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Northampton girls return to Division 1 final, face Chicopee

Anna Walther, center, and the Northampton girls basketball team will play Chicopee Saturday at 5:45 p.m. in the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament championship at Curry Hicks Cage.

Anna Walther, center, and the Northampton girls basketball team will play Chicopee Saturday at 5:45 p.m. in the Western Massachusetts Division 1 Tournament championship at Curry Hicks Cage. Purchase photo reprints »

NORTHAMPTON — Many of the Northampton girls basketball players look forward to Super Saturday.

A handful of this year’s Blue Devils have been found in the stands for all six of the Western Massachusetts Tournament championship games at Curry Hicks Cage. They were cheering for friends and AAU teammates playing in the games, chatting with coaches and other friends, and simply enjoying a long day of good basketball.

This year will be different.

For the first time since 2008, No. 1 Northampton (18-4) is playing for a WMass title, as it will take on No. 7 Chicopee (15-7) in the fifth game of the day, with tip-off set for 5:45 p.m.

“In the past couple of years, we’ve been going to all the games, staying the entire day,” junior guard Khaila Ramirez said. “It will be awesome to be there playing at the end of the day this time.”

Northampton coach Perry Messer said his team will have breakfast together Saturday morning and then head to the Cage a little earlier than they would arrive for a normal game, but the Blue Devils will have to wait until the boys Division 1 game to be true spectators.

“Getting to play is a lot more fun than getting to watch,” Messer said. “We have our traditions. We always say that if you play in a Saturday game, you get a Saturday breakfast brunch. We’ve been doing that since my days (coaching the Pioneer Regional boys) and we did it” in 2007 and 2008 with the Northampton girls.

The team will likely have a shootaround at the Blue Devils’ gymnasium before heading to the Cage.

Waiting at the University of Massachusetts for Northampton is a Pacers team that has already beaten the No. 2 (Longmeadow) and No. 3 (Holyoke) seeds in the tournament.

“I think we will have played on paper the three best teams in western Mass.,” said Chicopee coach Steve Marcil, who took over the program coming off a 1-19 season in 2010-11. The Pacers went 8-12 last year and are in the title game for the first time since 2006. “You don’t get to this point in the season unless you are playing the best. We’re up for it. We’ll play anybody and be confident. We’re excited.”

The Pacers’ record was hurt by standout forward Dawn Dyer-Martin’s six-game absence, during which the team went 3-3. But Chicopee has been gaining steam down the stretch and enters Saturday’s championship on a six-game winning streak.

“We are really clicking on all cylinders,” Marcil said. “I couldn’t be happier with our performance on offense. Defensively, if we get better, we have a shot.”

Dyer-Martin didn’t play in Northampton’s 55-42 win over the Pacers at home on Jan. 14.

“It is going to be a whole different game,” Blue Devils junior Maya Kerstetter said. “Between the atmosphere, Dawn playing and how far they’ve come this season, it’s a much different matchup for us” than the first game.

Dyer-Martin scored 15 points in the semifinal win over the defending champion Purple Knights on Tuesday. She also creates havoc on the defensive end at the top of the team’s 3-2 zone.

“We pretty much have seen everything you can throw at us, box-and-ones, triangle-and-twos, pressure man, full-court pressure, 2-2-1,” Messer said. “We’ve seen a little bit of everything. We’ll be prepared for whatever they are going to throw at us.”

The Pacers also feature a dynamic backcourt tandem of seniors Ashley Dion and Brittany Taylor, who can each take over games offensively and score from everywhere.

Ramirez, one of Northampton’s handful of defensive standouts on the perimeter, will surely be tasked with trying to shut down one or both of them over the course of the game.

“There’s nothing I love more than a good challenge on defense, so I’m excited for it,” she said.

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @GazetteHS.

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