AMHERST -- In true Hoosac Valley fashion, a player that had been quiet of late came up big.
Jenn Gale had just seven points in the first two playoff games combined, but came through with a game-high 28 in the Western Massachusetts Division III championship to lead the No. 2 Hoosac girls basketball team to a 72-41 win over top-ranked Sabis at the Curry Hicks Cage on Saturday afternoon.
The title is the second straight Western Mass. title for the Hoosac girls, who won the Division II title last season. It's also the second title in program history.
"It's exciting both times," Gale said. "We definitely wanted it for my senior year, Meg [Rodowicz's] senior year. We wanted it."
Hoosac will now play Central Mass. champion Bellingham in Wednesday's state semifinal round. Tip-off of that game is set for 2:15 p.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
To know what the title means to the repeat champs, look no further than McKenzie Robinson sprinting down the court after the award ceremony for an embrace with her father Bill, the boys coach.
"I just know I made my dad proud," she said. "He's helped every single one of us girls with everything that we've learned, besides what [Coach Wojcik] has taught us. It means a lot to him, so when I know that I made him proud, it just makes me emotional."
The Hurricanes won their first two playoff games without playing their best, but they turned up the heat against Sabis from the outset. It helped create open space for Gale on the wings, and she made the most of the chances in the early going.
The senior Hurricane made a pair of 3-pointers in the first 1 minute, 58 seconds, the second giving Hoosac a 9-3 lead. Madi Ryan made the other Hoosac trey.
Gale surfaced again midway through the second half with a drive from the right wing with her patented leaning hook shot. She found the basket again on the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1:39 left before halftime and then twice more a minute later to give her 11 in the first half, one shy of her total from the previous two playoff games.
She carried that momentum through halftime to start the third quarter with five straight points and give Hoosac a 37-20 lead with a free throw 1:15 into the quarter.
"Jenn's a senior. She had an awesome tournament last year. I know she may have struggled in one of the earlier games this year, but Jenn's just a seasoned veteran," Wojcik said. "We talked about her all week because in their zones and some of the different looks they gave, she's going to have some open looks on the perimeter."
Her points helped the Hurricanes out to a large lead, but she used her head to help cement the victory.
Sabis big Casie Thurber (6-foot-2) was proving to be a tough task in the paint, specifically on the glass. She quickly found herself in foul trouble, though, picking up her third with 4:44 to go before halftime and her fourth with 4:10 left in the third.
Gale knew the trouble the Bulldog was in and targeted her on a drive from the left wing and drew the crucial fifth foul. To add insult to injury, Gale made both free throws for a 44-28 lead with 3:21 left in the third.
"Well, she was definitely a big competitor," Gale said. "She scored a lot of big points. I think it made it a whole different game with her not there."
Gale wasn't done, adding another pair from the line before the quarter was over, and then went on another mini run early in the fourth.
Emily Rosse had just scored to restore a 17-point lead when Gale found room off the wing for a layup.
Then she broke free down the court, and Ryan found her with an outlet pass for an easy basket. She capped her game the same way it started, with a 3-pointer.
"We're a really flexible team," Rodowicz said. "We have multiple players that are really good, multiple players that can score 20, 30 points. So it's really good being able to have that many people on the court."
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