MIAA boys basketball: Pioneer locks down Drury to advance to Division 5 Final Four (PHOTOS)

Pioneer’s Alex McClelland (15) goes to the basket while defended by Drury’s Connor Hinkell (32) during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield.

Pioneer’s Alex McClelland (15) goes to the basket while defended by Drury’s Connor Hinkell (32) during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Pioneer’s Kurt Redeker (3) pulls up for a jump shot over Drury’s Connor Hinkell ()during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield.

Pioneer’s Kurt Redeker (3) pulls up for a jump shot over Drury’s Connor Hinkell ()during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Pioneer’s Alex McClelland (15) is surrounded by a trio of Drury defenders during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield.

Pioneer’s Alex McClelland (15) is surrounded by a trio of Drury defenders during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Pioneer’s Hugh Cyhowski (11) cuts down a piece of the net after the Panthers defeated Drury 54-44 in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield.

Pioneer’s Hugh Cyhowski (11) cuts down a piece of the net after the Panthers defeated Drury 54-44 in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Pioneer’s Brayden Thayer (10) celebrates against Drury during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield.

Pioneer’s Brayden Thayer (10) celebrates against Drury during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Pioneer’s Hugh Cyhowski (11) is all smiles against Drury during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield.

Pioneer’s Hugh Cyhowski (11) is all smiles against Drury during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Pioneer head coach Scott Thayer works the sidelines against Drury during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield.

Pioneer head coach Scott Thayer works the sidelines against Drury during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Pioneer’s Brayden Thayer (10) pulls up for a jump shot over Drury’s Dante Dillard (2) during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield.

Pioneer’s Brayden Thayer (10) pulls up for a jump shot over Drury’s Dante Dillard (2) during the Panthers’ 54-44 victory in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Pioneer’s Kurt Redeker (3) celebrates with teammates Josh Wood (32) and Alex McClelland after the Panthers’ 54-44 victory over Drury in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield.

Pioneer’s Kurt Redeker (3) celebrates with teammates Josh Wood (32) and Alex McClelland after the Panthers’ 54-44 victory over Drury in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Pioneer senior Josh Wood (32) cuts down a piece of the net after the Panthers’ 54-44 victory over Drury in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield.

Pioneer senior Josh Wood (32) cuts down a piece of the net after the Panthers’ 54-44 victory over Drury in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Members of the Pioneer boys basketball team hold up the Final Four banner after defeating Drury 54-44 in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield.

Members of the Pioneer boys basketball team hold up the Final Four banner after defeating Drury 54-44 in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Saturday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

By GEORGE MILLER

For the Recorder

Published: 03-09-2024 6:24 PM

Modified: 03-10-2024 11:59 AM


NORTHFIELD — Saturday's MIAA Division 5 boys basketball state quarterfinal allowed Pioneer the chance to flip an old adage on its head, and discover just how hard it is to lose to the same team three times in one season.

That's not to say the Panthers didn't encounter significant difficulty in their third time around against Drury of North Adams; a long way from it, in fact. The hosts never gained separation from the feisty Blue Devils until midway through the fourth quarter. Pioneer made 9-of-14 free throws over the final 1 minute, 20 seconds to make the game safe and finally fend off Drury, 54-44, at Messer Gymnasium.

All five Panther starters provided the scoring, with Brayden Thayer leading the way with four 3-pointers as part of his game-high 16 points. Josh Wood scored 12 points, Hugh Cyhowski added 10, and Kurt Redeker and Alex McClelland each finished with eight.

“We wanted to get the pace of the game going faster,” said Pioneer coach Scott Thayer. “They have a good halfcourt defense and sometimes we get muddled down in that, and we're not consistently getting good looks at the basket.

“At halftime, it's 26-24 (Drury), and I'm feeling pretty good, actually. I could see on our faces we had a little stress, just because we had lost twice. There was no reason for us to panic, let's just stay the course, it's going to be a grind-it-out. Once we get the lead, then we had to be judicious with the ball and make sure it moves.”

Pioneer, the No. 3 seed in Division 5, ran its record to 18-5 and punched its ticket to a state semifinal against second-seeded New Mission (17-6) of Hyde Park. That game will be played Wednesday night at Worcester State University (5 p.m.). New Mission advanced with a 65-54 quarterfinal victory over Douglas Friday night.

Dante Dillard, the lone senior on the Drury squad, did all he could to keep his team in the thick of it, scoring the last 10 of the Blue Devils' 11 fourth-quarter points. He finished with a team-high 15, just ahead of junior pivot Sammy Moorman with 14. Myles Beauchamp stuck a trio of first-half 3-pointers for his nine points.

Drury, seeded sixth, bowed out at 15-8 overall.

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In the two regular-season meetings between the Hampshire League South rivals, Pioneer let slip a pair of fourth-quarter leads. Drury won the first matchup, 45-42, Jan. 4 at home, then came to Northfield on Jan. 30 and came out with a 41-33 victory.

Saturday's first quarter hinted at a much more breakneck affair, featuring six lead changes before ending in a 17-17 tie. Brayden Thayer hit a pair of early threes, turning one of them into a 4-point play after a foul, and Drury kept the Panthers honest from outside with three treys of its own, one by Dillard and two by Beauchamp. His second, with 36 seconds to play, created the 17-17 deadlock.

From there, the scoring pace went glacially slow, as Drury won the second quarter 9-7. A 7-0 run gave the Blue Devils their largest lead of the afternoon, 26-22, when Moorman hit a wing jumper and posted up for a layup around a 3-ball by Beauchamp. McClelland pulled up from right of the lane and sank a jumper with 1:11 left, making it 26-24, a score that held up until the break.

Thayer began the third quarter with a 3-pointer 29 seconds in, and Pioneer never trailed from that point, although Drury clawed back into a pair of ties.

The Panthers opened up their largest lead, 36-31, after Redeker hit a layup off an inbounds pass from McClelland and Cyhowski stepped out for a left-wing jumper with one foot on the line. Moorman answered for the Blue Devils with a post-up hoop to make it 36-33 after three.

Moorman then made one-of-two at the line and Dillard converted a Jorge Bond feed for a fast-break layup, tying the score at 36 at the 5:22 mark of the fourth.

That's when Pioneer mounted what turned into its killing 9-2 run, to go up 45-38. Thayer laid one in off an assist by Cyhowski and Wood drained a left-elbow three. Wood then missed a three out of the left corner, but collared his own rebound for a pull-up baseline hit, and Redeker scored on the break with 3:07 to play.

Pioneer didn't record another field goal from that point and Drury edged to within three on back-to-back hoops by Dillard for a 45-42 score before the foul-shooting parade began. Over the last 1:20, all five Panther starters stepped to the stripe for nine makes in 14 tries, three by Cyhowski, two each by McClelland and Wood, and one apiece for Redeker and Thayer.

“We talked about it, if we get to 50 [points], we've got a great shot to win the game,” said Scott Thayer. “I know our defense has been dialed in pretty much all year. I'm just proud of the resiliency and the grit we showed.”

In their five previous trips to the state semifinals, under the old format pairing Western and Central Mass. champions, the Panthers have gone 3-2. The 1996-1998 Adam Harrington-led powerhouse defeated Central Mass. foes Sutton, Nipmuc and Keefe Tech respectively in Division 3 – capturing state titles in 1996 and 1997, losing narrowly in 1998 – then lost to Hopedale in 2000 in Division 3 and Maynard in 2018 in Division 4.

New Mission, in operation since 1998, won Division 2 state championships in 2011, 2014 and 2016, and an Eastern Mass. Division 4 crown in 2010. The program was in Division 3 last season before dropping down to Div. 5 this academic year.

NOTES: Fifth-seeded Mahar will play No. 1 Hoosac Valley in the other Division 5 semifinal, with that game scheduled for Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at West Springfield High School. The state title games for all five divisions will be held at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, spread across Friday, Saturday and Sunday.