The hype train for the Western Mass. Division III girls basketball game didn't need much steam to get going this week.
Not when Hoosac Valley and Drury are involved.
For the third time this season, the archrival Hurricanes and Blue Devils will square off on the hardwood. Second-seeded Hoosac owns a 2-0 edge over No. 4 Drury in the previous two games. But with a rivalry of this magnitude hanging over the game, both teams know this game is different.
This one is for keeps. Win, or pack your bags and go home.
"It's a lot of pressure, but I'd say that we are excited," Hoosac's Madi Ryan, a three-time Western Mass. champion, said of getting Drury in the championship. "We know what we have to do [against them], and it would be nice to shut them down."
Drury would love to do the same. When Hoosac's run of Western Mass. titles started in 2013, the first came at the expense of the Blue Devils. Senior Liv Carlson remembers that game, and noted how the situation this time is similar, just reversed. Drury was the No. 1 team in D-II that year, facing a No. 7 Hoosac side that the Blue Devils had beaten twice.
"We have a similar season, but the roles were reversed," Carlson said. "I think we did come into that game too overconfident. It is a stigma that it's hard to beat a team three times in one season. I like this role reversal, I like this position. It's comforting knowing such a familiar team, because we know what they do and they know what we do. We both just need to play a good game of basketball and it'll be a great game."
The Hoosac girls, whether on the team that year or in the stands cheering on, also remember the upset. They don't want to see it happen again.
"I wasn't on the team in 2013, but I remember watching it," Hoosac's Fallon Field said. "We hear it from a lot of people in school, 'Don't let it happen again.' I think our team this year isn't overconfident, so I think we'll go in prepared."
The hope for Drury going in is to keep the game close. In the two losses this year, the Hurricanes won 66-39 and 55-40. While Drury hung close during bits and pieces of both games, the Blue Devils know they have to come ready to play for 32 minutes if things are going to change.
"I think mental toughness is going to play a big part in tomorrow's game," Carlson said. "Even if we do have a few turnovers in a row, we have to keep that mental toughness, play through it and know that we can't let our heads hang at all."
Part of staying mentally tough for the Blue Devils is trying to control the pace of the game. Drury has seen what Hoosac can do when its full-court press is kicking into high gear.
"Their press is very intimidating," Drury's Jenna Moulton said. "They trap really quick, they get in your face. It's a faster pace than most teams have.
"Even though we are considered the underdog, we have to come in and think that it's just another game."
"Pressure," Ryan said, "we need to get in their faces. I just feel like we can pressure them and we cause a lot of turnovers ... so if we just keep the game fast-paced we'll be all right."
The game will be the third of six games at the Cage. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:15 p.m., and the Hoosac Valley boys will play immediately after in the D-III boys championship.
Both teams expect, and are ready for, a raucous crowd.
"I think it's going to be an electric atmosphere," Carlson said. "I think having two Berkshire County teams in the [D-III girls] finals says a lot about Berkshire County basketball. Even if you look at the other divisions, there's a lot of Berkshire County teams. It's awesome, I think it says a lot about Berkshire County basketball."
So does the fact that, once again, a Berkshire County team will win a D-III girls title.
Contact Geoff Smith at 413-496-6254.