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Inaugural Pioneer Valley Tip-Off picks up steam

The Curry Hicks Cage will host the Pioneer Valley Tip-Off this weekend.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO The Curry Hicks Cage will host the Pioneer Valley Tip-Off this weekend. Purchase photo reprints »

The Curry Hicks Cage is where every boys basketball team hopes to be playing on March 9.

That’s three months away.

But for a select few the wait isn’t nearly as long — try a couple days.

The inaugural Pioneer Valley Tip-Off will be held this weekend at the University of Massachusetts facility.

The event is the brainchild of UMass sophomore Patrick Sallet, who along with Scott Moses organized the tournament through the UMass Sports Management program.

Sallet attended Ayer High School and competed in the Clark University Tournament in central Mass. With that tournament in mind, Sallet started in January creating the Tip-Off.

The eight-team field is broken into two brackets — Hampden and Hampshire. Semifinal games are Saturday at the Cage. Consolation games and finals are Sunday.

Selling schools on the event and the Cage was easy.

“That’s the biggest draw and that’s why it was so easy to get the field,” Sallet said. “You go to the ADs and say, ‘we’re putting together a boys basketball tournament, do you want to be a part of it, it’s going to be at the Cage,’ and they jumped on board right away.”

The Hampshire Bracket includes Amherst Regional, Cathedral, Holyoke and Northampton. The Hampden field features Agawam, Chicopee, South Hadley and West Springfield.

Chicopee and West Side play at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by Agawam and South Hadley at 3.

Holyoke and Cathedral play at 4:30, with rivals Northampton and Amherst starting at 6.

The consolation game for the Hampden bracket is at noon Sunday. Hampshire goes at 1:30. Championship games are at 3 (Hampden) and 4:30 (Hampshire).

“It’s been positive from everyone,” Sallet said. “We’ve talked to a few high schoolers we’ve seen around the Cage and they’re pumped about it. The ADs are excited about it. I hope the fans are excited about it.”

Much like the Clark Tournament, which will turn 73 in February, Sallet hopes the Pioneer Valley Tip-Off sticks around.

“I want to make it an annual event for sure. I think we have the draw for it, the interest level is there,” he said. “There’s a lot of qualified kids (at UMass), it’s just a matter of finding the right group of people that have the right vision and work ethic to keep it going. I’m pretty confident I’ll find someone to pass it along to when I’m done.”

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY — Williston’s Ray Brown Holiday Girls Basketball Tournament turns 25 Friday. The field includes Buckingham Browne & Nichols, Hopkins, Williston and Brooks. Play begins Friday at 5:30 and continues through Saturday.

Holyoke Catholic alum Kevin Kudla is in his eighth year coaching the Wildcats.

Williston’s local players include Sarah Marion of Granby, Jill Slezek of Hatfield, Gracie Simpson of South Hadley, Karly Simpson of South Hadley, Elizabeth Calderone of Whately and Gabby Thomas of Florence.

MILESTONE WATCH — Elizabeth Whitney of Easthampton needs 26 points for 1,000 in her career. She is averaging 25.0 points per game this season. The Eagles host Athol at 7 p.m. Friday.

LOCAL TRIO SUITS UP FOR PANTHERS — The Cathedral hockey team has its customary lofty goals for this season, but the three players on the squad from Hampshire County are just seeking to offer any contribution they can to the top program in western Massachusetts.

The Panthers’ roster includes freshmen forwards John Leonard of Amherst and Matt Deloria of South Hadley, as well as sophomore goalie Adam Mercer of Belchertown.

“I’ve been playing hockey for many years and I wanted an opportunity to play at the Division 1 level,” said Leonard. “I wanted to try out for the team because I have heard that Cathedral is a very good program both academically and athletically.”

Leonard, who played for the Springfield Rifles and last year for the Springfield Junior Falcons, and Deloria are two of seven freshmen or eighth-graders to make the team.

“It means a lot to me to be a part of the program and I feel very lucky to have this great opportunity,” Leonard said. “The biggest personal goal I have is to help contribute to the team as much as I can.”

Mercer doesn’t project to see much time in net as star goaltender John Liquori returns for his junior year between the pipes. Liquori was a huge reason the Panthers earned a spot in the state Division 1A Super 8 tournament last March.

SMITH ACADEMY PAIR TAKE ICE FOR GREEN WAVE — The Greenfield hockey team has two players on this season’s roster who attend Smith Academy and participate as part of the cooperative program.

Junior defenseman Cam Woodward will play a significant role for the Green Wave (2-0), which has western Mass. Division 3A title aspirations. Woodward is coming off a soccer season in which he starred in goal for a Falcons team that reached the sectional Division 3 title game.

Joining him is a newcomer to the program in eighth-grade forward Alex Malinowski.

ORIOLES FOURTH IN STATE — The Belchertown girls soccer team came up just short in its bid for a state Division 2 title, but the Orioles certainly impressed in their season-long run, which earned them the No. 4 spot in the ESPN Boston statewide postseason poll.

Belchertown (20-1-2) lost the D-2 championship to second-ranked Medfield by a 3-1 score on Nov. 17. The Orioles finished behind only state Division 1 champion Franklin, Medfield and D-1 runner-up Nashoba.

“I don’t give much thought to rankings, other than as a way to give our players and program some recognition,” said coach Chris Mogavero. “But it’s awesome to be recognized in the state in a poll comprised of mostly eastern Mass. teams. It’s a great accomplishment for the team and I am proud that the girls received the recognition they deserve.”

The only other girls team from western Mass. to crack the poll was No. 15 East Longmeadow (16-2-1), which lost to Pittsfield 2-1 in overtime in the Division 1 sectional semifinals.

In the final boys soccer poll, Amherst Regional (12-3-5) finished 14th after winning the program’s first western Mass. Division 1 title and earning a spot in the state championship. Despite defeating rival Ludlow (14-2-5) for the sectional crown, the Hurricanes polled two spots below the Lions, who were 12th as the only other local squad.

Staff writer Michael Wilkinson contributed to this report.

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com.

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