WMass Girls Basketball: Freshman Azemina Cecunjanin impressive for Pioneer in quarterfinal loss to Ware

  • Pioneer Valley Regional coach Michael Churchill instructs his team during a timeout in the fourth quarter of a 40-37 overtime loss to Ware in the Division 4 Western Mass. quarterfinals, Thursday in Ware. STAFF PHOTO/ADAM HARGRAVES

Staff Writer
Published: 2/27/2020 10:47:21 PM
Modified: 2/27/2020 10:47:18 PM

WARE — A frenetic upset attempt by the Pioneer Valley Regional girls basketball team came up just short on Thursday night.

The No. 10 Panthers fell to second-seeded Ware, 40-37, in overtime in the Division 4 Western Mass. quarterfinals at Ware High School.

The Panthers held a 34-28 lead with 2 minutes, 13 seconds left in regulation but it slipped away.

“I told them all,” Pioneer coach Michael Churchill said. “They have to keep their heads up. This is something to work on for next year.”

Freshman Azemina Cecunjanin played possibly the best game of her career for the Panthers. Cecunjanin’s shooting helped the Panthers fight back from an early deficit.

In a foreign environment with a loud crowd, Cecunjanin was unfazed by the moment.

“I usually drain threes in practice,”Cecunjanin said. “In other games this season, I haven’t made any threes. I thought, tonight’s the night to do it. I just wanted to make the best of it.”

Cecunjanin drained four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points. One of her threes put the Panthers ahead 31-27 late in the fourth quarter.

“You just gotta get it and shoot it,” Cecunjanin said. “If you think about it not going in, it won’t.”

The extra guard on the floor helped the Pioneer offense, which struggled in the first quarter.

“To get quality minutes in a tough game from a freshman,” Churchill said. “You will take that every time. I had the confidence we could do it. She buried the shots and got us back in the game.”

Stephanie Scoville, Pioneer’s lone senior, played her final game for the Panthers. Scoville scored six points.

“We just had to play our hardest,” Scoville said. “We did what we could.”

Scoville learned as a young basketball player from her older sister, Jessica Scoville.

“I learned from my sister the best,” Scoville said. “I learned from that team. They were really hard on you. They pushed you really hard. I had to teach these girls to do that I think they are finally getting it and they will do so well next year.”

The entire roster returns next season outside of Scoville.

“They can work in the offseason and come back and continue this momentum,” Churchill said. “We weren’t expected to win tonight. We wanted to work hard and see what happens.”

The aggressive defense of Pioneer sent the Indians to the line several times while protecting its lead. Ware made enough of the free throws to force overtime.

“Down the stretch, we were right in it,” Churchill said. “Tough to give up the tie in regulation.”

Ware’s Lexie Orszulak hit a couple clutch free throws to tie the game with 44 seconds left.

Pioneer had a lot of trouble containing speedy guard Aidyn Welsh, who finished with 17 points.

Welsh, Lexie Orszulak and Chelsea Orszulak went a combined 9 for 12 from the line in the fourth quarter.

The Indians scored nine points in the fourth quarter. Ware advances to play No. 3 Lenox High School in the Div. 4 semifinals at the Curry Hicks Cage on a date to be determined.

During the overtime, Paige Loughman went 3 for 4 from the line but the offense could get anything else going from the field.

A 3-pointer missed the mark at the end of the overtime for the Panthers.

“We got a good look at the end,” Churchill said. “The shot just didn’t fall. Sometimes, the shot doesn’t fall for your team.”

Loughman scored 10 points for Pioneer. Sofia Walker (three points) went 1 for 2 from the line to give the Panthers a 34-28 lead in the fourth quarter.

The first quarter started very slowly offensively for the Panthers.

Scoville’s baseline jumper accounted for the only points from the field in the opening frame for the Panthers.

Pioneer trailed 7-3 after the first quarter.

Down 18-11 in the second quarter, things got going on the offensive end for the Panthers.

Loughman got going in transition with a couple coast-to-coast layups.

Azemina Cecunjanin came off the bench and hit two-3-pointers. Sister Alina Cecunjanin canned a deep jumper, cutting the Ware lead to 18-15 going into the intermission.

The barrage continued into the third, where the Panthers took a 26-22 lead after a 3-pointer by Azemina Cecunjanin.

The lead extended after Loughman fed Scoville on a nice cut through the paint.

It was 28-25 going into the fourth.

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