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Boys basketball preview: Deep Amherst Regional looks to make postseason run

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Norris Cuevas-Nova of Amherst, right, shoots while defended by Justin Burgos of Northampton Friday in Northampton.

    JERREY ROBERTS
    Norris Cuevas-Nova of Amherst, right, shoots while defended by Justin Burgos of Northampton Friday in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>James Sowers of Amherst, left, moves the ball against Ben Christopher of Northampton Monday in Amherst.

    JERREY ROBERTS
    James Sowers of Amherst, left, moves the ball against Ben Christopher of Northampton Monday in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Holyoke Catholic boys basketball head coach Bob Prattico

    JERREY ROBERTS
    Holyoke Catholic boys basketball head coach Bob Prattico Purchase photo reprints »

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Norris Cuevas-Nova of Amherst, right, shoots while defended by Justin Burgos of Northampton Friday in Northampton.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>James Sowers of Amherst, left, moves the ball against Ben Christopher of Northampton Monday in Amherst.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Holyoke Catholic boys basketball head coach Bob Prattico

Ten years is a long time without a championship, and Amherst Regional boys basketball coach Jim Matuszko is hoping to end the streak.

Matuszko, who begins his 15th year with the Hurricanes, will take a shot with a roster of 14 players, the most he’s kept in a decade.

“We only did it one other time and we won the state championship,” said Matuszko, of his 2003 team. “We return some experience for sure and there are some pretty decent players that came into the mix this year that weren’t in the mix last year, which adds to the strength of the team but also made it difficult” selecting the roster.

While his 2012-13 team doesn’t have the frontcourt size of his championship squad, it does have something in common — chemistry.

“That’s the similarity with the team from 10 years ago,” Matuszko said. “This team appears to be tight. We don’t have six guys over 6-foot-4, but we have a tight group of kids.”

Last season, the Hurricanes lost some players during the year and took some from the junior varsity team. The JV team then borrowed from the freshman squad. A big team helps to avoid that problem.

“There are situations that unfold during the season where you need an extra kid or two,” Matuszko said.

The Hurricanes feature a very deep backcourt. In addition to returning players Noris Cuevas-Nova (14.4 points per game), Good Farah, Tyler Peake and James Sowers, the team adds Nick Johnson, Justin Carey, Tyrell Jackson and Isaac Siegel.

Carey was the quarterback of the football team, while Johnson, who played two years ago, is a lacrosse star. Jackson played on the freshman team, but moved to California for his sophomore year.

Finding minutes for everyone could be difficult.

Who plays “depends on the competition, how well the week went for practice and what I think we’ll be looking at for defensive matchups,” Matuszko said. “I think we’ll have enough offensive firepower.”

Another addition to the team is Tom Cook. The 6-4 post player played in one game last year before fracturing his foot and missing the rest of the season. Cook is healthy and adds size to the frontcourt, which already features 6-6 Reed Bixby.

Sophomore Will Cuffee is a lanky 6-3 forward with good hands and moves around the basket. Forward Sam Hird will also play in the post, while newcomer Alex Snyder-Fair will find a roll on the wing.

The most intriguing player on the Hurricanes’ roster is 6-4 forward Malik Ford. The junior Michigan transfer is an inside-outside player who has good feet, solid passing skills and can shoot from 3-point range.

If the Hurricanes are going to contend for a title, it will be on the backs of the upperclassman.

“I’m challenging the seniors to be leaders,” Matuszko said. “We’re going to go as far as these seniors will take us.”

THIRD GENERATION — Brothers Matt and Greg Pipczynski are following big shoes at Hopkins Academy.

Their father Jim Pipczynski was a member of the Hopkins team that lost to Smith Academy in the 1985 postseason tournament. Grandfather John starred at Hopkins and later at UConn from 1957 to 1060. John Pipczynski was principal at Hopkins for 16 years.

NEW COACHES — Bill Beauregard takes over for Claude Humphrey at Belchertown. Humphrey left after three years and is now an assistant at MacDuffie School. Beauregard graduated from Ware in 2002. After graduating from Elms College, he coached for three years as the junior varsity boys coach at Sabis. He spent the last two seasons as the JV coach at Belchertown.

Domenic Battista is the new coach at Holyoke Catholic. He takes over for Bob Prattico, who guided the team for 23 years, won 248 games and the 2006 Western Massachusetts Division 2 title. Battista is the director of operations for the St. Thomas CYO program in West Springfield.

LATE STARTS — South Hadley and Belchertown are a week behind because their football teams competed in Super Bowls on Dec. 1. Easthampton and Hampshire Regional, which share the Easthampton football team, started late, too. But the Eagles football team fell in the semifinal round, costing players only a few days of basketball practice.

BOYS HOOP TOURNEY — The inaugural Pioneer Valley Tip-Off will be held Dec. 15-16 at the Curry Hicks Cage on the campus of the University of Massachusetts.

Amherst, Northampton, Holyoke, Cathedral, West Springfield, Chicopee, South Hadley and Agawam are scheduled to play.

On Day 1, Chicopee plays West Springfield, and Agawam faces South Hadley in the Hampden Bracket. Holyoke and Cathedral meet, while rivals Northampton and Amherst battle in the Hampshire Bracket.

The winners and losers meet on Day 2.

HIGH SCHOOL BLOG — Check out the Gazette’s high school sports blog during the week for additional news and notes on boys basketball in western Mass. There will be weekly rankings and stats posted on Thursdays. The blog can be found at www.gazettenet.com/Blogs/HighSchoolSports.

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow Gazette sports coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/mikemoranDHG.

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