Girls’ basketball: Hopkinton headlines area teams to qualify for Division III playoffs

Hopkinton junior Sydney Westover attempts a putback layup during the first half of a Jan. 19 win over Stevens.

Hopkinton junior Sydney Westover attempts a putback layup during the first half of a Jan. 19 win over Stevens. ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL / Monitor staff file

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-13-2024 2:32 PM

Even though Hopkinton High girls’ basketball lost its final two regular-season games to limp across finish line, the Hawks still secured the second seed and a first-round bye in the Division III playoffs, which begin on Wednesday.

At 13-3, Hopkinton won’t play its first game of the tournament until Saturday night.

Three other area teams also qualified for the postseason, including Winnisquam and Kearsarge, which claimed the third and fourth seeds, respectively.

Here’s what to know ahead of the D-III girls’ basketball playoffs:

Hawks have proven to be a good team, but health is the key concern: Partly because they’d already locked up a bye and partly because of injuries and illnesses, the Hawks didn’t play their best in their final two regular-season games — losses to Mascoma (54-31) and St. Thomas (66-48). Before then, Hopkinton had won 13 of its first 14 games of the regular season under first-year head coach Mike Mahoney.

The Hawks lost eight seniors from their team last season, but leadership from senior captain Lizz Holmes and junior captain Shaylee Murdough helped the program maintain a high level of success.

“I think they quickly get the respect of the rest of the group,” Mahoney said of the two captains. “They listen to me, too, but it’s nice to have those other voices that they can go to as well, kind of an extension of what I’m telling them.”

Hopkinton will host the winner of No. 7 Stevens (11-6) vs. No. 10 Monadnock (9-6) on Saturday night. The Hawks played both teams twice during the regular season and won each game, though all four were decided by 10 points or fewer. They beat Monadnock 46-36 on Dec. 15 and 43-36 on Jan. 11, while they beat Stevens 45-40 on Jan. 19 and 42-39 on Jan. 22.

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One way or another, Saturday will require Hopkinton to pick up the always-elusive third win of the season over one of the two programs. But, the Hawks will also have eight days since their last game to get everyone on the roster as close to 100% healthy as possible.

Kearsarge and Winnisquam enter tournament playing well, while Belmont has faced a bumpy road: The No. 4 Cougars (12-5) enter their game on Wednesday against No. 13 Fall Mountain (6-9) having won five of their last six games to close out the regular season, including a 55-44 win over the Wildcats on Feb. 2. Kearsarge is led by 6-foot-1 senior captain Tessa Marinello and fellow senior captain Adara Boucher.

Last season, the Cougars were the No. 8 seed in the playoffs and beat No. 9 Gilford in the first round before losing to No. 1 Conant, 35-30, in the quarterfinals. As the No. 4 seed, Kearsarge is better positioned to make a deep run, with the opportunity to host a second home game on Saturday should it take care of business against Fall Mountain.

Meanwhile, Winnisiquam’s had an ultra-streaky season. The Bears started the year 9-0, then lost four in a row before winning their last three games to close out the regular season.

As the No. 3 seed, they’ll host No. 14 Belmont (7-11), a team they beat 70-24 on Jan. 2 and 63-43 on Jan. 11.

Senior Lauren MacDonald’s helped lead the way for Winnisquam all season. She scored her 1,000th career point against Raymond on Jan. 19 and will likely play a key role in any success the Bears have throughout the tournament.

The Red Raiders round out the area teams that qualified for the tournament. They started the season 2-7, won five of their next six games and ended the regular season by losing three in a row.