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Northampton girls basketball ends five-game road skid to Minnechaug

The Northampton girls basketball team beat Minnechaug 38-33 Friday in Wilbraham. It was the first win over the Falcons on the road since 2007.

The Northampton girls basketball team beat Minnechaug 38-33 Friday in Wilbraham. It was the first win over the Falcons on the road since 2007. Purchase photo reprints »

WILBRAHAM — It was a new building and — at long last — a new result when the Northampton girls basketball team traveled to Minnechaug Friday night.

The Blue Devils ended a five-game losing streak in Wilbraham with a 38-33 victory over the Falcons in their new high school’s gymnasium.

“I told these guys we are in a new gym and it’s time for a new start,” coach Perry Messer said. “We needed to come out of here with a win. We’ve had games where we’ve beaten them pretty good at home and then lost here. We basically played the same way offensively today as we have in the past, but we played much better defensively.”

Northampton (5-2, 3-1 Valley Wheel) last won at Minnechaug 52-45 on Feb. 21, 2007. In the five seasons since, the Blue Devils have gone 3-1 at home against the Falcons and 0-5 away. One of those five losses is a 53-36 defeat by a Northampton squad that went on to win the state Division 1 title in 2008.

“Minnechaug has had a bunch of close games,” junior guard Anna Walther said. “They are definitely a good team. We know beating good teams is going to be good for us when the (tournament) seedings come out.”

Walther led all scorers with 18 points and eight rebounds.

“We knew we just had to come and get it done,” she said. “We had to do all the things we’ve been working on in practice — doubling, pressing and getting in there and boxing out.”

While the offense struggled for much of the contest, the defense dominated throughout. Northampton forced 22 turnovers, including nine during a 9-2 third quarter that gave the Blue Devils a 30-16 lead heading into the final frame.

“I’m extremely happy with our defense. We put a lot of ball pressure on people,” Messer said. “None of their 3-point shooters had open looks in the first half. The big thing we did was that we took them out of their offense. Everything they got, they worked hard for it.”

The Falcons (4-4, 1-3) worked to get the deficit to four midway through the fourth with help from 3-pointers by Jane McWilliams (eight points) and Kara Bruce (five).

The teams traded baskets until Walther was sent to the line for a 1-and-1 with 33.9 seconds left with a 36-32 lead. She missed the first.

The Blue Devils defense then forced a miss, which Walther hauled in for a rebound before being fouled again with 22 seconds left. This time she made both to ice the game.

“I tried not to think about” the prior miss, she said. ‘“I have my teammates to help boost me up and be confident. We all help each other that.

She added, it was “nice to knock them down. I’m used to it. I like the pressure. (Messer) pressures us in practice in all those situations, game situations. It prepares us for those parts of games.”

Walther already has plenty of practice as the team’s closer in prior years.

“Last game, she was 13 for 14 in the second half for us,” Messer said. “We know what she can do. We are going to clear it out for her, put the ball in her hands and if you are going to foul, she’s going to make a lot more than she’s going to miss.”

Maya Kerstetter overcame first-half foul trouble to score seven points to go with four rebounds and four assists. Charlotte Maurer had two points, seven rebounds and four steals, while Anna Moore contributed four points, five rebounds, five blocks and five steals.

“The bottom line is that we have to execute on offense,” Messer said. “I’ll tell (the other team) what we are going to run, you still have to set good screens and make the proper reads. We are doing the right things, but then we’re just not finishing plays.”

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com.

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