Class A final: Powerhouse Central pulls away late for 48-30 win over Northampton (PHOTOS)

Northampton’s Makayla Fydenkevez (22), right, tries to defend Central’s Angela Hector during the second half of the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School.

Northampton’s Makayla Fydenkevez (22), right, tries to defend Central’s Angela Hector during the second half of the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) pulls up for a jump shot against Central during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School.

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) pulls up for a jump shot against Central during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Northampton’s Teagan McDonald (10) makes a pass against Central during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School.

Northampton’s Teagan McDonald (10) makes a pass against Central during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Northampton’s Bri Heafey tries to make a pass between two Central defenders during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School.

Northampton’s Bri Heafey tries to make a pass between two Central defenders during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Northampton’s Emme Calkins (4) dribbles around a Central player during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School.

Northampton’s Emme Calkins (4) dribbles around a Central player during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13), right, battles for a loose ball against Central’s Angela Hector during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School.

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13), right, battles for a loose ball against Central’s Angela Hector during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Northampton’s Liv Joensen (33) hauls in a rebound against Central during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School.

Northampton’s Liv Joensen (33) hauls in a rebound against Central during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Northampton’s Bri Heafey makes a pass against Central during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School.

Northampton’s Bri Heafey makes a pass against Central during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

The Northampton bench reacts after a made basket against Central during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School.

The Northampton bench reacts after a made basket against Central during the Blue Devils’ 48-30 loss in the Western Mass. Class A championship game on Saturday at Westfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

By CONNOR PIGNATELLO

Staff Writer

Published: 02-24-2024 8:54 PM

Modified: 02-24-2024 10:29 PM


WESTFIELD – For the third time this year, the Northampton girls basketball team came up short against Springfield Central, dropping a 48-30 decision in the Western Mass. Class A championship Saturday afternoon at Westfield High School.

Central won its third straight Class A title since the sectional tournament moved to a new format. The Golden Eagles haven’t lost to a Massachusetts team all season long and will be the No. 3 seed in the MIAA Division 1 state tournament this week.

Northampton dropped to 18-4, with their only non-Central loss this season coming to Longmeadow five weeks ago.

“I told them, hopefully you’re disappointed,” Northampton head coach Perry Messer said. “The way you use it is to go back to practice tomorrow, start grinding and you work. Now they all mean something. If you want to keep playing, you’ve got to win to move on.”

Northampton drew the No. 7 seed in the MIAA Division 2 state tournament. Senior Ava Azzaro, who scored her 1,000th point for Northampton earlier this season, said she’s putting all of her focus into the Blue Devils’ state playoff run, which starts Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Round of 32 with a home game against No. 26 seed Hingham.

“Take it and use it in states,” Azzaro said of the loss. “Take it, use it as motivation, play harder, get better, bring it up for the state game.”

Northampton’s typically stingy defense was effective as ever Saturday, as the Blue Devils held Central at just two points for almost the entire first quarter and only allowed 17 total in the first half. Northampton swarmed every loose ball and forced 19 missed layups in the first half.

“We knew they were going to play us tough the whole game,” Central head coach James Gee said.

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The problem was, Central’s defense was just as stingy. The Golden Eagles used a full-court press, and even when Northampton got past it, they struggled getting any penetration inside. Gee said Central paid extra attention to Azzaro and Bri Heafey to try to disrupt their movement on offense. After ending the first quarter up 7-6, Northampton didn’t score a single point in the second quarter and trailed 17-7 at intermission.

“We had probably 15-20 empty trips where we turned the ball over and didn’t get a shot off,” Messer said. “You can’t do that against a good team like this. And we’re better than that.”

Northampton had no answer at the rim for Central center Angela Hector, who racked up 24 points – half of Central’s total. In addition to her seven field goals at the rim, she had just as many trips to the foul line, which put Northampton’s Teagan McDonald and Anna Oravec in foul trouble for the entire second half.

Northampton stayed within single digits of Central for the third quarter, but the Golden Eagles finally pulled away in the final minutes and ended the game on an 11-2 run.

As the Blue Devils prepare for Thursday’s state tournament game, Azzaro said they’ll be working on their offense.

“We got (defense) on lock,” Azzaro said. “We’re working on converting on the offensive end and really playing together as a team, which I think we’re getting better at.”

Messer agreed. Multiple times during Saturday’s game, he implored his players to shoot despite Central’s tight defense. The Blue Devils didn’t shoot especially poorly, but they had too many possessions where they didn’t get a shot off at all.

Azzaro led Northampton with 12 points, Emme Calkins scored 8 and Heafey added 7, but no other player scored more than one basket.

The past two seasons in the state tournament, the Blue Devils have won their preliminary round games only to lose when they traveled for the Round of 32. This year, as the No. 7 seed, they’ll get a bye for the preliminary round and a chance to host at least two games, a first since the state tournament format changed for 2021-22.

With a 9-1 record against Division 2 teams this season, Messer is confident heading into the final weeks of the year.

“We’re good enough to win a state title,” the coach said.