AMHERST — Hoosac Valley boys basketball coach Bill Robinson called the Sabis Bulldogs his team's kryptonite. Previous Hoosac team's struggled with the Bulldogs' athleticism and outside shooting, however, it didn't take super human strength for the Hurricanes to finally defeat their nemesis. This year's team used a perfectly executed game plan and strong team play to earn 59-48 win in the semifinals of the Western Massachusetts Division III semifinals. The 'Canes advance to Western Mass finals to face No. 2 seed Easthampton Saturday at 4 p.m. It's the team's third straight finals appearance.
"We haven't been able to beat them," Robinson said. "This isn't the Kamali Bey and Andre King teams of the past. Or the team that beat us two years ago. We thought we could matchup with them, but it was the glass. We had to matchup with them on the glass and, if we could do that, we could play with them."
Sabis' trio of 6-foot-5 Tyler Griffin, 6-foot-4 Jahleel Gabriel and 6-foot-2 Justin Rennis did a good job controlling the rebounds, but Hoosac used pressure to attack its guards and force turnovers. After trailing by three at the end of the first quarter, the 'Canes forced eight second-quarter turnovers, sparking a 14-4 run. Avery Hall found Matt Carlow for a jumper to cap the run. Hoosac won the turnover battle by a 22-14 margin.
Late in the quarter, the teams exchanged baskets before Matt Koperniak found Jameson Coughlan for an easy basket off a steal. Carlow ended the half with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, putting Hoosac up 13.
Koperniak's ability to attack the basket was key for Hoosac. Once the Bulldogs tried to take him away, opportunities for Coughlan and other players opened up. Koperniak led all scorers with 28 points. He had seven rebounds and two assists as well. Coughlan added 15 points and 10 rebounds.
"Everybody on our team can play," Coughlan said, "We're not a two-man show or a four-man show — we can all play. We all needed to put together a team effort and we executed on that."
In the second half, Sabis' turnover problems continued. Hoosac's gameplan to sag off shooters and clog the lane took away drives to the basket, forcing tough outside shots. The Bulldogs found some success dumping down low to Griffin for baskets in the third. He scored all 12 of his points in the third quarter, bringing them within seven.
Carlow's assist to Coughlan, followed by a Koperniak 3-point play put Hoosac up 12 to start the fourth. Needing to play catchup, Sabis could not connect from deep. Hoosac's free throw shooting closed out the game.
"They're good with pressure. We're used to what we saw, but we didn't handle it well," Sabis coach John Williams said. "We had key turnovers in the first half and they out-played us. They were more aggressive and we were stagnant offensively.
"Any time you've got to comeback against a good team like Hoosac it's going to be difficult. ... You find yourself pressing and you're not going to get 13 points with one shot." Up next for Hoosac is a feisty Easthampton team. Robinson said handling the press will be key. He added the Eagles' pressure is unlike anything his team has seen. Strong ball-handling from 'Canes guards will be paramount.
Hall 0-2-2, Levesque 0-0-0, Carlow 2-0-5, Koperniak 10-8-28, McGrath 0-1-1, Lancia 1-0-3, Sistrunk 1-0-3, Barrow 1-0-2, Coughlan 6-3-15. Totals: 21-14-59
Rodriguez 1-0-2, Colon 1-0-3, Settles 4-2-12, Hytmah 1-0-3, Griffin 6-0-12, Gabriel 2-1-5, Rennis 5-1-11. Totals: 20-4-48
3-point goals — HV 3 (Koperniak, Sistrunk, Carlow). S 4 (Settles 2, Colon, Hytmah).
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252