Boys basketball: Pioneer takes down Smith Academy, 50-29

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  • Smith Academy junior Logan Graves, right, sets to pass under pressure from Pioneer Valley senior Ryan Potter in the first half of the Falcons’ 50-29 home loss to the Panthers in Hatfield on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Pioneer Valley senior Jalen McGraw (23) grabs a rebound over Smith Academy senior JJ Kroll, left, before a putback for two in the first half of the Panthers' 50-29 road win over the Falcons in Hatfield on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Pioneer Valley freshman Kurt Redeker, center, tries to put back a missed shot by senior Jayden Fox, right, over defense by Smith Academy senior JJ Kroll in the first half of the Panthers' 50-29 road win over the Falcons in Hatfield on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Pioneer Valley senior Jalen McGraw (23) looks to pass under pressure from Smith Academy's Ryan Belina, left, and Caden Guimond in the first half of the Panthers' 50-29 road win over the Falcons in Hatfield on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Pioneer Smith senior Jalen McGraw, center, is trapped by Smith Academy juniors Cameron Zononi, left, and Ryan Belina in the first half of the Panthers' 50-29 road win over the Falcons in Hatfield on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Pioneer Valley senior Ryan Potter, left, puts pressure on Smith Academy junior Logan Graves in the first half of the Panthers’ 50-29 road win over the Falcons in Hatfield on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Smith Academy junior Griffin Smiarowski attempts a shot against Pioneer Valley Regional in the first half of the Falcons' 50-29 home loss to the Panthers in Hatfield on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Smith Academy senior Wyatt Jeffress, right, gets off a pass in front of Pioneer Valley seniors Jalen McGraw, left, and Jayden Fox in the first half of the Falcons' 50-29 home loss to the Panthers in Hatfield on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Smith Academy senior Caden Guimond, right, is pressed by Pioneer Valley senior Ryan Potter in the first half of the Falcons' 50-29 home loss to the Panthers in Hatfield on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Smith Academy senior JJ Kroll, left, is defended by Pioneer Valley freshman Gavin Gammell in the first half of the Falcons' 50-29 home loss to the Panthers in Hatfield on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Smith Academy junior Riley Intrator, center, tries to send a pass over the extended leg of Pioneer Valley senior Jalen McGraw in the first half of the Falcons' 50-29 home loss to the Panthers in Hatfield on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/20/2021 11:07:02 PM
Modified: 12/20/2021 11:06:47 PM

HATFIELD – The Pioneer boys basketball team’s first road game of the season wasn’t an easy one. 

Smith Academy has a strong home court advantage inside Sherry Webb Gymnasium, and that was on full display Monday evening. But Pioneer powered through unfazed, roaring out to a fast start and keeping its foot on the gas en route to a 50-29 win that was closer than the final scoreboard indicated.

“Coming into a hostile environment, and I have six freshmen on the team, that can be a little daunting for them. I thought we handled it well, we knew [Smith] would give us everything they had and they played extremely hard,” Pioneer head coach Scott Thayer said. “On defense, they made it extremely hard for us. At the end there, we got them out of the zone, they went man-to-man, and that kind of opened things up for us at the end.”

The Panthers (2-0) came out with a lethal combination of offense and defense, moving the ball effortlessly while shutting down any and all of the Falcons’ efforts in their own end, though it didn’t help that Smith Academy couldn’t get any of the shots to fall their way. Pioneer led 15-3 with seconds to go in the first quarter before Riley Intrator nailed a buzzer-beating half-court shot for Smith Academy to make it 15-6. That brought the home crowd and the Falcons’ bench to their feet, injecting life back into the gym.

“Usually we come out into the game, firing off the tip,” Pioneer’s Jalen McGraw said of the team's fast start. “So that’s just what we execute each game.”

“With Pioneer being one of the best teams in Division 5 and Western Mass., I'm very happy with the effort we had,” Smith Academy head coach Matt Zerneri said. “I thought we were in the game until the last few minutes, and if some more shots fall I think it's a tighter game coming down the stretch. You never know what's gonna happen.”

Pioneer led Smith Academy 29-17 at halftime and though the Falcons chipped away at the lead in the third quarter, the Panthers outscored the home team 13-4 in the final period to secure the win. 

It was a group effort from the Panthers – only one player, McGraw, cracked double-digits in scoring with 13 points, because the rest of the group distributed them fairly evenly. Sean Allen posted nine points and Brayden Thayer scored eight; in all, eight different players from Pioneer found their way on the scoresheet. 

What really made the difference in the game was the Panthers’ rebounding. On both offense and defense, Pioneer was regularly the first team to the ball after a shot went up, and those second and third opportunities made all the difference.

“Yeah, that killed us,” said Zerneri on his team’s rebounding struggles. “For being a decent-sized team, I thought we got killed on boards a little bit too much.” 

The Panthers held the Falcons to just 29 points, another key factor to their success. Griffin Smiarowski led the home team with eight points, while teammates Caden Guimond and Intrator each finished with seven points, but Pioneer's defensive was too much for the Falcons to handle. 

“We always want to hang our hat on the defense on the floor. And (if) you give up 29 points, you're gonna win a lot of games,” Thayer said. “You know, the first game we gave up 35 (in a win over Mahar). So if we continue to do that, we have a chance to be successful.”

Give the Falcons (0-2) credit where it's due – they came back in the second and third quarters on a mission, nipping at Pioneer’s heels and putting 19 points on the board to the Panthers’ 22. The talent and skill is there for Smith Academy – it’s just putting together a full 32-minute effort. 


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