Wednesday, May 21, 2014
WESTHAMPTON — The rivalry between Hampshire Regional and Easthampton didn’t need much to get going.
But offseason realignment gave it a boost by placing the neighboring schools in the same league, giving the boys basketball teams two games against each other rather than one.
And postseason seeding matched them up for a third time Tuesday in the first round of the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament.
Much like the games before, this one was physical. And like the last time Easthampton went on the road, the Eagles left with a victory.
Dakota Wheeler and Tom Palaschak combined for 18 first-half points, and Sam Garcia had 18 of his 19 points in the second half as Easthampton advanced with a 56-35 win.
“It’s an awesome game to play,” Garcia said. “We usually only play them once, but we played them three times this year and that’s a lot of fun. To get a big win playing away ... for some reason we always play well here. It’s a great rivalry.”
The ninth-seeded Eagles (12-8) will face No. 1 Sabis (13-7) at 7 p.m. Friday in Springfield. The eighth-seeded Raiders finished 11-10.
“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well tonight,” Hampshire coach Claud Salomao said. “Our game plan was to keep the ball moving around the perimeter and their defense good. They have long bodies and they kept us on the perimeter.”
Garcia scored a majority of his points inside against a depleted Hampshire lineup. The Raiders were without leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker Conor Cronin, who broke his hand against Monson on Feb. 15. Cronin had been averaging over 20 points and 15 rebounds during the second half of the season.
“That’s a big loss for them and I knew I could take advantage inside,” Garcia said. “I knew I could use my strength to go after the ball and finish.”
Without the 6-foot-4 forward, Easthampton kept shots alive on offense and forced the Raiders to the perimeter at the other end.
“That was the best defense we played all year,” Easthampton coach Brian Miller said. “We worked hard the last couple days. Coach (Joe) Dushane has been really after them about active hands, pressuring the ball and rebounding. I thought we rebounded really well.”
The Eagles’ length made it tough for Raider 3-point shooters Nick Malo and Mitch Ouimette to find open shots. Malo scored eight of his 10 points early as Hampshire led 12-9, but the junior was quiet the rest of the way.
Ouimette had all 11 of his points in a tough second half. The 5-10 guard was constantly matched up against Dan Brandt.
“We were switching every screen,” Miller said. “Dan is 6-3 but he’s a great athlete. He’s one of our best perimeter defenders. If he switched out on Ouimette we said fine. Other coaches might hedge, but Dan can do it so we have confidence in him.”
Ouimette actually pulled Hampshire within 29-24 with 4 minutes, 14 seconds left in the third, but Easthampton went on a 15-1 run to take a commanding 44-25 lead early in the fourth.
Tom Palaschak and Wheeler each finished with 12 points.
“It was great, everyone” contributed, Miller said. “Guys off the bench handled the pressure. Everyone played real well.”
Brendan Bzdel had eight points for Hampshire, which also played without senior point guard Matt Labrie, who injured his knee during practice last Friday.
The Raiders graduate two seniors — Brett Malikowski and Labrie.
“The future looks bright us. We are going to be very strong next year,” Salomao said. “We’re going to have depth and size at every position and experience as well. I’m looking forward to next year, I just really feel awful for the two seniors that ended their season tonight.”
Mike Moran can be reached at email@example.com.