Photo Gallery | Hoosac Valley boys repeat as Western Mass. champions
AMHERST >> The Hoosac Valley boys basketball team spent the entire Western Massachusetts Division III final chasing a fast-paced Easthampton team around the court. Hoosac Coach Bill Robinson said the Hurricanes were fatigued and dealing with the tired legs the Eagles can inflict on their opponents.
But, leading by three points with the game in the balance, Hoosac's best athlete, Matt Koperniak, closed out hard on Zach Crisafulli, leaping into the air and blocking the potential tying basket. The play iced the game, clinching a 54-51 win and Hoosac's second straight Western Mass. title.
The Hurricanes advance to the D-III state semifinal. They'll face Oxford, the No. 1 seed from Central Mass, on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the DCU Center in Worcester.
"I didn't want to touch [Crisafulli] at all, so I jumped up to get a piece of it," Koperniak said of his game-sealing block. "I blew my coverage. He was wide open. I should've stayed in, but I recovered quick enough and was able to get a piece of the ball."
Koperniak's play was one of several clutch plays down the stretch. With one minute left in the game, Crisafulli's 3-pointer put the Eagles up by one. The 'Canes answered on a layup by Jameson Coughlan with 33.7 seconds left.
Crisafulli missed the potential tying and go-ahead free throws on the next possession, but Coughlan missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Easthampton the ball back with 20 seconds remaining.
For the senior Coughlan, he said he did not want to be the reason Easthampton had a shot at the win. On the Eagles' next possession, Coughlan stepped in front of a driving Ish Akanour, drawing the charge and sending the ball back to his team. Coughlan sank two free throws for the final points of the game, redeeming his early miss.
"I was down on myself," Coughlan said of missing the free throw late. "I get down in myself pretty easy, but my teammates picked me up. There was still time on the clock and we were up. We got a stop and I got back to the line."
Coughlan and the senior heavy Hurricanes credited their ability to keep their composure to their previous trips to the final. They withstood Easthampton's best shot and pulled away down the stretch.
The second half started tied at 26. Dahndray Sistrunk found Coughlan for a layup to open the third, but Easthampton answered with a 6-0 run, taking a 32-28 lead. Avery Hall ended the run with a basket, but Easthampton countered again, using a Raphael Coleman 3-pointer to take its largest lead of the game at five points.
The 'Canes did not panic, however, with Matt Carlow scoring off a Koperniak feed. And Koperiniak completing a 3-point play to tie the game at 35 with one minute left in the quarter. The teams entered the fourth tied at 37. Robinson said withstanding the Eagles' run kept the momentum on their side. Hall scored nine of his 12 points in the second half while Coughlan scored 12 of his game-high 18 points in the second half. He added nine rebounds as well.
"We had to stay on top," Robinson said. "If they got on top, they're like sharks. They see that blood and they go for it. ... Koperniak got a basket inside and that was big. If they got another basket, we might have gotten blown out, because we would've had to change what we do."
Hoosac dictated the tempo for a majority of the game. The 'Canes used the 3-pointer to control the game early, netting four treys in the first quarter. They led 15-8 after one. The Eagles did a better job of forcing turnovers in the second quarter, using Hoosac miscues to go on 7-2 and 9-2 runs, respectively. The latter rally put Easthampton up by one with 1:51 left in the half. Coughlan's 3-point play, followed by an Akanour jumper knotted the game at 26 after two.
"I don't know why we didn't have [our tempo] earlier," Easthampton coach Brian Miller said. "We had foul trouble, so we had Zach coming in and out of the game, which kind of disrupts our flow on offense. ... If we had picked up our defensive pressure [in the third] and extended, I think things would've been different."
Winning a second championship is a great accomplishment for Hoosac's seniors. The title is the ultimate peak in a up-and-down season. The Hurricanes got off to a 2-4 start, had a player leave the team and had to shuffle their lineup at times. They responded the way champions should, never pointing fingers and defending their Western Mass. crown.
"These kids are awesome," Robinson said. "Back-to-back titles. We were the five seed — the right seed. We just didn't play well this year.
"We got our act together. After our last game we had a nice long talk. The intensity level came up. ... These guys are special guys and they're mentally tough. That's what it comes down to, [being] mentally tough. That's why we won here today."
Hall 5-0-12, Rousseau 1-0-2, Carlow 2-1-5, Koperniak 5-1-13, McGrath 0-0-0, Lancia 0-0-0, Sistrunk 0-1-1, Barrow 1-0-2, Coughlan 7-4-18. Totals: 21-7-54
Pek 0-2-2, Coleman 4-0-13, Crisfulli 2-4-9, Akanour 3-0-6, Healy 2-2-7, Cheveille 6-2-14. Totals: 17-10-51
3-point goals — HV 4 (Hall 2, Koperniak 2). E 5 (Coleman 3, Crisafulli, Healy).
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252