SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The Drury girls' basketball team finished the season with authority, and now the Blue Devils are being rewarded with the No. 1 seed in the Division 2 Western Mass. tournament.
Drury's tough North Division schedule and impressive eight-game winning streak to end the regular season was enough to give John Franzoni's squad the edge over second-seeded Hampshire (17-3) and third-seeded Athol (19-1). The Blue Devils finished the year with a 15-3 record and a 2-1 mark against Division 1 opponents. They also finished 8-2 in the North Division, which is considered one of the toughest girls' leagues in Western Mass.
It is the first time Drury has gained the top spot in the bracket in Franzoni's 11 years on the bench. The Blue Devils have a bye in the first round and will now await the winner of Monday night's matchup between No. 8 South Hadley (15-5) and No. 9 Easthampton (15-5). Should the latter team win, it will set up an interesting matchup between Franzoni and Eagles head coach Jay Fortier, the same coach who guided Hampshire to three consecutive victories over Drury in the Curry Hicks Cage between 2005-07.
"Our team has really worked hard and finished the regular season playing with a ton of confidence," Franzoni said. "The girls are excited about earning the No. 1 seed, but the team is now focused on preparing for Friday night's game. We understand that we'll need to play well to extend our season and earn a trip to the Cage. It is the best time of the year to be playing basketball, and we are looking forward to playing at home on Friday night against a quality opponent. This is a great group of girls who have really come together as a family and my goal is to be practicing on Saturday."
If the Devils can get a victory on Friday, it will be their first trip back to the Western Mass. semifinals since 2007. Franzoni's team missed out on the playoffs in 2008 and have lost in the quarterfinal round for the past four seasons, including a disappointing 33-25 home loss to Athol last year in which Drury was the No. 3 seed in the field.
Down the road, the Blue Devils could run into North Division rival Wahconah, who shook off a 3-6 start this year by winning eight out of its final 11 games. The Warriors were also rewarded for their tough North Division schedule, being selected as the No. 4 seed in the bracket despite an overall record of just 11-9. Five more teams below Wahconah have at least five more wins that June Blake's squad, but a pair of victories over Hoosac Valley and quality wins over both Drury and Pittsfield vaulted Wahconah higher up the draw.
It's been a nice turnaround for the Warriors this year. Wahconah defeated the Blue Devils in the WMass. quarterfinals on their way to sectional title in Blake's first year on the bench in 2011. The Warriors just missed out on the postseason last year, however, finishing the year with a 9-11 record. Wahconah also has a bye in the first round before playing the winner of Tuesday night's game between No. 5 Belchertown (14-6) and No. 12 (Southwick). Should both teams win on Friday, Drury and Wahconah would face off in the Western Mass. semifinals next week. The Blue Devils swept two league games against the Warriors this year, but Wahconah earned a 45-34 win against Drury in the Coaches vs. Cancer Showcase in between.
Also looking to make some noise in the Division 2 draw is Hoosac, which earned the No. 7 seed with its 15-5 record. Ron Wojcik's squad will open up with a home game against defending champion Palmer, the No. 10 seed who just sneaked into the tournament with a 10-10 record. The first-round game will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, with the winner advancing to play at Hampshire on Friday night.
The South Division champs road to the Cage doesn't look too bad. Remember last season, Hoosac was seeded eighth, beat South Hadley in the first-round game and then took top-seeded Mahar to double overtime before losing by two points at the end. The Hurricanes are deeper and more experienced this year and wouldn't have to face Drury or Wahconah, two teams they went 0-4 against this season, until the tournament final.
"We are very happy with the seventh seed," Wojcik said. "It gives us a chance to play at home and then play another team from the valley. We feel good about where we are right now and how we are playing."
In other brackets, Pittsfield (13-7) was hurt by its three-game losing streak at the end of the season and dropped to the final seed in the Division 1 draw. The ninth-seeded Generals will open up at eighth-seeded Agawam on Tuesday night, with the winner advancing to play top-seeded Northampton on Friday. The good news for Joe Racicot's club is that if it can gut out a tough road win on Tuesday and get back to the way they were playing earlier in the year, Pittsfield should have a solid chance against the No. 1 Blue Devils. The Generals already have one win against Northampton this year, a 54-42 home victory back in the third game of the season.
Three more Berkshire County teams are also included in the Division 3 tournament. Lee (15-5), which beat out Drury by one game in the North Division standings, earned the No. 2 seed in the bracket. The Wildcats have a first-round bye before taking on the winner of Tuesday night's matchup between No. 7 New Leadership (15-5) and No. 10 Holyoke Catholic (9-11). Fellow South County rival Lenox (12-8) was awarded the No. 4 seed and will open play with a first-round game against No. 13 Franklin Tech (10-1).
McCann Tech, which made the tournament based upon its first-place finish in the Bi-County League West, drew the No. 9 seed and will open up on the road against No. 8 Monson (12-8). The Hornets (7-13) already played the Mustangs once this year, losing by 33 points on the road in the final week of January. Tip-off for the rematch will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.