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Defense carries South Hadley boys to semifinal hoop win

  • Avon White of South Hadley,front, keeps his eyes on the basket despite Sabis defender Jeff Mueller Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/> JERREY ROBERTS

    Avon White of South Hadley,front, keeps his eyes on the basket despite Sabis defender Jeff Mueller Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Evan Marcus, front, and T.J. Fitzell of South Hadley celebrate their win against Sabis in the Division 2 Western Massachusetts semifinal Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.JERREY ROBERTS

    Evan Marcus, front, and T.J. Fitzell of South Hadley celebrate their win against Sabis in the Division 2 Western Massachusetts semifinal Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Anthony Bullough of South Hadley, center, shoots between Sabis defenders Colby Ranson, left, and Jon Beadle Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Anthony Bullough of South Hadley, center, shoots between Sabis defenders Colby Ranson, left, and Jon Beadle Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Evan Marcus of South Hadley, left, drives to the basket against Sabis defenders Jon Beadle, center, and Jeff Mueller Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Evan Marcus of South Hadley, left, drives to the basket against Sabis defenders Jon Beadle, center, and Jeff Mueller Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nate Flachs of South Hadley, center, keeps the ball away from Sabis defenders Joshua Evans, left, and Justin Cruz Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Nate Flachs of South Hadley, center, keeps the ball away from Sabis defenders Joshua Evans, left, and Justin Cruz Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • T.J. Fitzell of South Hadley shoots against Justin Cruz of Sabis Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    T.J. Fitzell of South Hadley shoots against Justin Cruz of Sabis Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Avon White of South Hadley,front, keeps his eyes on the basket despite Sabis defender Jeff Mueller Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/> JERREY ROBERTS
  • Evan Marcus, front, and T.J. Fitzell of South Hadley celebrate their win against Sabis in the Division 2 Western Massachusetts semifinal Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.JERREY ROBERTS
  • Anthony Bullough of South Hadley, center, shoots between Sabis defenders Colby Ranson, left, and Jon Beadle Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Evan Marcus of South Hadley, left, drives to the basket against Sabis defenders Jon Beadle, center, and Jeff Mueller Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Nate Flachs of South Hadley, center, keeps the ball away from Sabis defenders Joshua Evans, left, and Justin Cruz Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • T.J. Fitzell of South Hadley shoots against Justin Cruz of Sabis Tuesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

The South Hadley boys basketball team turned the first three Sabis possessions of the fourth quarter into turnovers Tuesday night.

The Tigers’ defense took away any momentum the Bulldogs had from their big third-quarter comeback and paved the way to a 52-40 victory in the Western Massachusetts Division 2 Tournament semifinal round at the Curry Hicks Cage.

“Defensively, we wanted to key on their key guys and play with a lot of heart and a lot of intensity and get after it,” said White, a junior guard. “We wanted it more.”

The second-seeded Tigers (15-7) will face No. 1 Greenfield (20-2) in the final at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Cage. Greenfield beat No. 4 Taconic 62-49 in the other semifinal Tuesday.

South Hadley lost to Mahar in last year’s final. The Tigers are seeking their first title since 2008.

“Last year gave us a taste of what’s to come Saturday,” South Hadley senior Evan Marcus said. “We have a little experience under us. Hopefully we can take that into the game as an advantage.”

South Hadley led 33-18 when Sabis point guard Xavier Garcia was called for a charge — the team’s eighth — with 4 minutes, 7 seconds left in the third. It was Garcia’s third personal and sent the 1,000-point scorer to the bench for the rest of third and all but one minute of the fourth.

But the Bulldogs came back and closed the third on a 13-2 run to pull with 35-31 entering the fourth.

“If I told you I wasn’t (fazed) I’d be lying,” White said. “But, we stress a lot in practice to respond to pressure. It’s part of being mentally tough and physically tough. We knew that (comeback) was coming.”

Tigers coach Jeff Guiel called two timeouts during the stretch but neither seemed to slow the Bulldogs. It was the break entering the fourth that gave South Hadley life.

“The end of the quarter gave us an extra rest,” Guiel said. “We didn’t go deep into the bench today, something I kept talking to the assistants about. I feared the run, but I feared it doubly because I knew guys were getting tired. I think that contributed to the run.”

White immediately stole the inbounds pass but missed a layup on the other end. Fitzell stole a pass to the wing and was fouled. He made both free throws in the one-and-one situation to push the lead to six. After Bullough intercepted the pass at half court, freshman Griffin Fitzell kept a Tiger possession alive with an offensive rebound. Marcus then hit a 3-pointer for a nine-point lead.

“We’re definitely a defense-first team,” Marcus said. “That’s how the program has always been. We know that defense wins championships. We got stops on defense and converted it on offense and came out on top.”

Following a Sabis free throw, Marcus went 4 for 4 from the line over two possessions for a 12-point lead. White (14 points) then grabbed an offensive rebound, scored inside and was fouled. He missed the free throw but Marcus (24 points) got the rebound and gave it back. White’s floater gave South Hadley a 48-34 lead with 3:21 left.

“I’m most proud of the fact that when they went on a giant scary run, that we didn’t fold,” Guiel said. “It shows that we’ve grown a lot.”

Defense gave South Hadley its lead in the first half. Behind Marcus, T.J. Fitzell and White the Tigers held Garcia to nine first-half points and Nelson Zayas to one. Garcia finished with nine, while Zayas had seven.

“I thought our defense was tremendous,” Guiel said. “Mr. Garcia is such a special player. It’s not an accident he gets 1,000. He finds a way ... But I thought our team defense and the concepts and what we worked on — we ran three or four different things and tried to keep him off balance.”

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