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Division 4 boys basketball: Gateway Regional struggles in 61-36 loss to Monson

Gateway allowed the first 10 points of the Western Massachusetts Division 4 Tournament first round game and the first nine of the third quarter in a 61-36 loss at Monson Tuesday night.

“Our guys played with a lot of heart, the energy was there,” Gateway coach Mike O’Connell said. “I love this team and I appreciate what they’ve done this year.”

The No. 10 Gators (14-7) made the tournament for the first time since 2003, when they reached the sectional Division 3 semifinals.

Curtis Dowers scored a game-high 14 points for Gateway. Mike Arel had 10 points, Calvin Dowers six, while Jake Merritt, Justin Edinger and John Haskell added two apiece.

“We were all cold from everywhere,” senior center Arel said. “Nobody shot well, and we couldn’t get much going inside either.”

The No. 7 Mustangs (12-9) had four players in double figures and advanced to face No. 2 Smith Academy (17-3) in Friday’s quarterfinal round.

Brendon Lloyd led Monson with 13 points. Moody Bey and Brien Couture each had 12 and Steve O’Shea added 10.

“I thought we matched up decently, but they were just a step ahead,” O’Connell said. “We defended pretty well in the half court, but they got the ball up quickly and made a real effort to get into our zone or shoot over the top.”

Monson, which also started slowly on the offensive end, converted Gateway turnovers into fast-break baskets in the first half. The Mustangs held their biggest lead at 31-9 late in the second.

“We struggled some with the speed of the game,” O’Connell said. “The Tri-County has some strong teams at the top but doesn’t have the depth of the other leagues. So it took us a while to get used to their aggressive style.”

Arel put in six of his points in the final minute of the half as the Gators closed on an 11-2 run to cut their halftime deficit to 33-20.

But the momentum was squashed as it took Gateway over half of the third quarter to score. By that point, Monson led 42-20.

“Our rebounding wasn’t good enough, so we just couldn’t get a real run going,” Arel said. “We tried our best on the defensive end, but they found enough holes in our zone and kept getting second chances.”

Late in the third, the Dowers brothers put in nine consecutive points to make it 42-29. Gateway got within 13 twice early in the fourth, but that’s as close as they got as Monson ended the game on a 12-0 run.

“It felt like it was at 13 from the middle of the second to the end,” O’Connell said. “They pulled away late, but we just couldn’t crack that range and get it back to single digits.”

It was the final high school game for Gateway seniors Arel, Curtis Dowers, Calvin Dowers, Edinger, Merritt, Chris Hanechak, Alex Myers and Willis Pollard.

“It was a little bittersweet being moved to the Tri-County, but winning the league is a great accomplishment,” O’Connell said. “These guys struggled the last few years, so for them to be the group that gets the program back into the tournament is great. We’re trying to build this back up.”

On the successful season, Arel said, “It means a lot, because we really came together as a team this year, particularly the eight seniors. We all worked hard to get back to the playoffs and win the league.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com.

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