Pittsfield boys basketball team opens season with loss to Holyoke
PITTSFIELD — It didn't take long for first-year Pittsfield High head coach Brandon Mauer to figure out what it is going to take to make his team successful.
After just 32 minutes at the helm, he already saw glimpses of what could be.
The Generals suffered a season-opening loss to a strong Holyoke team, 69-48, Thursday night, but for a largely new crop of players, with Mauer managing his first game from the head of the bench, the loss was more learning experience than harbinger.
"It's the easiest loss to take of my career, and I know it was my first," Mauer said. "I was pleased with a lot of things. I even asked the guys at halftime, 'can you see it?' and they said yes. The potential is there for what this team can become.
"It's just going to take time, hard work and trust."
All three of those aspects got underway at PHS on opening night.
An opener against Holyoke isn't quite easing into the first year under a new head coach. The Purple Knights are led by 35-year veteran Bill Rigali and the chemistry, defense and offensive sets his squad ran looked more like a late-season, well-oiled machine rather than the group of guys still getting to know each other on the opposite bench.
Derek Biriell caused problems all night with his speed from the point guard spot, scoring 21 points for Holyoke. Pittsfield got 15 points from senior Edwin Rodriguez.
Holyoke played much of the game in a basic 2-3 zone that becomes treacherous thanks to that chemistry and the team's overall length. For the most part, the veteran Knights refused to let Pittsfield get out into the open court and run. However, for a couple stretches during the second half, things clicked for the home squad.
"We prepared for the zone in practice, so it wasn't necessarily that that was hurting us," said starting guard Sam Higuera. "It was just their chemistry. It's something we need to keep working on. We played a little too much one-on-one tonight."
In the middle of the third quarter, with things on the brink of getting away from his team, youngster Sincere Moorer battled on the offensive boards and managed to kick out a rebound to Rodriguez for a big three. Donte Cruz backed that up with a steal and fast-break bucket at the other end, bringing Pittsfield within 37-31 with 2 minutes, 45 seconds left in the frame.
That forced a Rigali timeout, but Holyoke came back out with renewed defensive focus and a rim-attacking offense that quickly got PHS into foul trouble. Playing much of the second half in the double bonus, the Knights attempted 28 foul shots, to just 10 for Pittsfield.
Mauer continued shuffling the lineup, looking for good combinations. A couple of times in the second half, the chemistry hit and Pittsfield managed to go on some quality runs.
"They were able to dictate the pace with their defense," said Mauer. "A couple of times, though, we got the steals and were able to get moving like we wanted to. The problem is, you get gassed when you're coming from behind like that."
The Generals flashed a couple more times in the fourth, with Rodriguez, Higuera and Joe Cracolici working well on defense and in transition. Cracolici made a big stop on Biriell and heaved an outlet pass to Rodriguez for a quick bucket. Rodriguez then made a steal and got it up to Cracolici, who fed Higuera on the fast break. Out of another Holyoke timeout, Carter Matthews stole an inbounds pass and put it in to get back within single-digits, 51-42.
"When we were able to get into a flow together, we played well," said Higuera. "If we can string more of those stretches together, when the ball is moving around and we're finding each other, we'll be good."
A Rodriguez drive through traffic made it 57-47 with about 3:30 to play. From there, Holyoke slammed the door shut with a 12-1 run to finish things off.
After the game got off to a bizarre start with each team being issued a pregame technical foul — Pittsfield for dunking in the layup line and Holyoke for a player removing his jersey to remove an undershirt after taking the technical free-throws — Pittsfield played Holyoke evenly through the first quarter.
The Generals got a three each from Rodriguez and Kymani Harley (eight points), but trailed 18-13 after the first eight minutes of their season.
The lightning-quick Biriell continued giving the Generals fits into the second quarter. Matthews subbed in and had some success, forcing a turnover that led to another Harley three, helping PHS draw within two. However, Holyoke closed the last two minutes of the half strong to lead 32-23.
Biriell 7-4-21, Santos 3-3-12, Anderson 2-2-12, DeLeon 2-2-6, Olivero 0-0-0, Lopez 0-2-2, Vasquez 1-2-4, Cruz 0-0-0, Thomas 0-0-0, Diaz 2-2-12, Kane 0-0-0. Totals 17-17-69.
Purry 0-0-0, Johnson 0-0-0, Wilkins 1-1-4, Higuera 1-0-5, Matthews 1-1-3, Cruz 2-0-4, Traversa 0-0-0, Cracolici 2-1-5, Thompson 0-0-0, Rodriguez 3-3-15, Harley 1-0-8, Moorer 2-0-4, Jackson 0-0-0. Totals 13-6-48.
Holyoke 18 14 16 21 — 69
Pittsfield 13 10 10 15 — 48
3-point goals — H (Biriell, Santos, Anderson 2, Diaz 2). P (Wilkins, Higuera, Rodriguez 2, Harley 2).
Mike Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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