By Greg Dudek
It’s time to turn up the madness at Bridgewater State University as both the women’s and men’s basketball teams get ready for the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) Tournament.
Both teams will play in the semifinal round Thursday night at the Tinsley Center after earning a first round bye.
The women’s team will play against Salem State University at 5:30 p.m., followed by the men’s team facing off against Worcester State University at 7:30 p.m.
The Lady Bears enter the postseason as the number one seed in the conference due to owning the tiebreaker over Westfield State University and Framingham State University.
With three of the six teams in the tournament having identical conference records, it sets up a tough road for Bridgewater State.
“This is the first year in a while that there are four or five teams that have a chance to win the tournament,” said Lady Bears’ head coach Bridgett Casey. “All games this season between teams have been battles. Of course, having home court advantage and securing that number one seed is huge. I think more teams, including us, play much more confident at home.”
For the Lady Bears, they are entering unchartered territory as they go for their fourth straight MASCAC Tournament championship.
“It will be very challenging to capture that fourth in a row,” Casey said. “Teams know us really well now and feel more confident playing us. We need to play hard and really step up our game on the defensive end if this is going to happen again. With our experience and confidence being in this position before, it will certainly help us this week.”
Bridgewater State has not helped themselves out as of late though, as they lost their final two regular season games.
The Lady Bears fell to both Fitchburg State and Salem State by double-digits and Casey said the team needs to play better defensively in order to get a win in the postseason.
They will also need their premiere players to come up big as well, especially senior guards Jenna Williamson and Elisha Homich.
Williamson’s hot shooting went cold last week, as she struggled in the regular season finale against Salem State, shooting 1-8 from the field and 1-5 from beyond the three-point arc.
“Jenna had struggled a bit offensively the last two games, but hopefully it is out of her system,” Casey said. “Teams are going to try and keep the ball out of her hands every chance they get, so we just need to find ways to still get her the ball for her to be successful. She will have her shot back for Thursday, I am sure of it.”
While the Lady Bears try for a fourth straight MASCAC title, the men’s team hopes to keep defying expectations and capture their first championship since 2011.
The Bears lost out on a number one seed and home court advantage throughout the tournament with an 80-68 loss to Salem State last Wednesday.
Despite the loss, the Bears are not dwelling on it since there are more important games coming up on the schedule.
“We know that the season goes on,” said senior forward and captain Michael Grandfield who is the only member of the Bears remaining from the 2011 championship team. “We started focusing on the MASCAC Tournament because this is the biggest part of our season. It’s win or go home now and anything less than a conference championship is going to leave us even more disappointed than we were after that Salem game.”
Even with the loss to the Vikings, Bridgewater State comes into the postseason winners of three out of their final four games.
As the number two seed, the Bears will get at least one home game, which could help propel them to the championship.
“It’s always good, we have done well at home,” said Bears’ head coach Joe Farroba. “That is a positive for us. It is always important to play at home. Teams play with a little more mojo at home.”
Junior forward Michael Lofton will also have a lot to do if the Bears are to move on to the championship game.
Lofton is coming off of his best game in his career, as he scored a career-high 31 points on 14-of-21 shooting and grabbed 16 rebounds against Salem State.
“I felt that this was a game where my team really needed me to step up and be aggressive and my mentality was just to attack from the jump,” Lofton said. “I got to my comfort spots on the floor and was very active around the rim and I was successful enough to get what I wanted. Except for the W which is the only thing that matters.”
Farroba added that Lofton will still need help from his teammates around him if the Bears have a chance to win.
But at this point in the season, Farroba doesn’t care how his team does it, he just wants one thing out of them.
“Just want to win,” Farroba said. “Don’t care how you get there. Just want to win and move on.”
Greg Dudek is The Comment’s Editor-In-Chief. Follow him on Twitter at gdudek10 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.