MCLA basketball coaches talk to the team during a time out

MCLA men's basketball coach Derek Shell, center, will lead his Trailblazers into uncharted territory on Saturday. MCLA will play a Division I school for the first time in memory, when the Trailblazers play at UMass Lowell.

NORTH ADAMS — Anyone who might have picked up the weekend Berkshire Eagle could be excused if he or she thought there was a misprint in the sports daily calendar. It’s not.

The MCLA men’s basketball team is jumping up a couple of weight classes, and will play Saturday against a Division I team. MCLA will blaze a trail to northeastern Massachusetts to play UMass Lowell. It’s the first time a modern MCLA team will play a D-I team in basketball.

That is the UMass Lowell team coached by Dalton native Pat Duquette, and the same UMass Lowell team that walked into the University of Dayton arena and, in front of 13,000 fans, beat the Flyers.

“It’s awesome to just go and face the best competition you can go and face,” MCLA’s Hayden Bird said. “Granted, they’re going to be much bigger than us. We just have to work hard and what happens, happens.”

It was a confluence of circumstances that got this game on both teams’ schedules, and it all started with a couple of lost games.

MCLA was scheduled to play Fisher College in North Adams Thursday night, but the game was cancelled due to COVID-19 issues at Fisher. Lowell, meanwhile, had lost a Dec. 21 game with the Derek Kellogg-coached LIU Brooklyn Sharks.

A Dalton connection between Duquette and MCLA assistant James Rivers led to the booking of the 1 p.m. game.

MCLA coach Derek Shell did give his players an opportunity to not play the game.

“He asked us if we wanted to, and we wanted it,” Bird said. “It’s exciting to get to go and play a D-I school.”

It was a unanimous feeling among the players.

“Absolutely,” MCLA’s Noah Yearsley said. “As soon as coach asked us if we wanted to do it, everyone’s eyes got wide and said yes. It should be a good opportunity to show coach what we’re about.”

The River Hawks are 6-4 and have been on a bit of a win-one, lose-one see-saw these days. In their last four games, the River Hawks beat Fisher, lost to Brown, won at Merrimack and lost at Boston University.

The Trailblazers, at 5-5, are on a three-game winning streak, a streak that included Tuesday’s 86-67 win over Elms College in the last home game of the first semester.

“It’s definitely going to be a different environment,” Yearsley said. “They probably will be bigger than us and maybe a little stronger. If we execute our game plan, we can compete with anyone.”

Howard Herman can be reached at  hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253. 

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.