Class A semis: No. 2 Northampton grinds past Minnechaug 43-39, earns spot in WMass final

Northampton’s Chloe Derby (12) puts in a layup against South Hadley earlier this season.

Northampton’s Chloe Derby (12) puts in a layup against South Hadley earlier this season. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE


For the Gazette

Published: 02-21-2024 10:56 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Just over two months on the calendar separated two similar meat-grinder ballgames between Northampton and Minnechaug, but Wednesday night’s rematch promised the golden ticket to Saturday’s Western Mass. girls Class A championship.

On Dec. 12, Northampton came away with a 41-34 win in Wilbraham, the second game of the season for both teams. The second time around played out equally hard-fought and low-scoring, with the Blue Devils grabbing a 43-39 victory in the Class A semifinals at Feiker Gym.

“That’s probably the first time we’ve seen man-to-man in about a month-and-a-half,” said Northampton coach Perry Messer. “It’s been zone after zone and zone. They’re physical, they’re strong, and we knew that from playing them the second game of the year. We were pretty ragged running some of our sets. It took us a while to find some sets that gave us a little bit of space.”

Ava Azzaro and Bri Heafey each scored 14 points to lead second-seeded Northampton (17-3), and Chloe Derby, coming off a recent ankle injury, came off the bench to bank in a pair of 3-pointers late in the decisive second quarter.

The Blue Devils turned the game around in that stretch, outscoring Minnechaug 15-4, giving them a cushion with which to operate over the final 16 minutes. Northampton also cleaned up its ballhandling with only two turnovers in those eight minutes, after committing 10 giveaways alone in a messy first quarter.

Kelly Cronin (11 points) and Lylah Jeannotte (10) paced third-seeded Minnechaug, which dropped to 16-4 overall.

The first quarter went back and forth, with Azzaro scoring six early points for Hamp, before the Falcons reversed a 9-8 deficit on a pair of last-minute layups by Ava Ofcarcik (seven points) and Alani Botas to go up 12-9.

Northampton opened up the second quarter with the first nine points, including a 3-pointer by Emme Calkins and 6-of-7 foul shots, to take an 18-12 lead. Minnechaug went scoreless for the first 5:21 of the quarter before Cronin got the Falcons on the board with a layup, and Derby responded by hitting her first trey. After a 19-foot jumper by Ofcarcik, Derby launched another banked 3-pointer with 33 seconds to play in the half, giving the hosts their 24-16 lead at the break.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Azzaro hit a pair of jumpers for Hamp in the third before Minnechaug edged to within 28-24 with 1:17 left, when Azzaro left the game with her fourth foul. Heafey then scored in traffic, was fouled and missed the free throw, Elizabeth Wojtowicz knocked down a wing jumper for Minnechaug, and Heafey then dropped in a three from on top with only nine seconds to go as the Blue Devils took a 33-26 lead after three.

Hamp then managed only two baskets in the fourth quarter, a jumper by Anna Oravec and another deep ball from Heafey, to build its largest lead, 38-28, with 6:05 remaining. From there, the Blue Devils hit 5-of-6 free throws in the last 1:14, including three by Heafey, to withstand Minnechaug’s late rush.

Jeannotte scored inside with seven seconds to go and Minnechaug called a timeout, trailing 43-39, but Northampton inbounded successfully and Heafey managed to dribble away the clock with Falcon defenders unable to foul or stop the ball.

The Blue Devils, in search of their first Western Mass. title since 2019, now await the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between top seeded Central and fifth-seeded Chicopee Comp, with the final set for Saturday at 4 p.m. at Westfield High School.