When the Hoosac Valley girls basketball team takes the court against Littleton in the semifinals of MIAA Division III tournament, it'll be a matchup of a team that's been there and done that against a team that is making a rare appearance.
For the fourth year in a row, the Hurricanes will represent Western Mass. in the state tournament, and Hoosac will look to make it three straight years in the state finals.
Littleton, meanwhile, won its first sectional title since 2001 with a 48-38 win over top-seeded Sutton in the Central Mass. playoffs. Littleton has just the two sectional titles in program history.
The Hurricanes have played Bellingham the last two years in the state semifinals. The team is excited to face a new squad today at the DCU Center.
"I'm excited for the change," junior Fallon Field said. "The past few years we've been going into a team we know, and they know us. ... It's pretty exciting to get someone new."
Tip off is scheduled for 2:15 p.m., and is the first of four semifinal games at the DCU Center on the day. The Hoosac boys will play their state semifinal immediately after.
"We don't really know much about [Littleton's run]," Hoosac coach Ron Wojcik said. "With our gameplan, we are just focusing on what we want to do — need to do — in order to beat them."
Littleton is led by coach Rick Hastings, who is in his sixth season with the Tigers. Littleton earned the No. 3 seed in the Central Mass. D-III tournament after a 16-4 regular season, and after three wins, the Tigers enter the state semifinals at 19-4.
Littleton's run, according to Hastings, was a pleasant, if unexpected, surprise. The Tigers knocked off second-seeded Millbury in the semifinals on a last-second heave by senior Erin Dorey, 38-36, then in the championship, the Tigers found enough defensive prowess to knock off a 21-1 Sutton team, 48-38.
"It was really special," Hastings said of winning the Central Mass. tournament. "None of these girls have any experience with this process. We're excited to still be playing at this time of March.
"[This is] unexpected a little bit, maybe. We graduated a lot of seniors [over the last few years] and had tough draws in the postseason."
This year looked to be another tough draw. But, this is why they play the games.
"We made some big shots down the stretch [against Sutton], but our defense kept us in that game for long stretches," Hastings said. "We got off to a bit of a slow start in the final. It took us a few minutes to get our legs under us. The defense kind of kept us close until we could get comfortable and start playing the way we hoped to play."
The Tigers are led by an inside-outside duo of senior Dorey and junior Sarah Smith. Dorey runs the show for the Tigers, while Smith is averaging a double-double off the blocks as the team's center. Smith averages 16 points and 12 rebounds per game, while Dorey has averaged roughly 14 points and six assists, according to Hastings.
"[Dorey's] had a terrific career and a special senior year," Hastings said. "She was the MVP of our league [Wachusett C].
"[Smith is] a talented post player who gets to the foul line pretty quickly."
The Tigers are hoping Lindsay Scaringella, a senior, can get back in time for the game. She injured her ankle against Millbury in the semifinals, but Hastings is hoping she will be good to go once the ball tips.
Around those three, Hannah Gouldrup and Mimi Pyram give Littleton an outside shooting presence to compliment the big two of Dorey and Smith.
Littleton has had a chance to lay eyes on Hoosac this year. Hastings and a large majority of his team made the drive out to the Curry Hicks Cage on Saturday to scout the Western Mass. title game. Hastings walked away impressed with the Hurricanes.
"The 3-point shooting is very dangerous there, but they also have a very good pressure-defense team," Hastings said.
"They turned Drury over numerous times in the second half, and I thought that was key in the separation between the two."
With the basic scout done, Hastings said practice for the team has been on handling the Hoosac pressure.
"We've been working the last couple of days on being prepared for the pressure defense we are going to see," Hastings said. "We really want the kids to try and stay calm and composed."
Hastings said the majority of teams on the Tigers' schedule have played half-court defenses, usually man-to-man. The Tigers themselves run some pressure-based defenses throughout the course of games, but are a team primarily built to defend teams in the half court.
Hastings said his team has prepared throughout the season for different presses, but admits he doesn't know how his team will handle Hoosac's pressure until the game starts.
"I think we'll be prepared for it," Hastings said. "It's just a matter of how the kids will react to it once the lights go on."
The winner of this game advances to the state championship game against either Bishop Fenwick or Archbishop Williams. The championship game will be on Saturday at a time and venue to be determined.
Contact Geoff Smith at 413-496-6254.