Drury's Offense Stalls Out in Season-Endling Loss

By Ryan HolmesiBerkshires.com
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass — The Drury girls' basketball team has been able to shake off a few bad offensive outings this season by making up for it with phenomenal defense on the other end. But no matter how many stops or turnovers the Blue Devils forced on Saturday, it still couldn't prevent them from losing 33-25 to Athol in the quarterfinals of the Division 2 Western Mass. tournament. 

The sixth-seeded Red Raiders knocked off No. 3 Drury at home by holding the hosts to a season-low 25 points. Blue Devils point guard Danielle Racette was under constant pressure the entire game and finished with just seven points, more than five points below her season average. Junior forwards Shannon Garvey and Ali Tatro (10 rebounds, four steals), who normally average 15 points between the two of them, scored just five points combined. 

Add in the fact that Drury (14-5) went just 5 of 13 from the free-throw line, and it all equaled out to an early playoff exit for John Franzoni's squad. 

"I thought we had chances to score throughout the game, but we didn't really finish well," Franzoni said. "They're physical, they're a big team and they did a good job with their zone. We had a chance in the third quarter to extend our lead, but we really didn't do a good job of that. When you have a chance to extend your lead on a team, you have to do it. You can't give them a chance to stay in there." 

Right from the opening tip, Blue Devils' fans realized that scoring points against Athol's packed-in zone defense could be a difficult task. The Red Raiders (16-6) harassed Racette up the court and didn't allow her to beat them off of the dribble. They also shut down the passing lanes into the post, forcing Drury into taking mostly outside shots. The result was obvious for the Blue Devils, who failed to score more than nine points in any quarter of the game. In fact, it was Drury's lowest scoring output since a 31-21 win at Mohawk, a game in which the Devils were missing three of their regular players due to illness. For the season, Drury had never failed to score in the 30s and only went four times without breaking the 40-point mark. 

"A big part of the game plan was to stop Racette and not let her get going," Athol head coach Dan Bevis said. "We limited her in the first half, and we did a very good job of keeping it a half-court game. We tried to pick her up full court and tire her out a little bit. I know she's their main player, and she doesn't get much of a break with them. We wanted to really make her work and really try to tire her out toward the end of the game." 

Neither team executed very well in the first half. A 3-pointer from the right corner by senior guard Mariah Ferrara (seven points), got the Blue Devils on the board first, but they only managed a 7-6 lead after the first quarter. Points were hard to come by for both teams in the second quarter as well, as the Red Raiders outscored the hosts 4-3 to tie the game at 10 apiece heading into halftime.

Athol's Alexa Whitney was the only player to have consistent success on the offensive end in the first half. The junior forward looked comfortable playing down in the post, but she had some troubles from the foul line. She scored eight points in the first half, but shot just 4 of 8 from the charity stripe. Overall, the Raiders made just 8 of 20 free throws, but freshman Molly Cleveland made 3 of 4 to end the game and seal the win for her team. 

"We are not a good free-throw shooting team," Bevis said. "We're right around 50 percent but, as frustrating as it gets, we made them down the stretch when we had to. Molly stepped up as a freshman to make those three [at the end]. It was huge, especially when you have to put a freshman in that spot."

Drury finally got some things going on offense in the third quarter, right about the same time that Racette finally put herself into scorebook. The junior guard found a clear path to the basket but was fouled as she went up for the shot. She sank both free throws and then later drained a three from the top of the key to put her team up 17-12. It looked for a second like the Blue Devils had a chance to blow open the game, but a few costly turnovers and a couple of point-blank misses inside allowed the visitors to get back into the game. After Cleveland and Ferrara traded baskets, Athol closed out the quarter on a 4-0 run to pull within 19-18 heading into the fourth. 

"We turned it over and missed a lay-up inside," Franzoni said. "We got up 17-12, and they call timeout. We force a turnover and attack the basket again. We wanted to attack into the gaps in the second half, and we started to do that. But if you're attacking into the gaps and you keep missing the shot, it doesn't do you much good. I think Athol won the game. They made the shots at the end, but we had chances to extend our lead in the third quarter, and we didn't do it. That came back to haunt us in the fourth." 

In a game where the winning team scores 33 points, a few big baskets in the fourth quarter is all a team really needs to pull out the victory. The Raiders got three of those shots actually, including two big ones early on in the frame that swung the momentum in their favor. After senior Lyndsey DeGrenier swished a jumper on the right wing to give Drury a 21-19 lead, Athol responded with back-to-back threes from Caitlin Muzzy and Shelby Bronnes with five minutes left in the game. The Blue Devils' defense finally started to crack a little, and their offense didn't do them any favors either by missing 5 of 7 foul shots in the final quarter. 

"I'll give them credit," Franzoni said. "They had chances to make their shots, and they did. We had a chances, but we just didn't knock them down. We had a couple of breakdowns where we helped off of players, and their kids hit shots. We left some kids open that we hadn't left open earlier in the game.

"We played great defense. If you hold a team to 33 points, you should win. That's the bottom line."

Drury had one last chance to tie the game when Ferrara sank an elbow jumper to pull her team within 25-23 with 2:40 left on the clock. Once again, the Raiders had an answer, though. Tanner Farveau first sank an open jumper from the baseline before Muzzy came through the clincher, draining her second triple of the quarter from the right corner to put Athol up by seven with 90 seconds to play. 

"Our game plan was to keep it close until the fourth quarter and then make the plays in the fourth quarter," Bevis said. "You have to give the girls credit because that's what they did tonight. These girls have been playing together for a couple of years now. We've been waiting to have a game like this. To be able to come on the road with an early start and a long bus trip and to be able to respond the way we did, I give all the girls credit. They did a great job tonight."

It was disappointing to say the least for a Blue Devils' team that lost their first home playoff game in Franzoni's tenure. Drury has now lost in the quarterfinal round of the Western Mass. tournament four years in a row and hasn't played in the Curry Hicks Cage since the 2006-07 season. 

"We had such a special year," Franzoni said. "It's just a great group of girls, and I'm just disappointed we don't get to practice tomorrow and get ready for our next game. We had a good season, and we had good leadership from our seniors. Lyndsey, Tia [Duncan] and Mariah were great leaders for us and very positive. We have a real solid junior class and sophomores that played a lot of quality minutes this year. We have a JV team that has some good players. 

"The future is bright. It just hurts right now that we don't get to keep going and extend our season." 

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