NORTH ADAMS — The last time a MCLA women's basketball team was playing this late in February, most of the current team was still in high school. That run came to an end Tuesday night.
The fourth-seeded Trailblazers (14-12) advanced to the MASCAC Tournament semifinal round with a 67-53 win over No. 5 seed Salem State (8-18) at the Amsler Campus Center Gym. MCLA held Salem scoreless over the final 1:55 of the game. The Trailblazers held Salem's Kaitlyn Byran, who had 28 points in a loss earlier in the month, to 10 points.
"It feels good" to advance, said MCLA's Kayla Hotaling. "It feels really good to see all the hard work pay off over the last couple of years, but especially this year."
MCLA advances to the semifinals Thursday night at top-seeded Westfield State. The Owls swept the regular-season series from the Trailblazers.
Hotaling had 12 points and a career-high 19 rebounds for the Trailblazers, who took the lead for keeps on a 3-point shot by Karina Mattera, who had a game-high 17 points. Mattera scored 12 of her 17 points in the second half, including nine straight in the fourth quarter.
"She's certainly not afraid to shoot it," MCLA head coach Holly McGovern said of the freshman guard from Johnston, R.I. "That's a great characteristic to have. I thought her baseline drive late in the game was a very impactful shot for us."
It was a baseline drive that Mattera admitted she was a little surprised she made.
Salem's Katrina Joubert had scored with 1:55 left to cut MCLA's Lead to 57-53 and Vikings coach Michelle Cunningham called time.
Out of the time out, Mattera missed a deep 3-point attempt. Joubert got the rebound and drove to the basket. Hotaling blocked the shot, one of a game-high four blocks. Courtney McLaughlin got the rebound and eventually, Mattera found herself in the left corner. She saw a wide open baseline, drove and scored. The Vikings didn't get any closer.
"I was really surprised because I drove baseline a few times in the game and it wasn't working out," said the MCLA freshman. "When I was thinking about driving, I hesitated a bit, but then it was like I really want to help us."
The other key to the game could be found on the stat sheet. MCLA outrebounded a bigger Salem team 46-37, and had a 19-11 advantage on the offensive glass. In fact, the Trailblazers outscored the Vikings 13-7 in second-chance points. It's a far cry from when they played back on Feb. 6, and the Vikings outrebounded MCLA 52-34.
Salem's 5-foot-10 Malissa Saad, who had nine boards in the last game, injured her right leg in the first half and only played 15 minutes. That helped even the odds for MCLA. But leading up to the game, McGovern said that boxing out and rebounding were key points of emphasis in practice.
Hotaling was the best example of that emphasis. The junior forward scored her average, but she came into the game shooting better than 40 percent from the floor. Tuesday night, she was 3 for 13 and 1 for 8 in the second half. But Hotaling had the 19 rebounds, four blocks, two assists and a steal.
"For me, it's not hard to put the bad offensive night aside, because I like playing defense," said Hotaling. "I think defense should always come first and offense should come second.
"For me, I just focus on playing defense and sticking to what Coach needed me to do, and that was play defense and rebound."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.