Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Berkshire native Cyr relishes Hampshire's Western Mass. D-III title win

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AMHERST — Hampshire Regional girls basketball coach Amy Cyr said she had to get away from Berkshire County to realize how tough Berkshire County girls basketball was.

"To be honest, back when I played, we stayed local," said Cyr, who as Amy Estes, played high school basketball at Drury before graduating in 1994.

"We played Berkshire teams, and we didn't do as much crossover as today," she said. "I didn't realize how physical and aggressive basketball in the Berkshires was.

"Then I came and coached out here after I graduated [college], and playing Berkshire teams I thought 'Wow, I never knew because I was part of it.'"

Cyr guided her Raiders to a top seed in the Western Massachusetts Division III tournament on Saturday, as they knocked off sixth-seeded Wahconah Regional 47-41.

It turned out to be Hampshire's first championship since 2007, which was the last of five consecutive titles as the Raiders wrested Division II domination from Berkshire County teams. Division II girls teams from the county had won 11 straight Western Mass. titles before Hampshire's run began.

"There were certainly some really strong runs in the Berkshires," Cyr said. "It's tough to deny that."

Cyr was not the coach back then. So it's been a while since the Raiders made it to the winners' circle.

Cyr had three coaches at Drury, including her father John, who also spent several years at McCann Tech.

"Certainly playing them over the years, Berkshire teams work hard, they're physical, they hustle," said Cyr. "We played Wahconah the past two seasons, and it's the same thing every time we see them."

There was no extra incentive in playing a Berkshire County team according to the coach. Besides, a number of the players on both sides are off-season AAU teammates with the Mass. Frenzy.

Cyr, who is in her third year at the helm, said with a laugh that she still hasn't been able to wrap her arms around the fact that her Raiders are Western Mass. champions.

"No, I'm still in disbelief," she said.

And while Amy Estes Cyr might not be coaching in Berkshire County, her post-game message to her players was one that could just as easily have been said by any one of a number of coaches in the Berkshires.

"Just look around, be in the moment and appreciate being here," Cyr said, "and just how hard you worked all season."

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As I wrote this column, the Taconic Division II boys game with Northampton was about to tip off. Berkshire County hoop fans had to hope the Braves would win to keep the county from being shut out for the first time since 2007.

That year, there was only one Berkshire County team playing on Finals Saturday, the Lee girls.

Coach Tom Cinella's team was the No. 2 seed and faced top-seed Granby. The Rams got the best of the Wildcats 62-46 that day. It was the third time in four years that Cinella and Granby coach Tom Burke met on the hardwood, and Cinella had gotten the best of the Rams the other two times.

Two other Berkshire County teams got to The Cage for the semifinal round. Lenox lost to Sabis in the Division III boys semifinal round, while Hampshire Regional got the best of Drury in the Division II semis. Hampshire went on to win the girls title, while Sabis lost to the Hampshire boys.

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I've been at this high school basketball thing for a long time, both on the radio and on these pages, and there have been a lot of Berkshire County-Pioneer Valley team rivalries. But watching Northampton play in the Division II girls championship game made me think of maybe the best one.

Back in the mid-1990s, the rivalry was St. Joseph and Pioneer Valley. Paul Procopio vs. Perry Messer on the bench. Messer, by the way, is now the coach of the Northampton girls.

I got to thinking about it because Matt Stracuzzi, who was Procopio's long-time assistant, was in the crowd at Curry Hicks on Saturday.

Procopio's Crusaders were always one of the top teams in Western Massachusetts, in any division. Pioneer was just getting rolling.

You might remember Adam Harrington, maybe the best boys high school player I saw in my time here. He went on to play at Auburn and North Carolina State and spent time in the NBA. He was an eighth-grader and a freshman when St. Joe beat Pioneer in 1994 and 1995 to win Western Mass. titles.

The Crusaders were not involved when Pioneer beat Frontier in 1996 and Holyoke Catholic in 1997.

But in 1998, Pioneer beat Lenox 64-60 in a classic at the Springfield Civic Center.

It was a heavyweight fight between Harrington and Lenox's Keala Mills. Mills did not take a supporting role to the future pro. It was one of the great games that I had seen.

Which is why tournament time is always so much fun.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter and 413-496-6253.


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