Smith Academy, South Hadley in state basketball semifinals
Derek McMahon, left, and the Smith Academy boys basketball team will play Littleton at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday at the DCU Center in Worcester in the state Division 3 semifinal round. SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »
After winning sectional championships Saturday, the Smith Academy and South Hadley boys basketball teams return to the floor today in the state tournament.
Smith Academy (21-3) plays Littleton (23-1) in the Division 3 semifinal round at 4:15 p.m. at the DCU Center in Worcester. The Falcons are seeking a third state championship since the creation of divisional play in 1972.
The program took home titles in 1992 and 1990 and was runner-up in 1989.
“They want to extend the season,” Smith coach Matt Zerneri said. “They’re not ready for it to end. The mind-set is to keep doing what we’re doing. Keep doing what’s got us here. Play our game.”
South Hadley (16-7) plays St. Bernard’s (19-4) at 6 p.m. in Division 2.
The Tigers are looking to break new ground. The program is 0-7 in state semifinal games. This is South Hadley’s sixth appearance in the state semifinal under 15-year coach Jeff Guiel.
In each instance, the Tigers were the underdog, matched up against bigger schools with bigger players. The team lost to Algonquin (2001), Groton-Dunstable (2004), Oakmont (2005) and Tantasqua (2007 in overtime by five and 2008).
Littleton is led by Chris Murray, who averages 19.3 points per game this season. Murray scored at least 30 points three times this season.
Ryan Sullivan added 13.8 points per game and Danny Johnson 8.9 for Littleton, which has won 19 straight.
Three other players — Travis Bassett (6.2), Anthony Gonnella (5.8) and Alex McLaughlin (5.2) — average at least five points per game.
Murray scored 19 of his 26 points in the second half of the central Massachusetts final against Hopedale. Johnson added 18, while Sullivan had 14.
Littleton finished 12-0 in the Wachusett League D and averaged 73.8 points and allowed 45.7 points per game.
Aside from a few YouTube highlights, Zerneri said he has not seen much of Littleton but he expects his team to be ready for whatever comes.
“I think these guys are really good at in-game adjustments, seeing who’s beating us and who’s scoring and adjust accordingly,” Zerneri said. “To be able to feel the game out in the first quarter is going to be big and attack from there.”
The Tigers will need to contend with St. Bernard’s 1,000-point scorer John Crawley, who averages 18.9 points per game. The 6-foot-3 guard scored at least 30 points twice this season. Andrew Baron (9.3 ppg), Michael McGuirl (8.6), Austin Wood (8.1) and Justin Valliere (7.5) form a deep offensive team.
The Bernardians finished 2-3 behind St. Peter-Marian and St. John’s (Shrewsbury) in the Central Massachusetts league. St. Bernard’s averages 67.2 points and allows 53.6 points per game.
Behind a deep bench and tough defense, the Bernardians beat Gardner for their second straight sectional title. Last season they lost to eventual state champion Mahar in the semifinals.
St. Bernard’s has some size with the 6-7 Baron and senior Brandon Weyant who is 6-6 and averages 3.4 points.
Mike Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.