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Gateway girls hold off Pioneer Christian in Division 3

HUNTINGTON — The Gateway Regional girls basketball team overcame early game jitters and an eager opponent to advance in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament.

The Gators struggled early, but pulled away in the second half to beat Pioneer Christian for a third time this season, 41-33 Tuesday.

“It was a little bit of (nerves). We just needed to get together and by the second half we were working really good,” Gateway senior Kaitlin Mastello said. “It took us a while.”

The fifth-seeded Gators (17-4) will face No. 4 Lenox (13-8) on the road Friday at 7 p.m. in the quarterfinal round. Lenox beat No. 13 Franklin Tech 57-21.

“This time of year you have to come and play every night,” Gateway coach Elijah Robbins said. “The second half we did.”

The Eagles pushed their 14-13 halftime lead to 18-15 with 6 minutes, 50 seconds left in the third quarter when eighth-grader Natalie Rayder hit back-to-back jumpers.

Brooke Fairman (11 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) answered with a free throw and Mastello added a basket in the post to tie the game for Gateway, which then called timeout with 6:05 left.

“We had to get refocused, make sure everyone knew what the game plan was,” Robbins said. “It was a matter of getting everyone motivated, refocused.”

The break worked. Gateway outscored PVCS 13-2 the rest of the quarter to take a 31-20 lead into the fourth.

Mastello scored eight of her game-high 16 points during the run.

“Pioneer Christian came to play tonight,” Robbins said. “This is the first time they made tournament in eight or nine years and they came to play. They gave us their best shot. The two times we played them earlier in the season were both close games. They match up well with us.”

Rayder (11 points) had five jumpers, including four banked shots, from the wing after curling around a high screen. Following her second jumper in the third quarter, Gateway shut down the point guard down until a free throw with 2:27 left.

“We had to work on switching our screens,” Mastello said. “Communicating was a big thing. We communicated really well in the second half, the first half, not so much.”

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.

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