PALMER – Tournament season is still more than two weeks away, but you would not know it from the way some local high school basketball teams are heating up the courts.
On Wednesday night, the Southwick boys’ hoops team ran into a juggernaut and fought back with all its might.
Palmer raced out to an 18-10, first-quarter lead and led by double digits, 36-24, at the half, but Southwick made a furious second-half comeback before falling just short at the end against a team with two potential 1,000 point scorers and just one loss in front of a raucous Panthers’ home crowd, 62-57.
“I told our guys, ‘Let’s go out there, play hard, and see how we measure up … against probably a top three team in the (upcoming) Division 3 tournament,’” said Southwick coach Dylan Dubuc, whose team needs just one win in its final four contests to qualify for the postseason.
“We are trying to make strides to get a win against an opponent like that,” he said.
Palmer’s Matt Neimczura scored 18 points to pull within 29 of 1,000 for his career. Ryan McCarthy finished with 15 against Southwick, and needs 55 for his career 1,000th.
Two of Southwick’s top players, Hunter Iglesias and Ryan LeClair stepped up to the task, finishing with 17 and 16, respectively.
The deficit just proved a bit too much to overcome.
“It starts with our senior leadership,” coach Dubuc said. “It’s something we’ve been working on for the last three years … playing until the end of the game so that you can never count us out.”
Ware fell victim to that trap two weeks ago when Iglesias launched a half-court buzzer beater that gave Southwick (9-7) a stunning 48-46 victory.
Southwick’s next attempt at punching its tourney ticket arrives Friday night when the Rams travel to Springfield to take on Renaissance. Tip-off is at 7.
IN THE HUNT: The Westfield Bombers (6-9) are also in the hunt for a tournament berth, but need a slightly stronger push.
Westfield must go 4-1 over its final five games to qualify for the Division 1 boys’ basketball tournament. Gateway (4-9), which is still mathematically alive as well, needs to run the table over its final six games.
Westfield Technical Academy (2-11) and St. Mary (2-13) have been eliminated from postseason contention.
In girls’ basketball, Westfield, despite a 2-14 record, kept its slim playoff hopes alive by defeating Ludlow for the second time this season Monday. The Bombers are currently 2-3 in conference play, just one game behind the East Longmeadow Spartans (7-8 overall, 3-2 Valley Wheel).
Gateway (7-9 overall, 1-3 Tri County North) also remains in the hunt. The Gators take on Westfield Tech (1-12) and St. Mary (2-13) next week.
Southwick (10-6) has already qualified for tournament play.
CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND: Championship weekend begins Friday with the Pioneer Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference track championships at Smith College, beginning at 6 p.m.
On Saturday, Westfield wrestles away the spotlight with the Division I wrestling championships at West Springfield High School. The event is scheduled to begin shortly after 9 a.m.
Also, on Saturday, Westfield will take on Western Massachusetts in the swimming and diving championships at Springfield College. The boys’ competition begins at 9 a.m., followed by the girls at 4:30 p.m.
The PVIAC Individual ski championships will be held Tuesday at Berkshire East in Charlemont at 10:30 a.m.