High school notebook: League title races reaching a fever pitch across Hampshire County

South Hadley’s Kate Phillips (24) drives the ball down the court against Northampton earlier this season.

South Hadley’s Kate Phillips (24) drives the ball down the court against Northampton earlier this season. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-07-2024 5:53 PM

There hasn’t been a group on as good of a run since the calendar flipped to 2024 than the South Hadley girls basketball team.

The Tigers have won 11 consecutive contests, and have yet to lose since the new year. Because of its dominance, South Hadley has put itself in prime position to win an outright Suburban League title. If the Tigers defeat Monson on Monday in their regular season finale, the league crown will be theirs and it would be a 12th straight victory. South Hadley beat Monson by 21 points in the two teams’ previous meeting back on Jan. 12. 

During this near-dozen game win streak, the Tigers have only allowed one team to score more than 45 points on them – every other team has struggled to even get to 35. Their combination of athleticism, size and speed has given opposing offenses fits, and when head coach Paul Dubuc decides to ramp up the pressure, South Hadley’s defense is quickly turned to offense.

On that side of the ball, the Tigers’ potent balanced attack is led by senior guard Drew Alley, who, when really on her game, can score from anywhere on the court. Freshman Cara Dean hasn’t played like her age all season, as the first-year varsity forward has impressed like a veteran.

Maddie Soderbaum, Kate Phillips, Caitlin Dean and Ava Asselin have all – like Alley and Dean – scored over 100 total points this season. The saying “do it by committee” truly does relate to South Hadley, which is currently ranked No. 5 in the MIAA’s Division 4 state power rankings with a 14-3 record.

A league title isn’t the only thing the Tigers are chasing after this season.

Back-to-back Bi-County West titles for Granby

For the second straight year, the Granby boys basketball team has claimed the Bi-County League West, as the Rams’ 8-2 league record has them standing alone atop the group.

After starting league play 5-0, and improving that to 7-1, Granby was in prime position to clinch back-to-back league crowns. The Rams were led by junior NeNe Fernandez offensively this season, as the star football player took to the hardwood to lead Granby to consecutive 12-plus win seasons.

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Senior Colin Murdock’s strong season was capped off by three straight double-digit scoring outputs that helped the Rams win each of those games in a crucial stretch after losing to Monson. 

Juniors Riley Goodhind and Cody White each eclipsed 100 points on the year, with both players making strong impacts on the defensive end as well. White was a force down low for Granby throughout the regular season. 

The Rams have just two seniors on the roster, meaning a lot of their production is going to be back next year with eyes set on a third straight league championship. Until then, the focal point is the upcoming Western Mass. and state tournaments.

The total team effort is exactly why Granby (12-4) sits at No. 8 in D5. The Rams finish off their regular season with South Hadley on Wednesday night and Duggan next Tuesday – two games with massive state tourney seeding implications.

Valley League still up for grabs

Despite two losses to Central, the Northampton girls basketball team still has a shot at a Valley League title, but the Blue Devils are going to need some help.

Northampton (12-3) is only one game behind the Golden Eagles (14-2), which still have to play league foes Longmeadow and Springfield International Charter School – two teams that played Central tough the first time around. If the Golden Eagles manage to drop those two games, the Blue Devils could catapult up the standings to earn a share of first place if they win out.

Their final three games come against West Springfield (Thursday night), Wahconah (Feb. 12) and Pittsfield (Feb. 14). Aside from a Terriers team the Blue Devils took care of easily a few weeks ago, Northampton is sure to have its hands full with the Warriors and Generals – who are two very talented Berkshire County teams with league title aspirations of their own. 

Head coach Perry Messer won’t be too caught up in what Central is doing to end the season, rather, his full attention will be on his Northampton team and finishing strong down the stretch.

Ava Azzaro has been arguably the best offensive player in Hampshire County this season, and games of 32, 22, 31 25 and 26 all within the last three weeks have given the Blue Devils a chance at a Valley League crown. Alongside Azzaro is trusty sidekick Bri Heafey. The two have played together for three years now and seem to be peaking as a tandem at the right time.

With veterans Chloe Derby and Sarah Molnar also in the mix as well as junior Teagan McDonald and underclassmen Anna Oravec, Emme Calkins and Liv Joenson, Northampton (No. 8 in D2) is ready for a strong finish to the winter season.