I don't think I am alone when I say that I am tired of winter. It has been bitterly cold, but surely you all know that. What I am not sick of, however, is the level of play that the local teams have competed at. Look at Parker Charter School, who recently won its first-ever boys' basketball playoff game Monday night against Trivium.

Then there is the resurgence of North Middlesex hockey and both basketball programs, which qualified for Districts with impressive finishes in the regular season.

Ayer-Shirley continues its steady climb upwards in the Division 4 girls' and boys' basketball landscape.

And how about the job first-year head coach Greg Gillette has done with his Groton-Dunstable Crusaders boys' basketball team in the ever-tough Mid-Wach B league?

The boys locked up the eighth and final seed with an 8-11 overall finish, however, they played much more tough than their record leads on. Groton-Dunstable defeated Quabbin twice during the season. For a while at the end, it appeared that the Crusaders would make a run at taking second in the league, but a sluggish start brought those dreams to a screeching hault..

Also happening over at Groton-Dunstable is the continued success of the Crusaders' boys' hockey program, who is currently enjoying a first-round bye as it awaits the winner of Wachusett and Westboro.


As you may recall, Groton-Dunstable fell to the Mountaineers in the Central Mass. Division 3 Finals last season at the Wallace Civic Center in Fitchburg.

At the end of last season, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) announced that it would spice up the basketball pairings by moving a few teams from the North to the Central Mass. Tourney, and Cmass. Teams would be sent out West.

Both the North Middlesex girls' and boys' basketball teams not only qualified for the postseason, they locked up first-round home playoff games. Longtime girls' basketball head coach Pat Murphy is ecstatic about his first-round match-up against Taconic, who defeated Commerce, 66-19.

Could Taconic's offense be that potent? Or was Springfield Commerce that severely overmatched? The truth of the matter is, no one really knows the answer. Just like when the settlers came to the "New World," Western Mass's sports scene is unknown to us out here in the heart of the commonwealth. The Taconic Braves are led in scoring by Nyanna Slaughter, who averages 14.1 points-per-game, according to Masslive.com. Murphy made the long trip down Route 2 to Pittsfield and watched the Braves' stingy defense in action.

If the Lady Patriots look to have a chance against Taconic, they are going to have to lock down defensively on Slaughter, who had a team-high 20 points and 11 rebounds in the Braves opening round game, according to our sister publication, The Berkshire Eagle.

North Middlesex is a very deep team with multiple weapons, but it is no secret that the Lady Patriots' offense goes through senior captain Mackensey Farina. Farina averages a double-double this season, and it will be interesting to see how she and the Lady Patriots stack up against the competition from Western Mass.

If North Middlesex advances to the semi-finals and beyond, it will play at the Curry Hicks Arena on the campus of Umass Amherst, or as the locals call it, "The Cage."

The No. 4 seeded North Middlesex boys' basketball team hosts 14-6 South Hadley tonight at the Arthur Bartlett Memorial Gym. Head coach Erik Dellasanta has his Patriots poised and ready to scrap with the big boys from South Hadley.

The South Hadley Tigers were Division 2 State Finalists in 2013, and it does not appear like they show any signs of slowing down. Expect the Tigers to come in with a bit of animosity as it might feel that it was shafted by the seeding committee, who gave the 9-11 Patriots the higher seed and a home game. North Middlesex, however, had a strength of schedule that was much tougher than that of South Hadley.

Nevertheless, the Patriots, who are led by their senior point guard Tyler Thomas and center Bobby Larsen Jr., will have a tough test Friday night. South Hadley is led by Cam Earle, who averages 15.4 points per game. Tonight's game should be a good test for the Patriots.

Be sure to check Nashobabpublishing.com/sports for updates on all of the playoff action. Follow Ed Niser on Twitter @EdNiser.