MIAA girls basketball: Worcester South too much early as Northampton bows out in Div. 2 semifinals (PHOTOS)

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13), left, pulls down a rebound over Worcester South defender Naima Bleou (5) in the second quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13), left, pulls down a rebound over Worcester South defender Naima Bleou (5) in the second quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Bri Heafey (5) fights for a rebound against Worcester South defender Bryan Bascones (4) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Bri Heafey (5) fights for a rebound against Worcester South defender Bryan Bascones (4) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

The Northampton sideline cheers in the third quarter against Worcester South during the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

The Northampton sideline cheers in the third quarter against Worcester South during the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) puts up a shot over Worcester South defenders Naima Bleou (5) and La-Lea Blount (2) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) puts up a shot over Worcester South defenders Naima Bleou (5) and La-Lea Blount (2) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Chloe Derby (12) dribbles the ball against Worcester South defender Naima Bleou (5) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Chloe Derby (12) dribbles the ball against Worcester South defender Naima Bleou (5) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) puts up a shot in the paint against Worcester South in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) puts up a shot in the paint against Worcester South in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) drives the lane between Worcester South defenders Anitsy Robles (3) and Bryan Bascones (4) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) drives the lane between Worcester South defenders Anitsy Robles (3) and Bryan Bascones (4) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Anna Oravec (11) puts up a shot contested by Worcester South defender Jaiyla Colon (1) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Anna Oravec (11) puts up a shot contested by Worcester South defender Jaiyla Colon (1) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) puts up a shot in the paint against Worcester South in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) puts up a shot in the paint against Worcester South in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Bri Heafey (5) dribbles the ball against Worcester South defender Nicole Jodian (30) in the third quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Bri Heafey (5) dribbles the ball against Worcester South defender Nicole Jodian (30) in the third quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Bri Heafey (5) extends for a layup over Worcester South defender Bryan Bascones (4) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Bri Heafey (5) extends for a layup over Worcester South defender Bryan Bascones (4) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) drives the ball past Worcester South defender Naima Bleou (5) in the second quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) drives the ball past Worcester South defender Naima Bleou (5) in the second quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Bri Heafey (5) preps to dribble past Worcester South defender Lydia Charlonne (0) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Bri Heafey (5) preps to dribble past Worcester South defender Lydia Charlonne (0) in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton fans cheer in the fourth quarter against Worcester South during the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton fans cheer in the fourth quarter against Worcester South during the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13), middle, drives the ball between Worcester South defenders Lydia Charlonne (0) and Madi Leighton (13) in the third quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13), middle, drives the ball between Worcester South defenders Lydia Charlonne (0) and Madi Leighton (13) in the third quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13), left, jumps up for a shot over Worcester South defender Naima Bleou (5) in the second quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13), left, jumps up for a shot over Worcester South defender Naima Bleou (5) in the second quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Teagan McDonald (10) drives the ball against Worcester South defender Naima Bleou (5) in the second quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Teagan McDonald (10) drives the ball against Worcester South defender Naima Bleou (5) in the second quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Emme Calkins (4) gets contested on her way to the hoop by Worcester South defender Madi Leighton (13) in the third quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Emme Calkins (4) gets contested on her way to the hoop by Worcester South defender Madi Leighton (13) in the third quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Liv Joensen (33) looks for an open pass against Worcester South in the third quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Liv Joensen (33) looks for an open pass against Worcester South in the third quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Bri Heafey (5) chases down a loose ball against Worcester South’s Nicole Jodian (30) in the second quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Bri Heafey (5) chases down a loose ball against Worcester South’s Nicole Jodian (30) in the second quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13), right, puts in a layup past Worcester South defender Madi Leighton (13) in the third quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13), right, puts in a layup past Worcester South defender Madi Leighton (13) in the third quarter of the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals Tuesday night at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-12-2024 9:18 PM

CHICOPEE — Perry Messer blinked once, maybe twice.

Before he did that, his No. 7 Northampton girls basketball team was lining up for tip-off against No. 6 Worcester South in the MIAA Division 2 Final Four with a trip to the state title on the line.

When he opened his eyes a moment later, the Blue Devils were down 15-3 at the end of the opening frame.

It was a nightmare start for ‘Hamp.

Over the next three quarters, Worcester South outscored Northampton by just one point, but the Blue Devils could never overcome the early hole they dug themselves.

A late push came up short as Northampton fell 59-45 to the Colonels at Chicopee Comp High School on Tuesday night.

Worcester South will play No. 1 Medfield in the state final at the Tsongas Center in Lowell on a date and time to be announced.

Simply put, the Blue Devils didn’t bring their best stuff to start and that cost them the game.

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“We just had too many plays where we didn’t fight through screens hard enough, or we kept reaching for balls that they just went after harder than us,” Messer said. “We got beat to 50/50 balls. You gotta learn to play that physical.”

After showing signs of fight in the second quarter (one that was won by the Colonels 15-11), Northampton found itself down by 16 points at the break. That deficit ballooned to 23 with Worcester South ripping off seven straight points to start the half.

But the Blue Devils had more to say.

Ava Azzaro drilled four free throws, Anna Oravec cashed in a jumper and Emme Calkins knocked down a free throw of her own to stamp a quick 7-3 run. After a Naima Bleou and-one, Calkins splashed a corner 3 followed up by a Bri Heafey step back long-ball from the top of the key.

Azzaro capped off a 9-0 spurt with a bucket plus the foul to claw Northampton to within 13. Following five straight points from the Colonels, the Blue Devils rattled off another 9-0 run with Oravec (four points), Heafey (another deep 3) and Azzaro (fadeaway jumper) each getting involved.

Seeing that no-quit mental toughness from his bunch pleased Messer.

“We cut to eight points with 4:30 to go, we were right there. That’s all I ask from my team,” Messer said. “Stick your nose in and compete. If you do that, I’ll be happy. And that’s what we did in that third and fourth quarter. We still made some mistakes, but we’ll learn and get better from it.”

Northampton never got any closer, and seven straight points from Bryan Bascones (12 points) put the game out of reach with two minutes to go.

The Blue Devils may have had the height advantage with Oravec, Azzaro and Liv Joensen, but they struggled on the glass all night long. Worcester South pulled down countless offensive rebounds, which led to dagger second-chance points.

“We didn’t put a body on a body, we had balls go through our hands, tip off of us and go to them, or we rebounded a ball and threw a bad pass without looking,” Messer said. “There were too many mistakes like that.”

Alongside Azzaro, Chloe Derby and Sarah Molnar were also seniors who played in their final game. Each of the seniors played well on Tuesday, with Azzaro scoring 13 points, Derby hitting a 3-pointer while coming up with several huge defensive plays and Molnar tossing in a fourth-quarter layup that kept hope alive for the Blue Devils.

“They’re a great group of kids,” Messer said of his seniors. “They’re as good off the court as they are on the court. They’re super nice kids who you want to be around all the time; they’re great people. They will be productive in college, they’re gonna be productive citizens just because they are nice kids.”

Late in the fourth quarter with the game already decided, Messer pulled out Azzaro – one of the team captains and 1,000-point scorer – to give her a final curtain call.

The well-represented Northampton community rose to its feet and gave her a standing ovation as she walked off the court in a Blue Devils jersey one final time.

“She knows I love her,” Messer said of Azzaro. “She’s been listening to me drill her for four years, ‘Ava do this, Ava do that.’ I just wanted to show a little love for her. We’ve got a pretty special bond. I’m just proud of her, and she’s a lot of fun to be around.”

Bleou’s 22 points stood as the game’s high total and Anitsy Robles matched Bascones’ 12 points with a dozen of her own as the three paced the Colonels’ offense.

Oravec led Northampton (20-5) with a team-high 15 points, seemingly always having the answer when the Blue Devils needed a big shot. Messer said the freshman “believed in herself,” and, “played her best game all year long.”

Heafey scored eight points and Calkins chipped in four points to go along with the aforementioned scoring from the three seniors. Having a strong contingent of players returning next season has Messer excited for what’s to come.

Coupling the valuable experience of this season’s postseason run with another off-season of individual improvements is a strong recipe for success. 

“Those freshmen are talented, they’ve got the ability to play [at a high level],” Messer said. “We got Bri and Teagan [McDonald] back too. We’ve gotta work a little bit harder, this isn’t enough. We gotta get to that next step.”