This giant was bigger and better

  • Pioneer’s Karl Wheeler (14) dribbles down the court against Maynard during their MIAA Division IV state semifinal game Monday night. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

Recorder Staff
Monday, March 12, 2018

SPRINGFIELD — After beating one dominant team to win the Western Massachusetts Division IV boys’ basketball championship Saturday, Pioneer Valley Regional School was unable to slay another giant at Monday night’s MIAA state semifinals.

Defending Division IV state champion Maynard High School earned a third consecutive trip to the state-title game, running away from the Panthers for a 70-38 win at Henry A. Butova Gymnasium on the campus of American International College.

Maynard (24-3) will play Pope John XXIII High School in Saturday’s state championship.

“We’re very fortunate in that we have some very talented kids who have been here before and have had a lot of success,” said Maynard head coach Paul Howes.

Howes said his team’s scouting report on Pioneer focused primarily on junior point guard Garrett Cote. The hero of the past two victories for the Panthers, Cote finished with 7 points in Monday’s loss.

“We wanted to take Cote out of the game, especially from a shooting perspective,” Howes explained. “He’s a terrific point guard and he does a lot of different things for them. We wanted to limit his vision, so to speak. He’s able to get a lot of open looks to get teammates open looks, so that was a big focus defensively.”

The Panthers got off to a solid start, trailing just 16-13 in the first quarter after a Cote layup. He hit two free throws to pull Pioneer within six, 21-15, after one quarter.

“Pioneer came out and was ready for the challenge,” Howes lauded. “They got off to a good start. We just managed to make a lot more shots as the game went along.”

Maynard D does the job

With star point guard Corey Olivier at the top of the defense, Maynard suffocated the Panthers throughout the night in the state semifinal.

Maynard’s trapping pressure with Olivier as the first line of defense stopped Pioneer in its tracks. Big man Chris Bastian would often be the one to join him for traps at the top of the key, and the two used their size and length to turn the Panthers over and get out on several fast breaks.

“We went to our 2-3 zone with Chris coming up on top and that makes it really tough for teams to enter the ball inside,” Howes explained. “We were very active on the defensive side. We wanted to play fast and a lot of that stems from our defensive intensity.”

Olivier finished with 8 points and 8 assists offensively, while Bastian totaled 18 points.

3-point shooting

In order to pull out the victory, Pioneer needed to make some shots from the outside against a long and athletic Maynard club. Things started out well enough, as Karl Wheeler (team-high 14 points) drilled a 3-pointer with 4:24 left in the first quarter to cut the deficit to 10-7.

But the 3-point shot fell silent from there, and Maynard was the team that got hot from the outside. Riding the shooting of Tommy Smith, the Tigers made six 3’s in the first half. Smith drilled four of them and three in a span of just 2:25 late in the second quarter as Maynard stretched its lead from 25-18 with 4:01 left before halftime to 37-21 at intermission. All told it was a 14-4 run to end the half.

Smith finished with a game-high 24 points, connecting on six 3-pointers.

The Tigers finished with 12 3-pointers, while Pioneer wound up 5-of-20 from behind the arc.

Missed opportunities

Coming out of halftime trailing 37-21, if you had told Pioneer coach Scott Thayer that his team would hold Maynard to just 8 points in the third quarter, he would’ve certainly taken it.

So while the Panthers defense was stout and frustrated Maynard on that end of the floor, Pioneer was unable to cash in offensively. Despite a Cote 3-pointer just 39 seconds into the second half, the WMass champs managed just a Jordan Loughman layup the rest of the 7:21 in the third.

Seniors close it out

Monday’s state semifinal marked the final game in the hoop careers of seniors Brendan Emond, Karl Wheeler, Mike Menard, Jordan Loughman, Justin Hubbard and Cody Letourneau. That means the Panthers will graduate four of their five starters, with just Cote, a junior, back from that unit for next year’s squad. Pioneer finished 18-6 overall.