MIAA boys basketball: No. 5 Mahar erases 20-6 first quarter deficit, knocks off No. 13 Boston English, 63-55, to reach semifinals (PHOTOS)

The Mahar boys basketball team celebrates after knocking off Boston English, 63-55, on Friday in Orange to advance to the MIAA Div. 5 semifinals.

The Mahar boys basketball team celebrates after knocking off Boston English, 63-55, on Friday in Orange to advance to the MIAA Div. 5 semifinals. STAFF PHOTO/THOMAS JOHNSTON

Mahar's Morgan Softic drives to the rim against Boston English on Friday during an MIAA Div. 5 quarterfinal contest in Orange.

Mahar's Morgan Softic drives to the rim against Boston English on Friday during an MIAA Div. 5 quarterfinal contest in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/THOMAS JOHNSTON

Mahar coach Chad Softic cuts the final piece of the net in Orange after the Senators reached the MIAA Div. 5 semifinals with a 63-55 win over Boston English.

Mahar coach Chad Softic cuts the final piece of the net in Orange after the Senators reached the MIAA Div. 5 semifinals with a 63-55 win over Boston English. STAFF PHOTO/THOMAS JOHNSTON

Mahar's Marshall Ames got up for the jump ball against Boston English's David Castillo on Friday in Orange.

Mahar's Marshall Ames got up for the jump ball against Boston English's David Castillo on Friday in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/THOMAS JOHNSTON

Mahar's Jayden Delgado dribbles the ball while defended by Boston English's Omarley Gonzalez on Friday in Orange.

Mahar's Jayden Delgado dribbles the ball while defended by Boston English's Omarley Gonzalez on Friday in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/THOMAS JOHNSTON

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 03-08-2024 9:22 PM

ORANGE — The Mahar boys basketball team’s run in the MIAA Division 5 state tournament was in serious peril after eight minutes of Friday’s game against Boston English. 

Hosting the No. 13 Eagles in the quarterfinals, the fifth-seeded Senators found themselves trailing 20-6 after one quarter. Boston English’s Janadre Bria knocked down three 3-pointers while Alanzo Garcia tallied six points in the frame. 

Trailing 27-12 midway through the second quarter, Mahar finally found its footing by speeding the Eagles up with a press that led to points off turnovers. That allowed the Senators to close out the half on a 7-0 run and cut the lead to 27-19 at the break. 

Mahar carried that momentum into the final 16 minutes. Trailing 39-34 in the third, the Senators ripped off eight points in a 40-second span off four steals in a row to help them take a 45-42 lead going into the fourth. 

Bria knocked down a 3 that cut the Mahar lead to 58-55 with 1:53 to go. Lian Lopez Baez, in for Lucas Isrow who fouled out of the game, beat the Boston English press and found Jayden Delgado down low, and he finished through contact and made the free throw to put the Sens up, 61-55. 

Delgado broke the press himself on the next possession and found Morgan Softic under the rim, and he finished to extend the lead. Mahar didn’t allow the Eagles to score from there, as it advanced to the state semifinals with a wild 63-55 victory. 

The Senators will face top-seeded Hoosac Valley in the semis at a date, time and location to be determined. 

“This feels amazing,” Morgan Softic said. “We started realizing we could come back late in the first quarter. It just feels great, especially after making the comeback in the first.” 

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Once the Senators (19-5) were able to make Boston English (8-15) play in the half court and at a slower pace, they felt they had the advantage. 

“We’re not used to teams that are all about transition,” Delgado said. “We’re used to teams that are like us and play in the half court. This team just wanted easy buckets and to up the speed on us. We realized that in the second half, put them in the half court and they folded.”

It was also about settling into the game and adjusting to the speed the Eagles were playing at. Once Mahar did that, it showed the mental toughness to make a comeback, something head coach Chad Softic said he was proud of. 

“We came out a little intimidated,” Chad Softic said. “The game, the atmosphere was a little much for us to start. Obviously we made the adjustments at the end of the first half that worked. We really just needed to settle down. Everything we did was self-inflicted tonight. I had to remind them that they’re really good basketball players and that they just need to settle down. Credit to the kids. That was an incredible second half.

“I was frustrated with this team mid-year,” he added. “I didn’t know what type of fight we had. Those questions have been answered. They’ve stepped up. I've seen a different energy and sense of urgency with this group. You saw guys grow up in front of your eyes.” 

It was senior Will Barnes who got Mahar going in the second quarter with three straight baskets coming off jumpers from the free throw line. Marshall Ames scored inside, Barnes added another basket in the paint before Delgado and Softic made free throws to close out the quarter, cutting the lead to 27-19 at the half. 

Mahar opened the third quarter on fire. Ames made a pair from the line and scored in transition, Delgado converted an and-one then found Softic for an easy two before Delgado bullied his way in for another basket that gave the Sens a 30-29 lead with 4:30 to go in the third – their first lead of the game. 

Bria — who finished with eight 3s and 27 points — knocked down a pair of treys that gave English a 39-34 lead. Isrow countered with a 3 of his own and the Mahar press took over from there. Softic scored a pair of uncontested layups and Isrow added one himself that helped the Sens take a 45-42 lead after three quarters. 

Mahar pulled ahead 50-42 early in the fourth off four points from Softic and a free throw from Isrow, but Bria nailed a 3 that cut the lead to 52-47. 

Delgado powered in for two with 4:20 to play, Softic found a way to finish in traffic and Delgado added another basket that put the Sens ahead, 58-49, with under three minutes to go. 

Bria hit an and-one and a 3 that cut it to 58-55 before Delgado and Softic’s baskets iced the win for Mahar. 

“Morgan and Jayden were incredible in the second half,” Chad Softic said. “They stepped up after not playing their best in the first half.” 

Delgado finished with 18 points, Softic scored 17 points, Barnes tallied 11 points, Ames scored nine points while Isrow added eight points in the victory. 

Chad Softic noted how special it was to reach the semifinals on the team’s home floor and that it’ll be an all-Western Mass. showdown with a spot in the finals on the line. 

“It’s never been in this building because of the format,” Chad Softic said. “It makes it all the more special. We can’t have any more home games. We’ve run the course. We’re going to get a great game with Hoosac. Coach Billy [Robinson] is a friend and a great coach. We’re happy to be representing Western Mass. on that side of the bracket.”