Monday, March 13, 2017

Palmer Runs Past Bartlett for First Ever State Championship Game Berth

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Coming off its first Western Mass championship in 50 years, Palmer let it all hang out Monday night at the DCU Center, shooting and rebounding its way to an 80-65 win over Bartlett in the Division 3 state semifinals.

The Panthers will now move on to face Hanover in their first ever state championship game appearance Saturday in Springfield.

"I didn't even think about (playing for a state championship)," Palmer senior point guard Ryan McCarthy said. "We were just so focused on winning Western Mass, and now we've got another goal... My goal from the beginning of the year was just to play until I can't any more, and here we are."

Despite the finish, it was a troubling start for Palmer (23-1), as Bartlett (22-4) jumped out to an early 9-2 lead, thanks to two quick buckets and three quick boards from Indian senior power forward Tyler Davern. But that trend would not continue, as Palmer sophomore Dylan Tenczar came off the bench and dominated the boards the rest of the way, snatching 10 rebounds and scoring 14 points, mostly off putbacks.

"We watched film of (Bartlett) playing, I believe, St. Peter-Marian, and we knew their weakness was defensive rebounding," Tenczar said of the Indians. "It's always a focus, crashing the boards on the offensive and defensive end, but we were able to really get on the offensive glass."

Thanks to seven points by Tenczar in the first period's final three minutes, including a buzzer-beater out of the post, Palmer led 32-31 going into the first break. Things would only pick up for the Panthers from there, as junior Matt Niemczura, who led all scorers with 28 points, buried back-to-back threes to start the second, then slashed in for an old-fashioned three-point play moments later. Tenczar then grabbed another offensive board and scored just before the half to give Palmer a 40-30 lead at intermission.

The third quarter saw Palmer slowly grow its lead, as the teams traded baskets, but the Panthers continued to make it rain from downtown. The Panthers' 14-point lead heading into the fourth seemed insurmountable, not because Bartlett couldn't score, but because the Panthers simply weren't missing.

And, when they did, the Panthers were relentless on the offensive glass, leading to numerous second-chance opportunities. A mini-run by Bartlett point guard Anthony Grzembski, where the senior sliced his way in for a layup, then bombed a three, pulled the Indians back within 10. But, Niemczura turned out the lights with a layup, an old-fashioned three-point play and a trey in succession.

"It's just unbelievable," Niemczura said of advancing to the state championship game. "I can't put it into words."

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