Pittsfield enters tonight's Western Massachusetts Division II semifinal matchup against top-seeded Shepherd Hill in a unique situation. Shepherd Hill, co-champions of the Midland A league, do not share any similar opponents with the Generals. Pittsfield's seen the Rams on film, but their opponents from south of Worcester cannot be gauged properly from film alone.
Similarly, Pittsfield hopes the relative unfamiliarity between the teams will work in its favor.
Although Shepherd Hill defeated No. 2 seed Pittsfield in the quarterfinals of the D-II tournament in 2014, key players from both sides have since graduated, so Pittsfield coach Steve Ray expects new challenges tonight.
"We're prepared for everything we can be prepared for," he said. "We worked hard on fine tuning our game. We know we're going to execute and use our game plan."
Ray added that stopping 6-foot-4 big man Michael Rapoza will be key. The Rams center is averaging over 20 points per game, but he's recovering from a late-season back injury that caused him to sit out two games.
The Generals will use transition to negate Rapoza's effectiveness. Matching up with the athleticism of Josh Moore on both ends of the floor is a lot to ask of any player.
"We feel we can use our length and transition [game] against them," Ray said. "We're good at getting out and running. That's what we're going to rely on.
"We like our size advantage and our athleticism. ... On a bigger court, speed and athletes work well."
After a quarterfinal victory over Taconic, Ray said his team is hitting its stride. Anthony Reinhold and Connor McDonough played keys roles against the Braves. Both players have struggled with consistency at times, however, so positive contributions from them could be key for the Generals. Against Rapoza, players such as Simon Nassif and Kolbe Muzzy can provide defensive toughness as well.
Tonight marks Pittsfield's second straight trip to The Cage, but it's the first time many of Pittsfield players will take the floor as starters. Ray said playing on the road against Taconic, in a gym of around 1,000 people, will prepare his team for the atmosphere of tournament time at The Cage.
"We felt like we turned the corner at the end of season," he said. "I liked our performance at East Longmeadow and we carried that through to the Taconic game. [The atmosphere at Taconic] is going to be similar with what we'll see at The Cage. That gave us confidence."
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252