MIAA tourneys: Smith Academy locked down by Mahar in Division 5 boys basketball loss

Smith Academy’s Cameron Graves (10) hits a jump shot under pressure from Palmer defender Stephen Fredette (32) earlier this season in Hatfield.

Smith Academy’s Cameron Graves (10) hits a jump shot under pressure from Palmer defender Stephen Fredette (32) earlier this season in Hatfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE


Staff Writer

Published: 03-01-2024 9:36 PM

ORANGE – The Mahar boys basketball team sprinted out to a 19-3 first quarter lead and didn’t look back, holding Smith Academy to just four made field goals in a 60-15 victory on Friday night in the MIAA Division 5 Round of 32.

No. 5 Mahar (16-5) feasted inside the paint against No. 35 Smith Academy (11-11) while allowing virtually zero penetration from the Falcons on the other end.

While Smith Academy hoisted contested jumper after contested jumper, the Senators often got multiple attempts to score at the rim on each possession. Mahar led 31-6 at halftime and 41-10 after the third quarter.

Smith Academy senior point guard Greg Stone did not play due to an illness.

“I know they would have been formidable tonight,” Mahar head coach Chad Softic said. “Psychologically without [Stone], I think it was tough for them.”

Smith Academy runs a motion offense that creates opportunities for all their players, but it’s predicated on spacing the opponent out and getting inside. Against Mahar’s clogged-up paint and powerful big men, the Falcons struggled to drive the ball, especially without the set plays they would have been able to call for Stone. Cam Graves finished as the Falcons’ leading scorer with six points and Garret Willard added five.

“We knew half court offense was going to be tough, but we thought our only chance of pulling an upset was to keep it a half court game,” Smith Academy head coach Matt Zerneri said. “Our gameplan didn’t really change that much, we just needed guys to step up and make shots, and unfortunately that didn’t happen.”

Mahar point guard Morgan Softic led the Senators with 13 points, and found success on both drives inside and shots from long range. Marshall Ames and Derek Collins followed with 10 points each.

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“It’s very hard to score on us when we’re communicating like that,” Ames said.

The Mahar student section and cheerleaders were out in full force. On every defensive stop, point scored and turnover, they roared as the Senators kept growing their lead. After a pair of Ames fastbreak dunks in the third quarter, they went ballistic.

“It’s great having them, especially when we’re home,” Ames said of the support. “When I dunk or someone gets a block… it’s awesome having them behind us.”

Smith Academy ends its season with an 11-11 record. After a win over McCann Tech in the preliminary round, this year ties the Falcons’ best finish in the state tournament since the new format started in 2021.

“I’m proud of them. They play hard, they compete, they get better,” Zerneri said. “It’s mainly a team of juniors, so they know what they have to do to come back next year and what they need to get better at.”

Mahar advances to the Sweet 16, where it will host No. 21 Old Colony RVT. The Cougars sprung a road upset of No. 12 Duggan, 57-56, in a Round of 32 game in Springfield on Friday.

Including their Western Mass. Class C championship win over Granby on Feb. 24, the Senators have now won five games in a row.

Div. 2 boys basketball

Holyoke 93, Duxbury 72 — The eighth-seeded Purple Knights fended off the No. 40 Dragons to advance to the Round of 16 with a 93-72 victory on Friday in Holyoke. 

Holyoke (14-7) advances to host No. 9 Westwood in the Round of 16 at a date and time to be determined. Westwood beat No. 41 Masconomet, 59-52, on Friday. 

Div. 4 boys basketball 

Manchester-Essex 75, Frontier 46 — Trailing 37-24 at the half, the No. 28 Red hawks were unable to contain the fifth-seeded Hornets in the second half as Manchester-Essex scored 24 points in the third quarter and 16 in the fourth to pull away with a 75-47 victory in Manchester-by-the-Sea on Friday in the Round of 32 of the MIAA Div. 4 tournament. 

"It was a tough night but this was a building season for us," Frontier coach Josh Morse said. "Manchester-Essex was just a bit tougher and more experienced than us today." 

Max Millette finished with 16 points, Owen Babb scored nine points, Rowan Modestow tossed in eight points, Sasha Dragicevich recorded seven points while Garrett Dredge added five points for the Redhawks (11-11).