WORCESTER — The DCU Center has never been the kindest venue to the Hoosac Valley girls basketball team.
The Hurricanes made sure that trend didn't continue Tuesday, as Hoosac smashed Littleton, 64-37, in the MIAA Division III semifinals.
Entering with an 0-3 record in the venue during their current four-year run into the state tournament, the Hurricanes came out slow on offense early, but a 30-6 third quarter allowed the Hurricanes to balloon out a 10-point lead into a decisive 59-25 lead after three.
"It was really awesome," senior Cassidy McMahon said of the quarter. "At halftime, we knew it was our time to make a run. So we just went out there and made our run."
As has been the staple for Hoosac, the Hurricanes did it with their press.
Hoosac forced 30 Littleton turnovers in the game, and 11 of them came in the third. Playing a Littleton team that is traditionally more used to a half-court set, players on Hoosac noticed the Tigers struggling to cope with the pace.
"Well, we kind of noticed that they were getting tired," junior Fallon Field said about the approach out of the break. "Our press really exploited that they aren't used to playing a fast-paced game. Our coaches told us that they thought we could push the lead, so we went out in the third quarter and tried to do it."
Field, who finished with a game-high 19 in the win, had 16 points in that quarter. Littleton scored the first basket of the third on a Sarah Smith putback, but then the Hurricanes hung up 21 straight points to take a 50-21 lead.
In the run, Hoosac had three baskets come directly off of steals. Madi Ryan hit Field on the same over-the-top pass on two different possessions for buckets, and the prettiest play of the day came when Field took a steal, turned it up court to Alie Mendel who then bounced it to Ryan for the finish.
"Our offensive sets worked really nicely, Fallon was wide open," Ryan said. "Our defensive pressure was great, we didn't make many mistakes, and that's really why we picked up the lead so much."
But before the Hurricanes could get to the barnstorming third, they had to weather some early jitters.
Perhaps feeling the 0-3 record hanging over their heads, Hoosac struggled to knock down shots early, and with five minutes gone in the first, Hoosac led just 7-6.
Littleton, winning the rebounding battle, was able to minimize the damage of their 12 first-quarter turnovers.
Then, the Hurricanes got a spark from their bench.
First it was Skylar Case, stepping up and drilling a corner 3-pointer on a pass from Ryan to make it 10-6. After one, Hoosac led 11-6, and in the second Case hit another 3-pointer to make it 18-9.
Littleton kept hanging around and trimmed the deficit to seven when Erin Dorety converted on a pass from Smith, but then Lexi Mercier — another key reserve for Hoosac — drilled a pair of 3-pointers in a 30-second span to push the lead back up to 28-15.
"We always rely on our subs, we always say that our subs have to come in with more energy than our starters, and they did that very well today," Ryan said. "Fallon and I weren't hitting our shots, but they came out and got our offense going."
At halftime, Hoosac led 29-19.
For Littleton coach Rick Hastings, he was happy with how his Tigers hung around in the first half before the third quarter got to his side.
"We've defended and rebounded well as a team [all season]," Hastings said. "Nerves, I think, at the start of the game, we could have had a couple of additional hoops early. Give [Hoosac] all the credit, they ran away from us in the third quarter."
Out of halftime, Field answered Smith's initial basket to get the Hurricanes off and running.
Hoosac coach Ron Wojcik said it might have been the best quarter he's seen one of his teams play.
Wojcik was also pleased with how his team played defense.
"I thought maybe we had an advantage with our press and our speed," Wojcik said, "getting on them and getting up and down the court. I was kind of hoping that would pay off, and I thought, defensively, the kids did a great job in the first half, we just couldn't finish and score. Once we got it going, I didn't realize we scored 30 points in the third quarter."
Field finished with six rebounds and three steals in the win. Ryan had five assists and seven points, and Mendel finished with 13 points, five assists and two steals. For Littleton, Smith had six rebounds and a block, and Dorey had 12 points and nine boards.
Hoosac now advances to its third-straight state championship game against a third different Catholic school. The Hurricanes played St. Mary's (Lynn) two years ago and Archbishop Williams last season.
This time, Hoosac will play Bishop Fenwick in the championship game on Saturday at a time and site to be determined. The MIAA will release the championship schedule Wednesday.
This moment, though, has been what the Hurricanes were working to all season.
"I don't think I've ever been more hungry for anything," McMahon said of pursuing an elusive state championship. "I think we are all ready to make history for our school, so we are going to hope for the best."
HOOSAC VALLEY (64)
Mercier 2-0-6, F. Field 7-3-19, Vincent 0-0-0, Halverson 0-0-0, Garabedian 1-0-2, McMahon 0-0-0, E. Field 1-0-2, Ryan 2-1-5, Mendel 5-4-15, Case 2-0-6, Barrow 0-0-0, Frederick 2-1-5. Totals 24-9-64.
Barbella 0-0-0, Pyram 0-0-0, Wilson 0-0-0, Bell 0-0-0, Portante 0-0-0, Sturtz 1-0-2, Dorey 5-3-14, Smith 7-3-17, Gouldrup 1-2-4. Totals 14-8-37.
3-point goals — HV 7 (Field 2, Mercier 2, Case 2, Mendel), L 1 (Dorey).