AMHERST -- Before Tuesday's Western Massachusetts Division III semifinal matchup against Renaissance, Hoosac Valley coach Bill Robinson said his team would need a special performance to defeat the unbeaten Phoenix (21-1).
In crunch time, Hoosac seniors Sean Ryan-Kut and Matt Braman were perfect, knocking down critical shots and leading the Hurricanes to a 72-67 victory which put the Hurricanes into Saturday's championship game.
"I told my guys you're playing a team that is perfect," Robinson said. "Their individuals may not be perfect, but their team is perfect. We have to make sure we're special and we try to play as perfect as we can.
"We made mistakes, that's understandable. But we were there to answer every time they made a run, and we made some big shots."
After an intentional foul by Ryan-Kut on Renaissance's Carlos Gonzalez and a 3-pointer by Bryton Banks, the Phoenix cut Hoosac's lead to two with more than a minute left in the game.
After the teams traded baskets, Renaissance had a chance to tie the game with a three-pointer late but missed. Two free throws from Ryan-Kut with 3.9 seconds left in the game iced the victory for Hoosac.
"We just needed to calm down," Braman said. "We knew we couldn't panic. We kept our heads. Tried to remain calm, play offense and than defense again."
Despite his mental error on the intentional foul, Ryan-Kut played a near perfect game running the point for the Hurricanes. His 26 points, including four 3-pointers, helped Hoosac answer everything that Renaissance threw at them.
"I was just living in the moment," Ryan-Kut said. "I felt like I wasn't going to miss. My teammates were hitting me when I was open, and we played very good team ball."
Early in the game, Renaissance tried to use full-court pressure to rattle the Hurricane guards and cause turnovers. But Hoosac navigated the pressure, leading to transition layups on offense.
During half-court sets, Renaissance came out in a 2-3 zone. The Hurricanes used solid ball movement to find openings in the zone which led to open mid-range jumpers by Trevor Alibozek and Ryan-Kut.
In the second quarter the Phoenix switched to man-to-man defense, and started jumping passing lanes to create steals. An 8-2 Renaissance run gave the Phoenix a 25-24 lead midway through the second quarter. After a Hoosac timeout, the Hurricanes had an answer for the man defense as well. The team began dumping the ball to the bigs and creating opportunities to draw fouls.
Hoosac closed on a 12-4 run, taking a five-point lead into halftime.
"In our man offense our coach told us they're jumping out, so we countered that with slipping their screens and hitting the open man," Ryan-Kut said. "When they went to zone, we were looking to dump down and hit the open man. Our team just hit the open shots."
Hot 3-point shooting allowed Hoosac to extend its lead to 12 at the end of the third quarter. During a stretch in the middle of the quarter, three out of four possessions ended in a made 3-pointer, two from Ryan-Kut and one from Braman. Hoosac made six total 3-pointers.
In the fourth quarter, Renaissance big man Devonte' Marshall tried his best to keep his team in the game. He scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half, with eight of those points coming in the final quarter. He also pulled down nine of his 11 rebounds in the second half, setting up second-chance opportunities for his team. He scored seven straight points for the Phoenix in the fourth, cutting Hoosac's lead to four. A free throw and a jumper by Braman extended Hoosac's lead to seven, before the five-point swing on the intentional foul. Braman scored 17 points.
With the win, Hoosac advances to its first Western Mass. final since 2011, when Sabis defeated the Hurricanes. Ryan-Kut, a senior, said it's been quite a journey to get to this point.
"I'm speechless. My sophomore year, we had three wins," he said. "The next year we had seven. To go from seven to 17 this year and going to the Western Mass. finals -- it's incredible."
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