Girls basketball: Defense, balanced scoring carry Athol past Mohawk Trail

  • Mohawk Trail’s Rachel Pease, right, and Athol’s Taylor Cleveland fight for a jump ball in the first half Wednesday night in Buckland. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Athol’s Hailey Bigwood goes in for a breakaway layup ahead of Mohawk’s Grace Poplawski in the second half Wednesday night in Buckland. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Mohawk’s Grace Ward, left, tips off against Athol’s Hailey Bigwood at the start of their game Wednesday night in Buckland. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Mohawk’s Stella Clark, right, jumps up to grab a rebound over Athol’s Sophie Putnam in the second half Wednesday night in Buckland. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Mohawk’s Grace Poplawski, right, looks to drive to the hoop guarded by Athol’s Emma Bacigalupo in the first half Wednesday night in Buckland. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Mohawk’s Rachel Pease sinks a foul shot against Athol in the first half Wednesday night in Buckland. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 12/18/2019 10:52:30 PM
Modified: 12/18/2019 10:52:21 PM

BUCKLAND — Baskets proved hard to come by for the Mohawk Trail girls basketball team against Athol on Wednesday night.

The Red Raiders were relentless defensively, controlling the game from start to finish while also scoring timely buckets to keep their lead. 

The Warriors were unable to hit the double-digit scoring mark in any quarter, leading to a 45-27 Athol victory in an independent girls contest on the road.

“We started slow, we were having some trouble with our passing,” Athol coach Kelly Kaczmarczyk said. “I pulled them in after the first quarter and told them to calm down, play their game and play as a team and they started slowly doing that better and better.”

It was a balanced scoring attack for Athol (2-1), as just about everyone on the roster got involved on the offensive end. Geca Baptista led the way with 12 points while Taylor Cleveland and Emma Bacigalupo each tallied nine points. Kendall Deleo added seven points and Haley Bigwood scored five.

For Mohawk (0-2), Grace Poplawski was the lone player to reach double figures, scoring 13 points. Stella Clark had eight.

The win gives the Red Raiders two in their first three games. After winning just four games a year ago, Athol should be playing with more confidence early in the season.

“It’s a good confidence booster,” Kaczmarczyk said. “We had a rough game against Greenfield but these games, they showed what they can do and hopefully next time we play Greenfield, we show the same confidence we’ve had in the two wins.”

Both teams started slow in the first quarter, but Bacigalupo was able to keep Athol afloat with five points to give the Red Raiders an 11-8 lead at the quarter’s conclusion. 

The Warriors were unable to get anything going on offense in the second quarter, scoring just five points, three coming on free throws. The Red Raiders didn’t fare much better on the offensive end, scoring nine points to hold a 20-13 lead at intermission.

Athol found its footing on offense after the half, making six field goals in the third quarter. Three of those came from Cleveland, as the visitors were able to grow their lead to 32-20 entering the final eight minutes of action.

Deleo and Baptista drilled 3-pointers to open the fourth quarter, giving the Red Raiders an insurmountable 38-20 advantage.

Warrior coach Larissa Harrison felt her team lost confidence as Athol built its lead, and the result was a bit an avalanche-like effect on her squad.

“It wasn’t our game,” Harrison said. “What I told them, once we start to turn the ball over or if they start scoring on us, we shut down. It’s very obvious and even if it’s one person, we shut down and we can’t get out of that.”

Mohawk didn’t go away quietly, going on a 5-0 run midway through the quarter. It was too late for a comeback however, as the Raiders pulled away for the victory.

The Warriors had a height mismatch in the contest, but the Red Raiders were relentless inside, not allowing any easy looks at the rim while the team as a whole did a great job of crashing the glass. 

“Offensively, the biggest thing tonight was our bigs,” Harrison said. “I put pressure on them. We have the height this year. In time, hopefully we get some confidence. We need to know where the defense is. Our goal is transition and it starts with rebounding and that was an issue tonight. If we can’t rebound, we can’t transition.”

Kaczmarczyk thought her team did a great job of not allowing Mohawk to take advantage of its size.

“My girls are quick,” Kaczmarczyk said. “Mohawk is a taller team so sometimes it’s easier for them to grab at the ball and get it. It worked in our favor tonight.” 

Athol did what it needed to on offense to earn a win, but Kaczmarczyk knows her team has more to offer on that end, noting that patience will be the key to better offensive performances in the future. 

“It’s making sure they make that one more pass where the girl’s wide open rather than getting it and shooting it right away,” Kaczmarczyk said. “It’s moving the ball and getting the most wide-open shot you can get. We try to get the opposing defense to shift.”

The Warriors are back in action tonight against McCann Tech in their Franklin County League West opener, while the Red Raiders play again Saturday at Clinton High School.

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