Class B semis: Poised South Hadley holds off SICS for 14th straight win, punches title-game ticket (PHOTOS)

South Hadley’s Drew Alley (1) drives down the court guarded by SICS defender Meiah Wise (4) in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Drew Alley (1) drives down the court guarded by SICS defender Meiah Wise (4) in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley players after their 65-59 win against SICS on Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley players after their 65-59 win against SICS on Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Ava Asselin (10) puts in a layup against SICS in the third quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Ava Asselin (10) puts in a layup against SICS in the third quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Cara Dean (12) pulls down a rebound against SICS in the second quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Cara Dean (12) pulls down a rebound against SICS in the second quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Cara Dean (12) hits a jumper against SICS in the first quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Cara Dean (12) hits a jumper against SICS in the first quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Cara Dean (12) drives to the hoop against SICS in the second quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Cara Dean (12) drives to the hoop against SICS in the second quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s CC Gurek (11) hits a three pointer against SICS in the second quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s CC Gurek (11) hits a three pointer against SICS in the second quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Drew Alley (1) puts up a shot over SICS defender Angel Stewart (10) in the first quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Drew Alley (1) puts up a shot over SICS defender Angel Stewart (10) in the first quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Maddie Soderbaum (3) breaks down the court after a steal against SICS in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Maddie Soderbaum (3) breaks down the court after a steal against SICS in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Caitlin Dean (14) hits a shot over SICS defender Alexa Davis (22) in the second quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Caitlin Dean (14) hits a shot over SICS defender Alexa Davis (22) in the second quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Kate Phillips (24) puts in a layup against SICS in the second quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Kate Phillips (24) puts in a layup against SICS in the second quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Ava Asselin (10) puts in a layup against SICS in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Ava Asselin (10) puts in a layup against SICS in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Drew Alley (1) sinks a shot against SICS in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Drew Alley (1) sinks a shot against SICS in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s CC Gurek (11) drives the ball against SICS defender Alanie Torres (1) in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s CC Gurek (11) drives the ball against SICS defender Alanie Torres (1) in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Kate Phillips (24) puts in a breakaway layup against SICS in the third quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Kate Phillips (24) puts in a breakaway layup against SICS in the third quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Kate Phillips (24) puts in a breakaway layup over SICS defender Gia Mars (2) in the third quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Kate Phillips (24) puts in a breakaway layup over SICS defender Gia Mars (2) in the third quarter Wednesday night in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-21-2024 9:20 PM

Modified: 02-21-2024 10:06 PM


SOUTH HADLEY — CC Gurek slowed things down for what felt like the first time all game as the clock approached the final two minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

Everyone in the gym took a breath.

The South Hadley guard sensed the importance of the possession with the No. 2 Tigers clinging to a two-point advantage. Over the remainder of regulation, South Hadley kept its lead as it went back-and-forth with No. 3 Springfield International Charter School.

With just under 10 seconds remaining, Cara Dean stepped to the line for two shots. She sank the first to make it a four-point game. Head coach Paul Dubuc felt comfortable, but not satisfied. Dean’s second attempt clanked off the rim, but freshman Kate Phillips – who made several key plays all night long – pulled down the offensive rebound and kicked it back out to Gurek.

The Tigers ran some clock before Gurek was fouled, and she added two more from the charity stripe to cap off South Hadley’s 65-59 win over SICS in the Western Mass. Class B semifinal round on Wednesday night. The victory stands as the Tigers’ 14th in a row.

Phillips finished with 14 points to go along with her clutch rebound.

“My teammates [allow me to succeed as a freshman], and we work hard in practice,” Phillips said. “I’ve been lucky to have people around me and my teammates to help me. It’s really just delivering when you’re expected to. You just have to stay focused and stay out of your head.”

South Hadley (17-3) has a date with No. 1 Pittsfield for a Western Mass. title on Saturday at Holyoke Community College (1 p.m.).

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“It’s really exciting,” Gurek, who scored a team-high 17 points, said. “We worked really hard throughout the entire game, and we never took a play off. We just kept pushing and giving it to them. We kept our intensity up, and they weren’t ready for it.”

As for the lone senior on the team, Drew Alley, no game this season ranked above Wednesday’s. Alley’s 11 points and handful of perfect passes that led to easy buckets for her teammates helped South Hadley knock off the Bulldogs.

“That was hands down the most exciting game we’ve played all year,” Alley said. “It was highly anticipated coming in, we knew they were a good team. We did what we knew we had to, and it paid off.”

Even as Springfield International Charter chipped away at its once 12-point deficit, South Hadley remained poised. Throughout their 14-game stretch without a loss, the Tigers have been tested down the stretch a number of times. So when a 4-0 Bulldogs spurt put the score at 59-57 just under the midway point of the fourth, nobody blinked – especially the veteran Alley.

She drove into the lane, collapsed the defense – as she had done so many times on Wednesday – and dished it down to Phillips for an easy two.

South Hadley was back in control and never looked back.

“One thing we did, which earlier in the year we’ve done, is we kept our composure,” Dubuc said. “We never let them get over that hump. They got within two, but they never tied it. We kept our composure.”

The first half was all Gurek. She poured in 12 of her 17 points, including two 3s, to pace the Tigers to a five-point lead at the break.

In the second quarter, however, South Hadley surrendered 13 free throws to Springfield International Charter – which led to several players entering the second half in foul trouble. The Bulldogs shot a total of 25 free throws on Wednesday.

“We were playing games with our players in foul trouble,” Dubuc said. “At the end of the third, we put somebody with three fouls in for somebody with four or whatever it was, just going back and forth.”

The good thing? Dubuc runs a nine-player rotation, so foul trouble isn’t really trouble for him.

“The depth of our team is amazing for us,” Alley said. “Going into every game, it allows us to play strong defense knowing we have some fouls to give. We were all in foul trouble tonight, but the depth of our bench definitely helped us out and kept us in the game.”

Along with Gurek’s 17, Phillips’ 14 and Alley’s 11, Caitlin Dean added 10 points, Cara Dean chipped in five and Maddie Soderbaum and Ava Asselin each scored four points in the win.

South Hadley is ranked No. 3 in the state in Division 4, and a win over SICS, the No. 13 team in Division 3, is only going to help its rating. While it’s certainly an accomplishment they’re proud of, the Tigers know their aspirations are bigger than just Saturday’s Western Mass. championship.

“For the program, this is awesome,” Dubuc said. “I sent my captains a text, I text them almost every game day, and I told them to remember what we talked about. We’re in a marathon, and we’ve set a really good pace. As far as we’re concerned, we’re playing with house money, because we’re going to the state tournament. And this just made us 17-3. We have our eye on a pretty big prize.”