to us.”

In the most recent power rankings release, which came out on Sunday, four teams stood between Mahar and the 32nd spot in the Div. 4 field — No. 32 Tyngsborough, No. 33 Maimonides School, No. 34 Brighton and No. 35 Bishop Connolly. In addition to beating Chicopee Comp and hoping those teams falter in some capacity, little things may also play a factor for the Sens. That includes hoping teams from Mahar’s league (Drury, Hopkins, Pioneer, Greenfield, Frontier) keep winning, bolstering its rating bit by bit.

There’s no cheat sheet on exactly what needs to happen for them to get in however, especially in the first year of the state’s formula where a lot of unknowns still remain.

Softic said he’s come around to some aspects of the state tournament, though still longs for the old version of the Western Mass. tournament.

“I guess I kind of changed my mind on a few things,” he offered. “If you're playing a very difficult schedule, you are absolutely rewarded. So here we are now at least with a chance. In that way, I kind of appreciate the new power system. But I’m still a traditionalist — I think the Western Mass. tournament should be part of the state tournament and a progression of it. There's good and bad.”

And while the Senators could win on Thursday and still miss the state tournament, hope remains a powerful tool, particularly in high school sports. Whatever happens, Softic knows his team will give its best effort.

“It’s definitely fun to still be relevant,” he continued. “These practices and games are still very important. The kids are dialed in, and we’re trying like heck to get into the tournament.”


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