Designated Hitter: Steinman should have been Hall of Fame's Player of Year

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SALEM, Va. — Things I'm thinking about as I plot my return trip from the Blue Ridge Mountains of southern Virginia.

And to answer your first question — no, I can not bring the somewhat warmer weather and green grass home with me.

South Hadley's Sophie Gatzounas is a great basketball player. She is certainly one of the best players in the region, if not the state. That the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame chose her over Pittsfield's Peyton Steinman as the Western Massachusetts girls basketball player of the year was not right.

According to a press release from the Hall of Fame, the award to Gatzounas and Hopkins Academy's Sam'i Roe, were determined by a "distinguished panel of local media members."

That panel may not have included anyone from Berkshire County. It certainly did not include my basketball colleagues Geoff Smith or Akeem Glaspie. I wasn't asked either.

Both Steinman and Gatzounas were prolific scorers in high school, and both players did something more important than score — they made their teammates better.

Steinman's tournament resume was also better. She led Pittsfield to the Western Mass. Division II title this year. Pittsfield lost in the championship game in 2016 and 2015. This was South Hadley's first trip to the title game in the last four years, and the Tigers' win over Hampshire Regional in the semifinal was South Hadley's first win at the Curry Hicks Cage in four years.

Will those who select the Vi Goodnow Award, given to the top girls' player in Western Massachusetts, go the same way or will they pick Steinman? The jury is out.

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There is something about playing a championship in a destination. We in Western Massachusetts are fortunate because the Curry Hicks Cage is the destination for high school basketball.

Kids talk all the time about "going to the Cage," not just about going to Western Mass.

That's what Salem is to Division III basketball.

The Salem Civic Center in Virginia has hosted 21 of the last 22 NCAA Division III championship games. The only one that wasn't here was in an anniversary season where all three men's basketball championship games were played in Atlanta.

Williams just finished its eighth trip here for a Final Four, ninth if you count the Elite Eight trip the Ephs took here in 2013.

This Virginia city will be bidding again for the right to host this game when the current contract expires after the 2018 Final Four.

While we all know the NCAA is about money, hopefully the powers that be figure one thing out — it isn't always about chasing the most green. Williams players, like those in NESCAC and around the country, don't talk about going to the Final Four as much as they talk about going to Salem.

The committee, led by Old Dominion Athletic Conference commissioner Brad Bankston and associate commissioner J.J. Nekoloff, run a first-class operation.

This tournament should stay right here.

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During Friday night's press conference after Williams' 90-79 loss to Augustana, Williams coach Kevin App had an interesting thing to say about coaching, and by extension, playing basketball.

"My wife [Kaitlyn] is a swim coach, and she always talks about how being a basketball coach must drive you crazy, because only one team gets to celebrate with a win at the end of the season," App said, "at the national level."

App's wife Kaitlyn used to be an assistant coach at Williams.

"In other sports, you get to celebrate personal [best] times, and all that stuff," he said. "Unfortunately, we play one where only one team is pretty happy at this time of the year, in the last game."

And with that, on to spring.

Reach sports columnist Howard Herman at 413-496-6253, hherman@berkshireeagle.com or @howardherman.


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