NORTH ADAMS - There are droughts and then there are droughts.
The MCLA men's basketball team has already ended one dry spell that stretched back to 1995 by making it to Saturday's MASCAC championship game. That was the easy one. The harder oasis to reach is one it hasn't seen since the 1989-90 season. That's the last time the Trailblazers won the conference tournament.
So what's the message with 22 seasons since the last title?
"There is no message. We don't talk about it. What's the weather?" coach Jamie Morrison said. "It's next game, that's all it is. We know what's at stake, but it won't even come up."
They'll have to contend with a redhot Fitchburg team if they want to end the spell. The No. 5 Falcons have already upset No. 4 Bridgewater and No. 1 Westfield to reach the championship game. They've also won seven on their last nine contests.
Their streak down the stretch and through the first two playoff games have just re-enforced Morrison's belief in Fitchburg.
"They're a five seed, but I think that they're now playing how we expected them to play all year. They were a preseason six, we were a preseason five. I didn't vote them preseason six; they were top three for me," he said. "Going into the conference tournament, we looked at Fitchburg as potentially the most dangerous team."
MCLA was the final victim in Fitchburg's five game win streak to close out the season. It was a 65-57 loss - the Trailblazers' lowest offensive output in the conference. MCLA scored two field goals in a 17 minute, 14-second span in the second half. It went 15:41 without scoring from the field at one point. Despite all that, the Trailblazers were down just eight with 50 seconds left.
"We just couldn't hit shots," Paul Maurice said. "We had a good defensive run over there. They didn't score outstandingly. We just didn't hit shots."
MCLA can't rely on that philosophy this time with everything on the line.
Now that the Trailblazers have battled through the playoff jitters, they say that won't be a problem, like it was early in Thursday's game. They're hoping that translates into fewer turnovers - they had 22 on Thursday. Aside from taking away scoring chances, better ball control will allow MCLA to get into its half-court defense and match up. That will be crucial against a team Morrison says has good size, guard play and length.
One person MCLA will be keeping a close eye on is Tom Hanneberry. He came off the bench to score 20 points last time. He made 4 of 5 from 3point land.
Morrison said Maurice will likely be tasked with guarding him.
"I got to limit the help defense. Coach doesn't want shooter Hanneberry getting any open shots," Maurice said. "So I'm going to make sure I go with him, make it uncomfortable for him when he catches it, so he doesn't get a chance to let it go through."
To reach Josh Colligan, email email@example.com. On Twitter:@NAT_DigitalJosh