Class B quarters: Streak reaches 13 in a row as No. 2 South Hadley marches on with 60-39 win over No. 7 Easthampton

Drew Alley (1) and the South Hadley girls basketball team cruised to a win over Easthampton in the Western Mass. Class B quarterfinal round on Monday.

Drew Alley (1) and the South Hadley girls basketball team cruised to a win over Easthampton in the Western Mass. Class B quarterfinal round on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-19-2024 8:44 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — The No. 2 South Hadley girls basketball team was a bit sluggish out of the gates in its Western Mass. Class B quarterfinal game against No. 7 Easthampton on Monday night, but it didn’t take long for the Tigers to grease their wheels and start clicking.

South Hadley fell behind 9-6 in the opening frame after Christine Raymond’s back-to-back hoops gave the Eagles their first lead of the night. Then the Tigers kicked it into gear. The game’s next 12 points belonged to South Hadley, and its nine-point halftime lead then ballooned to 25 in the fourth quarter.

An eventual 60-39 win over Easthampton not only secured the Tigers a date with No. 3 Springfield International Charter School in the Class B semifinal game on Wednesday (6 p.m.), it also stood as their 13th consecutive victory.

When they piece it all together, they’re a juggernaut not many teams can slow down.

“Once we get rolling, it’s fun to watch and fun to coach,” South Hadley head coach Paul Dubuc said. “The lead goes from seven, to 15 to 25 pretty quick. And that’s something we work on. We talk a lot about trying to get three stops in a row and then convert on the other end. When we shoot well, we’re a dangerous team.”

Kate Phillips led the Tigers’ usual balanced scoring attack with 12 points, while Cara Dean and Ava Asselin each tossed in 11 points. Maddie Soderbaum put up eight points, Caitlin Dean added seven, CC Gurek chipped in six and Drew Alley scored five points in the win.

While a 13-game winning streak is nice, South Hadley knows none of that matters now that they’re in the postseason. Every game is its own entity, and the previous ones are thrown out the window. But keeping it in mind has helped give them plenty of confidence going into each game, according to Alley – the team’s lone senior.

“The streak is nothing but motivation for us to keep playing well and keep it up,” Alley said. “It gives us momentum, but I think we just play our game regardless of the streak. If we keep bringing energy to each game, we know we’ll be in a good spot.”

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Easthampton hadn’t surrendered 50 or more points in its last five games, but that came to an end on Monday as South Hadley’s high-octane offense worked well against the Eagles’ 2-3 zone defense.

Head coach Brian Miller knew he had to sacrifice something against the Tigers given their combination of size and athleticism, so he elected to leave the 3-point line open. South Hadley buried seven 3s and always hit a timely one when it felt like Easthampton fought back within striking distance.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles struggled to consistently break through the Tigers’ full-court press.

“I thought we did a really good job on defense,” Soderbaum said. “We just try to make sure our match-ups are good and we play aggressive when we press, because that’s what makes us play better as a team all around.”

Early on, Easthampton had no problem moving the ball up the floor and beating the press, but as the game progressed, the relentless pressure eventually wore the Eagles down.

“I was proud of the way our girls played, they competed the whole time,” Miller said. “They executed what we wanted to do, but in the end, we just wore down. We were down a couple players tonight, so our rotation was even shorter than usual.”

The Eagles’ deficit only hovered around seven in the beginning stages of the third quarter, but similarly to how South Hadley ended the first quarter, the Tigers ripped off a 13-2 run that jolted their lead up to 18.

And despite strong efforts from Kayley Downie (15 points) and Raymond (12 points), Easthampton didn’t have enough to get back in the game in the fourth quarter.

“We need that from them, they’re our offensive leaders,” Miller said of his duo. “We tried to get Sophia (Faginski) a little more involved, but they were focused on double-teaming her. But Kayley and Christine, that’s what we expect from them. Christine did a nice job of finding creases and getting to the basket.”

Easthampton (13-6) still has plenty of basketball to be played although its run in the Western Mass. tournament was short-lived. The Eagles will play one more game this week before shifting their focus to the MIAA Division 4 state tournament, where they’re currently 15th in the rankings.

South Hadley (16-3) welcomes SICS on Wednesday, hoping to continue playing well at home – where it hasn’t lost since its season opener back on Dec. 7. The Tigers are ready to channel their playoff nerves into energy on the court in search of consecutive win No. 14.

“In the new high-school playoff setting, it can be nerve-racking for young players,” Alley said. “We all get nervous, it’s normal. But just sticking together as a team definitely helps us out.”