Smith Academy, South Hadley seek western Masssachusetts boys crowns
Mat Sulda, right, and the Smith Academy boys basketball team will play St. Joseph Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament final at Curry Hicks Cage. Purchase photo reprints »
Anthony Bullough, center, and the South Hadley boys basketball team will play Greenfield Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Western Massachusetts Division 2 Tournament final at Curry Hicks Cage. Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — For the Smith Academy and South Hadley boys basketball teams, winning a sectional championship Saturday would be a new experience.
Smith Academy is in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament final for the first time in 20 years. None of the Falcons were alive when Smith beat Mohawk for its last title in 1993.
South Hadley is making its second straight Division 2 finals appearance. The Tigers haven’t won since 2008, when they took home their fifth crown in an eight-year span.
The games are among six Saturday at Curry Hicks Cage that will determine the boys and girls champions in three divisions.
The fourth-seeded Falcons (20-3) will play No. 6 St. Joseph (14-8) at 12:30 p.m. The defending champions beat Smith Academy in the semifinal round last year.
“They wanted to get back here bad and it wasn’t just about getting here this year. It was about getting here and performing well here,” Smith coach Matt Zerneri said. “They’re not done. They want to keep going and they want to be able to hoist a trophy this year and we’re hoping that we can do it. It’s going to be a battle.”
The Falcons return their five starters from last year’s squad. Guards Mat Sulda and Derek McMahon sit at the top of a 2-3 zone that finished first in points allowed per game in Division 3. Forwards David Longstreeth and Keith Natale and center Seaver Rickert control in the inside. Smith Academy will need its defense to play well against St. Joseph, which boasts the second-ranked offense in Division 3.
“We can expect athletic players, tough defenders,” Sulda said. “We played them last year in the semis and they’re a good team. They’re a solid team. They play together. They’re tough.”
The Crusaders are led by 1,000-point scorer Taverick Roberson. Michael Carpenter and Lavante Wiggins are two strong options, while Jon Bianchi has improved from last season.
“They have really three workhorses that they can go to,” Zerneri said. “Bianchi has grown a lot since the last time we played them. He’s a solid, strong physical player too. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a good game. We’re looking forward to it.”
No. 2 South Hadley (15-7) will face No. 1 Greenfield (20-2) at 4 p.m. in the Division 2 title game. These two teams also played in the 2001 and 2004 finals. South Hadley won both times. These two programs haven’t met since the ’04 finals.
“We’re going to watch some film, we’re going to bound off the floor, we’re going to have some short, crisp practices and we’re going to do our best,” South Hadley coach Jeff Guiel said.
Guards Avon White, Evan Marcus, T.J. Fitzell and Cameron Earle, and center Anthony Bullough, are likely to start for South Hadley. Greenfield has the size advantage on the Tigers. Forwards Connor Eckstrom (6-foot-5) and Tyler Miller (6-4) started against Taconic in the semifinals. Forward Lew Borden (6-4) came off the bench.
Marcus will look to bring a third title to his family. His older brother Ryan played in three finals from 2005 to 2007, winning two.
“I was a little kid watching him and I thought it was awesome,” Evan Marcus said. “I looked up to my big brother so much as I was growing up. To see him win it and have me follow in his footsteps, it would really be awesome to win it once.”
Mike Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.