MIAA tourneys: Isiah James provides spark as South Hadley runs away from South Lancester in Div. 4 prelim

South Hadley’s Isiah James (11) dishes a pass against Granby in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Isiah James (11) dishes a pass against Granby in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE


Staff Writer

Published: 02-26-2024 9:20 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — Coming out of the halftime break with a nine-point lead, the South Hadley boys basketball team dug deep on the defensive end.

Its full-court press hadn’t worked as well as head coach Chris Gerber had hoped through 16 minutes, but he stuck with it and that would all change in the second half of the No. 20 Tigers’ MIAA Division 4 preliminary round game against No. 45 South Lancaster.

Riding behind a raucous South Hadley student section, the Tigers increased their intensity and held the Crusaders to just 14 second-half points en route to a 73-38 win on Monday night.

No. 20 South Hadley heads to Brockton to battle No. 13 New Heights Charter in the Round of 32 at a date and time to be announced.

“[South Lancaster] made a bunch of shots in the first half, but I think our kids played incredibly hard for 32 minutes,” Gerber said. “That’s always the goal, but it was certainly the goal tonight. We played 32 minutes of pressure, and I think it kind of wore them down.”

Quickly falling behind 6-2 in the first quarter, Gerber subbed in sophomore Isiah James for a boost off the bench. 

James immediately made an impact on both ends, using his length and active hands to make disruptive plays on defense, and capped off a 12-0 Tigers run with a 3-pointer that catapulted South Hadley in front 14-6.

“I’ve just been trying to prove myself at practice, and I make sure I’m ready when I’m called,” James said. “I take pride in bringing that spark off the bench.”

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His hot start led to 21 points, including five makes from beyond the arc.

“Isiah has been a special kid for us for two years now, and we’ve got two more and we’re fortunate,” Gerber said. “He had a heck of a game and I told him this was the best game I’ve seen him play – just a really complete game. A bunch of rebounds, a bunch of assists, couple good takes to the basket, he really defended well and obviously his patented 3 was going down.”

As No. 45 South Lancaster sat in a 2-3 zone the whole night, a plethora of South Hadley ball handlers picked it apart with quick drives into gaps and sharp decision-making when passing the ball.

Jack Loughrey, Noah Hambley and Owen Dawson each attacked the middle of the zone to collapse the Crusaders defense. Loughrey (team-high 25 points) specifically caused a ton of attention as South Hadley’s leading scorer. He was dominant from start to finish, whether it was around the rim, in the mid-range or at the free throw line cashing in after drawing fouls.

And each time Loughrey drove inside, it left James wide open in his favorite spot.

“It feels great, because I know I’m almost always gonna get an open shot when Jack attacks,” James said. “Jack  is known for driving to the hoop. So when he goes to the hoop, and I’m sitting in the corner, they expect him to go for a layup. But then he kicks it out and hits me in the corner, and that’s it.”

South Hadley held just a 19-15 advantage after one, but extended it to 33-24 at intermission.

A Will Fernandes 3-pointer cut it to six on the first possession of the third, but that was the closest South Lancaster would get the rest of the way – as the Tigers out-scored the Crusaders 19-5 the rest of the period.

The press became too overwhelming for South Lancaster.

“That’s what we worked on and that was the game plan,” Gerber said of his team’s press. “We got some athletic kids, so we figured let’s start in it and try not to come out of it. And we were able to do that.”

During South Hadley’s second-half run, which extended to 31-5 following 12 straight points to open the final frame, the home crowd was deafening.

James scored eight of those 12 points, including a tough layup through contact that earned him a trip to the line. The crowd erupted as the sophomore was swarmed by his teammates.

“It’s kind of like having super powers,” James said of the crowd. “They bring a great energy, and they’re all screaming and bringing positive vibes. It really lifts the team’s mood and makes us wanna play better.”

That’s exactly why having a home game in the preliminary round was essential for Gerber and Co.

“When you’ve got the sixth man in the crowd, you wanna be at home for as long as possible,” Gerber said. “We’ve known that at South Hadley since about 2000; this is a tough place to play because of that crowd.”

Alongside Loughrey and James in the scoring column, Noah Hambley added eight points, Owen Dawson and Brady Currier chipped in five points apiece and Tim Loughrey scored four points. Connor Hall drilled a 3 and Noah Rivera converted a layup to round out South Hadley’s scoring in the win.

No. 23 Hamilton-Wenham 60, No. 42 Hampshire 33 – The Raiders saw their solid season come to an end on the road in the preliminary round on Monday night.

Hampshire finished 10-11 overall while Hamilton-Wenham advanced for a Round of 32 game at No. 10 David Prouty.

Div. 5 prelims

No. 37 Smith Academy 49, No. 28 McCann Tech 29 – Greg Stone drilled a trio of 3-pointers en route to a game-high 21 points, and the Falcons sprung the road upset with a convincing victory in North Adams.

Smith Academy (11-10) will play at No. 5 Mahar in the Round of 32 on Friday at 6 p.m. in Orange.

Cam Graves scored 15 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the win for the Falcons, which led 24-16 at halftime but held the Hornets to just 13 points after intermission.

Jake Wilcox and Garrett Willard added six points apiece in the win.

MIAA alters Division 2 bracket

After Oliver Ames High School failed to properly complete the MIAA tournament entry process for its boys basketball team, it took the MIAA to court on Monday morning. Oliver Ames completed the process for all other sports that qualified, but not boys basketball.

And following the court’s ruling to allow Oliver Ames to compete in the Division 2 tournament as the 32-seed, it shook up the entire bracket landscape. No. 30 Amherst was set to host No. 35 Plymouth South at 6 p.m. on Monday, and while Plymouth South was on the way to Amherst, it received word from the MIAA that the game was canceled.

Because Oliver Ames slid into the tournament at No. 32, every team below it moved down a spot – which changed the matchups for a total of 19 teams, including Amherst and Northampton.

“This decision, and the subsequent re-seeding of the tournament, has significant ramifications,” the MIAA said in a statement. “Four schools were scheduled to begin competition Monday evening, and those that were actually en route to the opponents’ venues were forced to turn around and return home because of the judge’s decision.”

The Hurricanes will now play host to No. 35 Archbishop Williams on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Northampton, which is seeded 26th, will now play host to No. 39 Hingham, also on Wednesday (6:30 p.m.). The Blue Devils had originally been matched up with Duxbury prior to Monday’s change.

Boys hockey

Div. 3 preliminary round

No. 27 Foxborough 4, No. 38 Easthampton 3 – The Eagles were unable to spring the road upset, falling just one goal shy in a 4-3 loss on the road in Foxborough on Monday night.

Easthampton finished its season 12-9 ovearll, while Foxborough advanced for a Round of 32 game at No. 6 Marblehead on Wednesday.

Prep schools

Boys basketball

Williston 76, Kingswood Oxford 56 — The Wildcats cruised to a 20-point win on their senior day over the weekend, as they improved to 16-8 overall and 11-4 in Class A.

Led by Preston Edmead, Nemo Turner, Ore Odtayo and Ricardo Nieves, Williston heads into the Class A playoffs this week looking to make a deep run in the postseason.

Girls hockey

Williston 4, Buckingham Browne & Nichols 0 — Another senior day, another easy victory for the Wildcats this past weekend. A 4-0 shutout win behind a stellar performance from goalie Liv Ferebee pushed Williston over the top.

Brenna Ziter, Nora Curtis, Nina Coffee and Monique Lyons all scored goals in the win, with Lyons’ tally standing as her 50th point.

Boys hockey

Pomfret 5, Williston 4 — After building a third-period lead, the Wildcats couldn’t close out the game and ultimately dropped a heart-breaker to Pomfret.

Saturday’s contest was Williston’s last of the season, as they wrap up in disappointing fashion after squandering a late lead.