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South Hadley edges St. Joseph’s to make Division 3A hockey final

  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, left, celebrates his goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Joe Whalen of South Hadley, left, celebrates his goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jacob Knowles of South Hadley, right, shoots against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Jacob Knowles of South Hadley, right, shoots against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, top, shoots against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch, left, while defended by Cody O'Dowd Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Joe Whalen of South Hadley, top, shoots against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch, left, while defended by Cody O'Dowd Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, front, drives to the goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Tom Crotty of South Hadley, front, drives to the goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, left, drives to the goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Tom Crotty of South Hadley, left, drives to the goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tim Sweeney of South Hadley, right, races to a loose puck against Lance McColgan of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Tim Sweeney of South Hadley, right, races to a loose puck against Lance McColgan of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, shoots between St. Joseph's defenders Brett Pecor, left, and Derek Romejko Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, shoots between St. Joseph's defenders Brett Pecor, left, and Derek Romejko Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, shoots against Brett Pecor Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, shoots against Brett Pecor Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Brian Bak of South Hadley, left, moves the puck ahead of Luke Perry of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.JERREY ROBERTS

    Brian Bak of South Hadley, left, moves the puck ahead of Luke Perry of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nick Watkins of South Hadley, center, eyes a loose puck after his goalie, Devin Hoagland, left, blocked a shot from St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink. Jeff Beauregard of South Hadley looks on, right.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Nick Watkins of South Hadley, center, eyes a loose puck after his goalie, Devin Hoagland, left, blocked a shot from St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink. Jeff Beauregard of South Hadley looks on, right.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nick Harris of South Hadley, right, shoots between St. Joseph's defenders Cody O'Dowd, left, and Derek Romejko Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Nick Harris of South Hadley, right, shoots between St. Joseph's defenders Cody O'Dowd, left, and Derek Romejko Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, second from left, looks for a shot against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Joe Whalen of South Hadley, second from left, looks for a shot against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jeff Beauregard of South Hadley, center, looks for a shot against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch, left, after getting past Nick Lillie Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Jeff Beauregard of South Hadley, center, looks for a shot against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch, left, after getting past Nick Lillie Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, right, scores his second goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Tom Crotty of South Hadley, right, scores his second goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Crotty, from left, Evan Sullivan and Joe Whalen celebrate Crotty's goal in the third period Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Tom Crotty, from left, Evan Sullivan and Joe Whalen celebrate Crotty's goal in the third period Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nick Watkins of South Hadley, right, moves the puck against Brett Pecor of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Nick Watkins of South Hadley, right, moves the puck against Brett Pecor of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, tries to steal the puck from Cody O'Dowd of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, tries to steal the puck from Cody O'Dowd of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Beau Kass of South Hadley shoots against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Beau Kass of South Hadley shoots against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, left, celebrates his goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Jacob Knowles of South Hadley, right, shoots against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, top, shoots against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch, left, while defended by Cody O'Dowd Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, front, drives to the goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, left, drives to the goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Tim Sweeney of South Hadley, right, races to a loose puck against Lance McColgan of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, shoots between St. Joseph's defenders Brett Pecor, left, and Derek Romejko Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, shoots against Brett Pecor Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Brian Bak of South Hadley, left, moves the puck ahead of Luke Perry of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.JERREY ROBERTS
  • Nick Watkins of South Hadley, center, eyes a loose puck after his goalie, Devin Hoagland, left, blocked a shot from St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink. Jeff Beauregard of South Hadley looks on, right.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Nick Harris of South Hadley, right, shoots between St. Joseph's defenders Cody O'Dowd, left, and Derek Romejko Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Joe Whalen of South Hadley, second from left, looks for a shot against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Jeff Beauregard of South Hadley, center, looks for a shot against St. Joseph's goalie Andrew Leitch, left, after getting past Nick Lillie Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Tom Crotty of South Hadley, right, scores his second goal against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Tom Crotty, from left, Evan Sullivan and Joe Whalen celebrate Crotty's goal in the third period Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Nick Watkins of South Hadley, right, moves the puck against Brett Pecor of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Beau Kass of South Hadley, right, tries to steal the puck from Cody O'Dowd of St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Beau Kass of South Hadley shoots against St. Joseph's Monday at Olympia Rink.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

WEST SPRINGFIELD — South Hadley hockey coach John Houle honestly didn’t know before the season if his team would make it back to the Western Massachusetts Division 3A final.

He received a definitive answer Monday night as the Tigers grinded out a 3-2 victory over St. Joseph-Central of Pittsfield in the sectional semifinals at the Olympia.

“We don’t take anything for granted in the playoffs,” he said. “We outshot them tonight more than 2 to 1, but you can run into a hot goalie and get knocked off. So it’s quite an accomplishment to get back.”

The Tigers did run into that hot goalie in St. Joseph (10-7-2) goalkeeper Andrew Leitch (45 saves), but survived thanks to a pair of goals from junior Tom Crotty.

Fellow junior Joe Whalen added a tally, while senior Jeff Beauregard and freshman Evan Sullivan had two assists apiece.

“We figured we’d have to work hard for this one, because that’s playoff hockey,” Houle said. Leitch “is an unbelievable goalie, but we can get goals from all over the place, which really helps us win.”

No. 2 South Hadley (16-3-3) advanced to their fifth straight sectional title game against top-seeded Agawam (18-2-3) Thursday at 5:30 at the Olympia. The four-time defending champion Tigers have beaten the Brownies in the final the past three seasons.

“People had some doubts about us because of all we lost from last year, but I believed we could be just as good and get back to this point,” Crotty said. “Now we’ve got a shot to win another one.”

Crotty’s insurance tally and eventual game winner came with just under eight minutes left in regulation.

After receiving a stretch pass from Beauregard just short of the attacking zone, Crotty entered and immediately cut to the middle before releasing a snapper that deflected off the blocker and in.

“I just threw that one on net and got lucky, but any shot’s a good one,” Crotty said.

Crotty converted a give-and-go with Evan Sullivan to put South Hadley ahead 2-1 with 8:28 left in the second. Crotty skated from the near side boards and took the feed from behind the net.

“That was a sweet play. Evan really set me up on that one,” Crotty said.

Whalen opened the scoring 3 minutes, 1 second in by tipping home a Beauregard shot from the left point.

“Jeff and I work on that type of play in practice,” Whalen said. “I could see he was going to get the shot off, so my job is to get to the front of the net and create traffic. We knew we needed to keep shooting and eventually we’d bury some chances.”

The Crusaders found the equalizer nearly six minutes later as Mike Bloom beat a screened Devin Hoagland to the stick side.

Hoagland was solid the rest of the game, making 15 saves. The Tigers defensive unit of Beauregard, Brian Bak, Nick Watkins and Crotty kept St. Joseph out of the goal-scoring areas.

“We’re much more of a defensive team this year, and that showed (Monday),” said Houle. “Crotty and Beauregard are basically forwards and defenseman at the same time. When we need some scoring punch we can move those guys anywhere. They allow us to take some chances on the attack.”

The forwards joined in the defensive effort on the backcheck, such as a Whalen breakup of an Eric Leitch scoring chance early in the third.

South Hadley survived the only two penalty calls of the game in the final four minutes of action.

“The officials did a great job, they let us play,” Houle said. “It’s tough taking two late, but those were good calls.”

The second penalty was called against Beauregard and the Tigers needed to go the full 1:30 without their captain. Daniel Flynn converted on the power play to make it 3-2 and South Hadley returned to even strength. Beauregard returned with just 39 seconds left and helped the Tigers kill the clock.

The Brownies won an early season meeting with the Tigers, then the teams played to a 4-4 tie on Jan. 23.

“Another final against Agawam, it just seems right,” said Houle. “It should be fun.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @mjwilk1237.

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