AMHERST -- Hoosac Valley guard Jen Gale was driving down the right side of the court on a two-on-one fast break midway through the fourth quarter in Thursday night's Western Mass. Division II semifinal. Hurricanes coach Ron Wojcik leaped up and shouted for her to "Pull it back! Run some clock!"
Not a chance.
Gale sailed into the lane and scored an easy two. The Hurricanes sailed to a 57-37 win over Mahar at the Curry Hicks Cage, setting up a championship game against rival Drury at 2:15 p.m. Saturday in Amherst.
Hoosac's pressure defense was extremely effective on Thursday, forcing 27 Mahar turnovers and generating numerous fast breaks. The Hurricanes used everyone on their roster, played a trapping defense and ran at every opportunity. Teams either weather it or wear out. Mahar wore out.
"Every day, we spend 11 2 to 2 hours working on our defense," said Hoosac guard Erika Lucia. "Defense wins games and we emphasize it."
"We try to bring the same intensity to every game we play," said Hoosac's Emily Rosse, who scored a game-high 17 points and had six rebounds and three blocks. "I thought that was the difference tonight."
The Senators hung with their opponents for a half, trailing only 12-11 after a quarter and 27-24 at intermission. Forward Natashia Patria had seven first-half points and did a decent job on the boards with five first-half rebounds.
But the Hurricanes' zone pressure was giving the Senators trouble. Hoosac had 15 steals, and their opponents were settling for way too many long shots. In the first half, some of those shots went in.
In the second half, they did not.
Meanwhile, Hoosac was getting to the hoop. A put-back and subsequent converted foul shot by Madison Ryan pushed the lead to 34-26 at the 3:38 mark of the third quarter. Moments later, Rosse picked off another offensive board and scored to give Hoosac a 10-point advantage, 36-26.
Mahar called time out, but the run continued. Tori Rumbolt hit a free throw and Amber Lesure drained a 3-pointer. The run went up to 16-2 before a late three by Mahar's Jenelle Juskiewicz cut into the lead. But by the end of the third period, the Hurricanes were comfortably ahead, 45-29.
"Our main focus this year was staying in shape," said Rumbolt. "We press and run all game. And when one of us is tired, we can go to our bench and get a fresh player. I really like how this team plays together."
"I thought we had some early jitters," said Wojcik. "We were having trouble making our in-close shots. But I thought our pressure was outstanding. And as we settled into our game, we began to hit our shots."
The Hurricanes did start hitting shots, but they were mostly put-backs. The Hurricanes had a whopping 20 offensive rebounds in the second half. Mahar had four.
Last year, the Hurricanes were eliminated by the Senators in the postseason. But Rosse said the revenge factor was, in fact, not a factor.
"No," she said. "We didn't worry about that. We just wanted to win the game."
In addition to Rosse's 17, Rumbolt added 11. But Wojcik played 12 players and nine of them scored. Mahar was led by Juskiewicz with 11. Mahar leading scorer Jillian Valley, who torched the Hurricanes for 23 last year, had four on Thursday, as Megan Rodowicz kept a close eye on her.
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