Designated Hitter: No place quite like the Curry Hicks Cage

Welcome to the best week of the high school sports season.

Every season is an exciting one for the athletes, the coaches and the parents. But from this chair, the semifinals and finals in high school basketball are — to me — first among equals.

It is less about the sport and the athletes, and more because of the iconic venue used for the games.

Starting Monday, the doors fling open at the Curry Hicks Cage on the UMass-Amherst campus, and the battle is joined.

There is something special about a destination for tournament play. You see it in New York, with teams wanting to play in Glens Falls. Up in Vermont, it's getting to Barre or UVM.

Unfortunately for Taconic, the Braves will have to make a side stop in Springfield before possibly arriving at the Cage. With four divisions in Western Massachusetts, only three can play at the Cage. So Taconic and the rest of Division II will play its semifinal round at Western New England University.

This is not to belittle any other site or tournament. If you were fortunate enough to be at Prospect Mountain on Tuesday for the MIAA state Nordic Ski championships, you got to go to one of the best parties in high school sports. The competition was pretty great too.

Nothing holds a candle to Gillette Stadium for the state football championships. But there isn't much of an atmosphere with a couple of thousand folks in that large stadium. You almost can't hear anyone.

But when it comes to destinations, nothing beats the Curry Hicks Cage.

The Cage, for those of you who don't remember, became the home to the semifinals and finals almost by accident.

In my broadcasting days, the Western Mass. tournament was contested at what is now the MassMutual Center. The radio booths, by the way, were against the wall up by the roof. It was not a great vantage point.

Then the Mullins Center opened on the UMass campus, and the semis moved to the house that John Calipari built. Much like MassMutual, the Mullins Center was great to watch basketball, but didn't have a ton of atmosphere. There were far more empty seats than filled ones. Kind of like the way it is on some weeknights now, but I digress.

As I recall, the Mullins Center was booked and the MIAA needed another site. That led the high school association to look at, and move the tournament to Curry Hicks Cage.

If you have never been to a Western Mass. semifinal or final, you are missing something.

The atmosphere, especially when schools bring a good group of fans, is off the charts excellent. There are times you cannot hear yourself think. Add to that the fact that fans are right on top of the action, and the Cage is the place to be.

On the court, there have been more great moments than I could ever list here. If I tried, the list might take up the entire sports section.

The Cage is where St. Joseph won the last Western Mass. boys basketball title in school history. It is where the Hoosac Valley girls have won four consecutive championships. It is also where the Hoosac and Wahconah boys hooked up for a couple of take-your-breath-away finals. And those are just a couple off the top of my head.

So, if you have time this week, take the drive to Amherst and check out some of the Western Mass. basketball action at the Cage. It will be well worth it.

See you there.

Reach sports columnist Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or @howardherman.


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