Photo Gallery: Hoosac Valley wins state D-III semifinal
SPRINGFIELD -- When it came down to it, the Hoosac Valley girls basketball team executed.
The Hurricanes were on the verge of letting a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead slip away. What pulled them through wasn't scoring, but rather connecting on inbounds passes.
Hoosac got the ball inbounds three times with less than 10 seconds left to secure a 54-52 victory over Bellingham in a Division III state semifinal at the MassMutual Center on Tuesday.
"It's incredible. I couldn't be prouder of my team," senior Meg Rodowicz said. "We played such a great game. We didn't give up and we just stuck to it through the end."
It's the first time in program history the Hoosac girls are headed to a state final. They play St. Mary's of Lynn at the DCU Center in Worcester on Saturday at 10:45 a.m.
"It was very aggressive, but the feeling at the end was amazing. We're going to the state finals," sophomore Madi Ryan said. "It just feels amazing. We made history."
Bellingham had scored the last five points to pull within 54-52 with 2 minutes to play on Kristen Swain's layup of an inbounds pass.
The Hoosac defense came up strong from that point on and received a little help from a missed free throw to seal the win.
"It's very nerve-wracking. We haven't really been introduced to that or had that all season," said senior Jenn Gale (12 points). "Very, very proud of my team for not giving up."
Emily Rosse (12 points) was struggling to find the basket offensively, but was coming up with blocks on the defensive end to make up for it. Her last one came on Bellingham's leading scorer, Sabrina Ulsh (24 points), with 1:20 to play. Then Rosse came down with the rebound on a missed free throw, which was the front end of a 1-and-1.
On both plays, she took care of the ball and made the outlet pass to send Hoosac moving down the court.
She had turned the ball over a few times trying to do the same thing earlier in the game.
The second one led to a pair of Hoosac timeouts and eventually a steal by Bellingham's Meghan Smith-Casey with about 10 seconds left. Gale returned the favor at half court with 7.2 seconds to go. That's when Hoosac converted on three consecutive inbounds passes, the final one ending up in McKenzie Robinson's hands as time expired.
"It's an awesome feeling, an awesome thing to accomplish, but we're not done. We're nowhere near done," Robinson said. "We're going to prepare, do our practices and we're going to leave it all out there and show them what Hoosac basketball is."
It was the first time in more than two months Hoosac found itself in a game that close. The last one was during its winter break trip to Walt Disney World when it played Austintown-Fitch (Ohio). The result went the other way on that day.
Hoosac coach Ron Wojcik said Austintown-Fitch made the plays down the stretch to pull away in that game. Hoosac didn't make baskets to secure the win Tuesday, but had run out to a big enough lead in the third quarter (16 points) to make it hold up when the offense went quiet in the fourth.
The Hurricanes scored all 10 fourth-quarter points in the first 4:46, the final three coming on a 3-pointer from Gale.
What Hoosac did convert on were the often-overlooked inbounds passes. The kicker for Wojcik was Hoosac was out of timeouts.
"I thought the girls did an awesome job. It showed, I thought, their experience in a pressure situation being able to do it, running plays that we had run in practice, realistically two weeks ago, before the tournament and doing it without me calling a timeout," he said. "I called ‘Stack,' I called ‘Elbows,' and the girls ran the sets and got the ball in. It was a great job on their part."
For the second straight game, Wojcik used Rodowicz in the low post to give Rosse some help with the other bigs. Bellingham had two players listed at 6-foot-1. In the Western Mass. championship, Rodowicz's efforts were concentrated on rebounding and passing in the paint.
On Tuesday, she found her scoring touch and finished with a team-high 13 points, nine of which came in the third quarter.
"They kind of shut down Rosse and Jenn," Rodowicz said. "So we all had to step up and fill in their shoes."
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