SOUTH HADLEY, Mass – When you go on the road in the Western Mass tournament as an underdog and facing the No. 1 seed, confidence can be the difference between the end of your season or pulling off the upset of the tournament.
Confidence is exactly what the Mount Greylock girls played with to upset No. 1 seed South Hadley, 62-56, during the Western Massachusetts Division 3 quarterfinals Thursday night.
For Mount Greylock (15-7), Jenna Benzinger scored 26 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, Arianna Walden added 23 points and Lauren Howard chipped in with 11 points, including three 3-pointers.
Those three players played with the type of confidence that you need to win in post-season play. The combination of Benzinger inside and Walden & Howard outside scored 39 of the teams 41 second half points to help come back from a first quarter deficit. More importantly, every time South Hadley went on a run, Mount Greylock answered with a Benzinger basket in the paint or a kick out 3-pointer from Walden or Howard.
For South Hadley (19-2), Sophia Gatzounas scored 23 points, including 16 in the second half and Alexis Gawron added 12 points. The loss snaps the Tigers 11 game-winning streak and knocks them out of post-season play. The loss was disappointing but didn’t seem to knock the team’s confidence.
“We are not going let one game define who we are.” South Hadley head coach Paul Dubac said. “We are a good bunch of kids, we scrap, we play hard and we will be back.”
Both teams got off to a slow start struggling to score early on. Gatzounas finally got things going scoring 5 points to lead South Hadley to a 12-7 first quarter lead.
Benzinger got her team back in it with 10 points of her own in the second quarter. With 2:30 left to play, Walden hit one of her three 3-pointers to tie the game at 19. With 1:02 left to play Benzinger gave her team their first lead of the game with a layup to go up 21-20.
After a South Hadley free throw, the teams headed into the locker room tied at 21, but the Mounties exited with the confidence that they could hang with the No. 1 seed.
The Mounties opened up the second half on a 10-2 run, behind Walden’s six points, to open up a 31-23 lead. South Hadley went on a run of its own and ended the third with a Gowron 3-pointer to give the home team a 36-35 lead heading into the last quarter of play.
In the fourth, the Mounties wasted no time getting the lead back. Thirteen seconds in, Benzinger scored a basket with a foul to put them up two. After a steal on the other end, Walden converted a layup to give Mount Greylock a 40-36 lead. That lead grew to 48-41 after a Walden 3-pointer with 5 minutes to play.
South Hadley did not go quietly, though, as Mia Kelly hit a 3-pointer 17 seconds later to cut the lead to 48-44. After a pair of Mount Greylock free throws, Gatzounas hit a 3-pointer of her own and convert a layup to to cut the lead to 50-49. The quick 5 points didn’t phase the confidence of the Mounties though.
“South Hadley is a 19-1 team, well coached team, with great players.” Mount Greylock coach John Jacobbe said. “They’re not gonna go softly and just hand you the game. They battled back and gave everything they had. Both times they took the lead in the fourth quarter we responded.”
With three minutes to play, Gatzounas put South Hadley up, 54-53, but Benzinger answered with a layup to take the lead back. After a Mounties turnover, Mikhala Edge hit a wing jumper to put the Tigers back up 56-55. It was the last lead that South Hadley would have as Walden hit a 3-pointer on the next possession to give Mount Greylock the lead for good.
“Basketball is a game of momentums. Ups and downs, highs and lows.” Jacobbe said. “We’ve been through everything this year as a team, we survived the highs and lows today. We did what we had to and played great basketball down the stretch. We earned the victory against a top seed team, who we had a lot of respect for and still do because they are a great team.”
With the win Mount Greylock will advance to the D3 semifinals to face No. 4 seed Drury at the Curry Hicks Cage at UMass. A familiar team that the Mounties have faced twice already this season.
“We played with confidence tonight,” said Jacobbe, “and now we have to play with the same confidence moving forward.”]