Northampton girls basketball wants to hang its own gold banner

  • Northampton senior center Kolbie Jones, right, defends Alexis Richard of Nashoba in the first half of the Blue Devils' 56-43 win over the Chieftans in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton senior center Kolbie Jones, center, forces a jump ball with Brienne Donahue of Nashoba in the second half of the Blue Devils' 56-43 win over the Chieftans in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton junior forward Sydney Lewandowski, left, shoots over Brienne Donahue of Nashoba in the second half of the Blue Devils' 56-43 win over the Chieftans in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton junior guard Amanda Mieczkowski, left, is halted by Nashoba defenders Julia Roth, center, and Abigail McNulty in the second half of the Blue Devils' 56-43 win over the Chieftans in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton head coach Perry Messer huddles with his players before the fourth period of the Blue Devils' 56-43 win over Nashoba in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton head coach Perry Messer signals to his players on offense in the second half of the Blue Devils' 56-43 win over Nashoba in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton junior guard Jillian McGrath, center, chases down a rebound in front of Alexis Richard of Nashoba in the second half of the Blue Devils’ 56-43 win in the state Division 2 semifinal at American International College in Springfield on Wednesday. Northampton plays Pentucket for the state championship, Saturday. Visit gazettenet.com for coverage. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 3/15/2019 8:03:25 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The gold banners stand out. Only three hang in Northampton’s gym: the 2008 Division 1 girls basketball state title, indoor track state championships and individual swimming state crowns.

The rest of the banners commemorating league and Western Massachusetts championships are blue. The 2008 state title banner hangs opposite the doors. It’s one of the first things the eye catches walking in.

“It’s motivation,” Northampton junior Emily Sledzieski said.

The Blue Devils are one win away from another. The Western Massachusetts champions will face North champion Pentucket at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Holy Cross.

“This wasn’t really a goal of ours to win states. Obviously it’s something that we always wanted to do but we never really thought we could accomplish it,” Northampton junior Amanda Mieczkowski said. “Now that we’re here we want to finish the job and put that yellow banner up. That means something more.”

Pentucket (23-3) is playing in its first state championship game since 2012. Like Northampton, the Sachems rebounded from a state semifinal loss last year. They’re a guard-oriented team that relies on accurate 3-point shooting to score. Senior guard Jayne Howe became the program’s first 1,000-point scorer in Pentucket’s state semifinal win against Pembroke.

“We’ve got our hands full with some guards that can knock down 3s. We’ll get ’em as prepared as we can,” Northampton coach Perry Messer said. “When it comes down to this time of year you’ve got to execute and you’ve got to make defensive stops.”

Defense has been Northampton’s calling card all year and for Messer’s entire tenure. The Blue Devils relied on it in the Western Mass. Tournament while their offense caught up. Northampton (19-4) didn’t play for two weeks between the regular season finale and Western Mass. semifinals. The Blue Devils’ offense was rusty, but it rounded into form for their state semifinal win over Nashoba.

“The part of the regularity of being able to practice every day and having games consistently is helping us,” Messer said.

Mieczkowski has led the way offensively, scoring more than 20 points seven times this season. Kolbie Jones established herself as more of a scorer down low in the tournament, while Sledzieski and Jill McGrath provide options outside.

“They listen, they study, they do the right things you’re supposed to,” Messer said. “I think they have confidence in each other. They’re playing for each other.”

This is the furthest Northampton has advanced since the Blue Devils won the title in 2008, but reaching the semifinals last year helped them adjust to the stage and the moment.

“Whenever you get to those games you get valuable experience,” Messer said. “They might have been happy last year to get to that point but when you lose that game you realize the disappointment of not getting to play in a state final.”

Messer has emphasized the rarity of these chances since the tournament began. An off night, injury or opposing hot hand could derail any run.

“The best chance you have is the one in front you,” he said. “If you’re going to play in this thing, you might as well hang a banner at the end of it.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.



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