Photo Gallery | Hoosac Valley girls win WMass semifinal over Hampshire
AMHERST — Experience and trust are two intangibles that only come over time, but when they finally arrive they can be a team's best weapon.
On the doorstep of a fourth consecutive Western Mass. championship game, the Hoosac Valley girls basketball team trusted itself enough to radically change their gameplan, and their experience in big-game situations paid off down the stretch in a 60-49 win over No. 3 Hampshire in the D-III semifinals Wednesday night.
The Hurricanes switched out of their press-heavy defensive sets and pitched their tent in the halfcourt, selling out to double Hampshire's Katy O'Connor and Chelsea Moussette. While the Red Raiders stuck around into the fourth quarter, in the end the No. 2 Hurricanes figured out a way to finish off the game.
"I thought the kids really executed the gameplan well," Hoosac coach Ron Wojcik said. "The key was our defense on Moussette and O'Connor. The kids did a great job with it, so we kind of got out of our normal pressing but I was really pleased with what the kids did tonight."
O'Connor managed to be effective for Hampshire, and played a big part in keeping her team around. The junior scored a game-high 17 points, but 11 came in the first half and O'Connor had just one field goal in the fourth quarter.
"I thought we did a great job [on O'Connor]," Wojcik said. "I thought she had to work hard for those [points]...Between Fallon [Field], Cassidy [McMahon] and [Kailynne Frederick] in the back, they just did great."
Offensively, the Hurricanes spread the ball around effectively. Field, in particular, played distributor and finisher with 14 points and six assists. Frederick put up 14 points and came down with seven boards, and freshman Alie Mendel provided 16 points, including 12 in the first half that got the team going.
"We've been telling [Mendel] that she needs to bring offense," senior Madi Ryan said of her backcourt partner. "She knows how to get to the rim, she's a big spark. I love it when she has good games."
Hoosac started off hot, but had to weather several Hampshire runs at the lead. After a Field 3-pointer put the Hurricanes up 8-0 early, Hampshire clawed back into the game and tied it up at 14-14 on a Katelyn Pickunka bucket. Before the quarter could end, though, Ryan banked in a 3-pointer to put Hoosac up.
In the second, Hampshire grabbed the lead at 18-17 on a Lexi Turgeon bucket, but a 9-2 run capped by a Mendel finish put Hoosac back up 26-20.
Hampshire mustered another response before the break, but after O'Connor put the Red Raiders up 30-29, Skylar Case made her lone bucket of the night on a half-court heave before the horn to make it 32-30 at halftime.
"We knew nerves were going to be a piece of [the start], and you saw it at the start," Hampshire coach Amy Cyr said. "Then, all of a sudden, [we managed to] calm down and take care of the basketball, [take] high percentage shots and we were right back into it."
In the second half, Hoosac Valley built up a nine-point lead midway through the third on a coast-to-coast finish from Field, but again Hampshire pulled close again. Whittling down the deficit throughout the third and into the fourth, Hampshire trailed 49-47 when O'Connor hit a pair of free throws.
They got no closer.
Ryan hit Field on a beautiful pass the next time down the court, then Field hit a floater off a Hampshire miss to make it 53-47 with 4:32 to go. Hampshire got one more bucket from O'Connor with just over three minutes to go, but that was the last of Hampshire's scoring. Hoosac scored the rest of its points at the line, going 7 of 13 to round out the scoring.
Ryan finished with seven points, six rebounds and three assists. For Hampshire, O'Connor finished with 14 rebounds and three blocks. Moussette had five points and five assists, while Turgeon finished with 12.
The win sets up a championship game against No. 4 Drury, a team Hoosac has beaten twice this season, on Saturday back at the Cage. For Ryan and McMahon, the game will be deja vu to a time long ago. When the pair were freshmen, Hoosac beat Drury in the Western Mass. D-II championship game to start Hoosac's incredible run.
Ryan's aware what's at stake on Saturday. She also knows the team just has to trust itself in order to get the job done.
"I'm really excited [to play Drury]," Ryan said. "We know how we need to play with them, so we just have to go in with a lot of confidence, and I think we can do it."
Moussette 2-0-5, Turgeon 5-0-12, Buzzee 1-0-3, Pickunka 5-0-10, C. O'Connor 1-0-2, K. O'Connor 7-2-17. Totals 21-2-49.
HOOSAC VALLEY (60)
Mercier 1-0-3, F. Field 6-2-15, McMahon 1-0-2, Ryan 1-4-7, Mendel 5-5-16, Case 1-0-3, Frederick 5-3-14. Totals 20-14-60.
3-point goals — HR 4 (Turgeon 2, Buzzee, K. O'Connor), HV 5 (Mercier, Field, Ryan, Mendel, Frederick).
Contact Geoff Smith at 413-496-6254.