Class A quarters: Northampton boys edged by powerhouse Central 51-50

By CONNOR PIGNATELLO

Staff Writer

Published: 02-20-2024 10:17 PM

SPRINGFIELD — In Northampton and Central’s two regular season contests this year, each team won in their home gym and the aggregate score between the two games was separated by just a single point.

The difference in Tuesday night’s Western Mass Tournament Class A quarterfinal was that exact amount, but after alternating leads in the final possessions, the No. 7 Blue Devils ended up on the wrong side of a 51-50 defeat to the No. 2 Golden Eagles at Springfield Central High School.

The final 90 seconds – where the lead changed four times – was a microcosm of the entire game, a back-and-forth contest where Central held a slight edge throughout.

“I know my guys compete,” Northampton coach Reynaud Harp said. “I want this to hurt. It should hurt. It does hurt.”

This year’s Class A Western Mass. field has much more parity than in year’s past, as evidenced by the scoring margin in all three Northampton-Central games this year. Though Central was seeded second and Northampton seventh, this was the third time this season they played a game within four points.

“There are a bunch of teams that think they can legitimately win this championship this year,” Harp said. “The great thing about it is this was a playoff game, it feels like a playoff game, and I’ve got 13 guys in the locker room hurting right now because we lost an opportunity to move forward in the tournament, but we’ve still got another day.”

This was senior captain Silas Coles ninth time playing Central in the past three years. Northampton knows Central well, and Central knows Northampton well. 

All three times Northampton has played Central this season, they’ve held the Golden Eagles under the season scoring average. Today was Central’s lowest-scoring game of the season, outside of their defeat to Northampton in December where they scored 49.

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“I’m not new to this environment, new to this pressure,” Coles said. “But today, we just couldn’t come through.”

After Central went on a 10-point run between the last possession of the first half and the second possession of the second, Northampton spent the rest of the second session clawing back to level pegging. 

Naihmond Peters-Wolfe gave the Blue Devils their first second half lead, at 48-47, with a steal and a fastbreak floater with 1:22 left. But Central got the lead right back on the next possession on a Jabari Sifrin putback.

Coles put Northampton back in front with a pair of free throws, but Central’s Jayden Kennard canned the game-winning jumper with 15 seconds left to give the Golden Eagles a 51-50 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Northampton had one final chance, but Central’s suffocating defense forced Peters-Wolfe into a tough shot that hit off the backboard.

Northampton doesn’t have long to lick their wounds, Harp said. They’re preparing for states next, with a date against Amherst on Thursday.

“We want Amherst more than anyone wants Amherst,” Coles said. “Tomorrow’s going to be the best practice of the year and Thursday’s going to be the best game of the year.”