MIAA girls basketball: South Hadley buckles down in OT, gets past Cohasset for trip to Div. 4 Final Four

The South Hadley girls basketball team poses with the Final Four trophy and banner after advancing with a thrilling 53-46 overtime win over Cohasset in the MIAA Division 4 Elite Eight on Thursday night at South Hadley High School.

The South Hadley girls basketball team poses with the Final Four trophy and banner after advancing with a thrilling 53-46 overtime win over Cohasset in the MIAA Division 4 Elite Eight on Thursday night at South Hadley High School. STAFF PHOTO/GARRETT COTE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-07-2024 8:56 PM

Modified: 03-07-2024 9:04 PM


SOUTH HADLEY — After the No. 3 South Hadley girls basketball team was whistled for a foul with two seconds remaining in regulation, No. 6 Cohasset forward Sarah Chenette stepped to the charity stripe with a chance to tie the game.

Through pulsating screams and deafening noise, Chenette calmly sank both shots, and after Caitlin Dean’s last-second half-court heave bounced off the rim, the game went to overtime.

Coming in to Thursday night’s MIAA Division 4 Elite Eight contest, the Tigers had scored 60-plus points in five of their last six games. But with its season on the line, South Hadley leaned on its defense in the most crucial of moments.

The Tigers didn’t give up a single field goal and outscored the Skippers 9-2 in the extra frame – Cohasset’s only points coming from two more Chenette free throws – to earn a captivating 53-46 OT win on their home floor.

The victory marked South Hadley’s 18th in a row, and sent the team to its second Final Four in three seasons (2022). It now awaits the winner of Saturday’s matchup between No. 2 Tyngsborough and No. 7 Bourne.

“That was definitely the most exciting game we played all year, a high school basketball game doesn’t go into overtime very often,” senior captain Drew Alley, the lone Tigers senior, said. “It’s definitely fun to experience, especially as a senior in my last game playing on this court. And with all our fans here, this was awesome.”

South Hadley freshman Kate Phillips got the overtime scoring started with a layup, then junior captain CC Gurek drilled a 3-pointer to put the Tigers (21-3) ahead by five in the first minute. They only made two deep shots on Thursday, both coming off the right hand of Gurek.

Her second triple gave South Hadley a five-point edge that it wouldn’t surrender.

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“She loves those moments,” Tigers head coach Paul Dubuc said of Gurek. “That 3 was huge for us to give us some room.”

Phillips then banked home another layup, this time while taking a hit to earn herself an and-one. She cashed in at the stripe, and the game was all but over.

As has been the case all season, once again on Thursday, whether it was Phillips or Cara Dean (five of South Hadley’s eight fourth-quarter points), a freshman made big plays to aid the win.

“They bring a lot to the table,” Gurek said of the underclassmen. “They’re held to really high standards, and they always meet those expectations every nigh. It’s really nice to be able to count on people who can come in the game and make a play.”

Cohasset’s game plan was simple: feed Chenette the ball as many times as possible.

She’s the Skippers’ all-time leading scorer, and she showed why in the clutch. Those two big free throws to send it to the extra session stood as only two of her 13 points across the fourth quarter and overtime. No other Cohasset player scored in that span.

Gurek, who was one of the shortest players on the floor, had her hands full with the tall and talented Chenette – and she absolutely held her own in some key moments of the game.

“I knew that she was bigger than me and that she was trying to post me up,” Gurek said. “But I just tried to use her aggressiveness to my advantage. I also had help coming, so I knew that my teammates had my back.”

It wasn’t just Chenette, as Cohasset had a clear height advantage – something not many teams have had – over the Tigers. However, South Hadley played physical on the defensive end, and disrupted the Skippers’ offensive timing.

“They had size everywhere,” Dubuc said. “And they were really good at finding the mismatch. That’s one of the more athletic teams you’re gonna see. They’re well-coached, they move the ball, and [Chenette] is their all-time leading scorer. And I thought we played great defense.”

In the first and second quarters, South Hadley combined for just 17 total points. In the fourth quarter and overtime, the Tigers matched that number.

Yet in the third, they tallied 19 points, and turned their 18-17 halftime deficit to a 36-33 lead. That frame completely flipped the game in favor of South Hadley. Alley dished out several dimes, threading the needle for highlight-reel assists. She also blocked shots on the other end and dove all over the floor for loose balls.

The veteran of the bunch wasn’t ready to call her hoops career quits quite yet, and she played like it in the second half.

“That’s what we needed from me to win today,” Alley said. “We knew it was win or go home, so we were all gonna do everything we could to win today.”

Gurek and Caitlin Dean put up 12 points apiece, Cara Dean and Phillips each added nine points each and Alley finished with seven points in South Hadley’s win.

Chenette’s monster second half boosted her to a game-high 30 points for Cohasset.

Two seasons ago, the Tigers made it to the Final Four, where they eventually fell to Amesbury by four points. This time around, South Hadley isn’t content just getting there.

They want to come home with some hardware.

“Our [win] streak has been going since early in the regular season,” Alley said. “It’s definitely a boost. I think the excitement from tonight will carry into the next game, and hopefully into a state championship.”