Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: MIAA should look to Wahconah Park for potential future finals

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Random thoughts while the bagel toasts and the coffee percolates.

Wahconah Park was rocking Monday. It felt more like a Pittsfield Suns playoff game than a high school game. But that's just what it was.

Lenox and McCann Tech battled for the Western Massachusetts Division IV championship on Paul Dowd Field at the historic ballyard on Wahconah Street.

"It was crazy. It was a good feeling," Lenox's Luke Murphy said. "You don't get to come into this place too often with the fans."

There had to be more than 1,000 fans at Wahconah Park, a fact that the MIAA can't ignore.

"That's the most fans, I think all of our games combined, probably added up to that," Lenox's Jack Ellrodt said. "That's pretty impressive."

It was a happy accident that the Millionaires and Hornets were able to play at Wahconah Park. A Saturday rainstorm messed up the Western Mass. Baseball final schedule in Amherst.

"We were a little bummed out, because we were ready to play," said Ellrodt. "Then we realized it was here. You could get the fans here. We could get everyone here from the community."

Both communities, Lenox and North Adams, did themselves proud on Monday. They turned out in large numbers.

Which is why the MIAA needs to have more tournament semifinal and even final games in Berkshire County.

It has been a particular bugaboo among the county's coaches and athletic directors over the years that local teams have had to do a lot of traveling while Pioneer Valley teams don't travel nearly as much.

Of all the sites that are used for Western Mass. Tournament finals, only two have proper venues with enough gravitas to host those events. The Curry Hicks Cage for basketball and Sortino Field for softball are tops and deserve to host finals.

But Earl Lorden Field at the University of Massachusetts isn't much better than Westfield State, and neither compare to Wahconah Park when it comes to relative comfort, amenities and – if you need them – lights.

And none of the other sites have the Pittsfield Suns staff helping out.

With the exception of on-field games, Monday's final felt like a Suns game. So kudos to Kristen Huss, Brian Flagg and their staff.

They showed the MIAA that Wahconah Park would be an outstanding site for a final, or finals.

It's good for Pittsfield. It's good for the MIAA. It's the ultimate win-win.

Let's make it happen again.

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Dragan Bender is a name that, if you are a Celtics fan, you will hear a ton between now and the NBA Draft later this month.

Bender is a 7-foot-tall, 18-year old forward who played this past season for Macabbi Tel Aviv, one of the better teams in the European Basketball League. By all accounts, Bender is going to be one of the top picks in this year's draft. Sports Illustrated's SI.com mock draft, which came out at the end of the week, has Bender going to the Celtics with the third overall pick.

It's hard to find some first-hand scouting of Bender's play, considering he didn't play huge minutes for Macabbi Tel Aviv. But I know someone who played against him.

Daniel Wohl, a former Williams College standout, played for Galil Gilboa of the Israeli Second League. His team played Macabbi Tel Aviv in the Israeli Cup tournament on Dec. 23. Macabbi scored an 83-61 win.

"He's huge," Wohl told me. "He plays the three. I played the three for my team."

So there's a difference, because Wohl was measured at either 6-6 or 6-7.

"We played against him, I remember guarding him, and my head was just below his shoulders," Wohl said, when we met last week up in Williamstown. "He's so tall and so long.

"There were a couple of blocked shots he had in the game, and you were like 'How in the world did he get that?' "

Wohl said that Bender has a really good shot.

"I can see why he's a top-tier prospect," said Wohl, who quickly threw a yellow caution flag. "I don't know if he's the third pick in the draft material. That's hard for me to say."

For the record, Bender averaged 5.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, playing 14.5 minutes a contest for Macabbi.

"He didn't play much on his team because he's so young, but he has so much potential," said Wohl. "There were tons of guys with NBA experience on his team.

"He's a phenomenal talent. I see why he has all that hype."

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253


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