Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
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Hampshire Regional rallies for 55-50 win over rival Easthampton

“It’s always a tough game with these guys, always a battle, never easy because they play so hard,” Raiders coach Claud Salomao said. “I think my guys matched them today and I was really proud of the way these guys played tonight.”

Hampshire (7-6, 7-3 Bi-County), who has won five of its last six, erased an early 12-point deficit behind Brendan Bzdel and Conor Cronin scoring a game-high 17 points each.

The Raiders held Easthampton’s leading scorer Dakota Wheeler to 10 points. Sam Garcia led the Eagles (7-8, 6-5) with 14 points in the loss.

“My guys have really done a great job this year of growing into a team that can overcome adversity and tonight was just another example of that,” Salomao said. “At Dean Tech (on Monday) we got down and we actually wound up winning in overtime. Tonight, they dug down deep ... and kind of imposed their will on the opponent.”

After guarding Wheeler all night, Kyle Marek rounded out his night by hitting a momentum-reversing 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 57 seconds left in the third quarter to pull Hampshire within 34-32.

“He really worked his tail off on the defensive end and that 3 he hit was a great move,” Salomao said. “He’s a young player that’s starting to come into his own.”

Twenty seconds later, Easthampton’s Tom Palaschak made a shot from just inside the arc to try and sway the game back to the Eagles.

But Cronin followed and drew contact as he scored inside to pull Hampshire within 36-34. He failed to convert the three-point play, but the bucket triggered a 10-4 Raider run to close the third quarter ahead 42-40.

Nick Malo highlighted the run with a lead-stealing 3-pointer with 2:10 to play and the Raiders never looked back.

“I thought we played pretty well in the second half, we just couldn’t make shots,” Easthampton coach Brain Miller said. “We had open looks that just didn’t go.”

The Eagles made it a one possession game twice in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t regain the lead. They erased an opening 7-0 Raider run when Palaschak made the first of a one-and-one to trail 47-46 midway through. Then a Wheeler field goal with 25.6 to play cut the deficit to 52-50, but timely free throws sealed the Raiders win.

“We’ve actually been shooting free throws horribly and our guys have really been working hard this past week to get our percentage back above 50 percent,” Salomao said.

The Eagles jumped out to a 16-10 lead after the first quarter as Cronin picked up three fouls and was held scoreless.

They pushed their lead to 22-10 on an opening 6-0 run in the second, but Cronin’s first basket of the game with 6:13 on the clock sparked the Raider offense as they climbed back into the game and went into halftime trailing 30-25.

“They were hitting their shots early on and I think we were reeling somewhat,” Salomao said. “Once we got Conor the ball everything kind of flowed through that. I think my guys did a nice job settling down and making plays.”

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