Hoosac Valley girls best Wahconah to win Western Mass. D-III title

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GILLIAN JONES - THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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AMHERST — Sports are about moments. The Hoosac Valley girls basketball program is rich with those moments, and entered the Western Massachusetts Division III championship game against Wahconah winning sectional titles in six of the last seven years. The defending D-III state champions wrote another chapter, winning their second-straight Western Mass. title with a 43-30 win over the top-seed Wahconah Warriors at the Curry Hicks Cage.

Playing against one of your biggest rivals in the loudest atmosphere Western Mass., comes with some nerves, but 10-year coach of the Hurricanes, Ron Wojcik, had the perfect remedy.

"Wahconah is a great team, and everyone, including ourselves thought this would be a barn burner," Wojcik said. "If you got nerves — play defense. If you can get them out defensively, then you can play."

Early in the game, the third-seeded Hurricanes did just that, holding the Warriors scoreless in the first quarter.

"We've been focusing hard on defense," senior captain Sarah Field said. "We have had [former players] come to practice and help us play quicker. It's paid off, especially in the Western Mass. finals."

Fellow senior captain Riley Robinson was rolling early with four quick points, including a put-back that gave the Hurricanes a 6-0 lead half way through the first quarter. However, that would be it for the Hurricane guard.

"If you look at our stats, we have no one averaging 10 points per game," coach Wojcik said. "I think it makes us tougher to guard and different kids step up."

Annie Canales and Gabby Billetz did just that. Canales opened the bank from beyond the arc to end the first quarter, giving the Hurricanes the 11-0 lead. Billetz, on the other hand, scored two points and captured five rebounds in the quarter and was fearless every step of the way with her willingness to dive onto the court and fight for possessions.

"I love a tough kid," Robinson said. "She is not afraid of anything or anyone and I'll take that over a shooter any day. She did amazing on the boards and she was great on the switches. She had my back and I had hers, it was great."

Hoosac Valley was clearly clicking on defense, holding the Warriors scoreless in the first quarter, and to just three points until there were two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

"I thought the communication was good," Wojcik said. "We knew who their shooters are and both [teams] know each other pretty well. Morgan [Marauszwski] and [Noelle] Furlong, we wanted to be out on them and then Robinson, Billetz, and Shaleigh [Levesque] were on Maria [Gamberoni]. We told them we had to switch on screens, help against Maria and make their fifth player beat us. I thought the girls did a great job."

The Warriors, even when they had open looks, couldn't get anything to fall. The game started much like Wahconah's semifinal bout with Sabis, with Gamberoni snagging her first of four steals in the outing. On the other end, though, her layup danced around the rim before falling out. The Warrior junior finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

"Do the controllables," Wahconah coach Liz Kay said of her halftime speech. "If the ball doesn't fall, there is nothing you can do about it. We were down 39-9 [in Hoosac] at halftime, so we knew how to fight through it — we just had to fight through it.

"We would go on a run and they would respond. That's a credit to their kids."

Hoosac Valley found good looks from outside, but they weren't falling early. That changed when Field and Averie McGrath hit from deep on back-to-back trips down the court to give the Hurricanes a 17-2 lead with 3:46 left in the first half.

"We had a bunch of plays for whether they were going to play us with a zone or man defense," Field explained.

Hoosac Valley was in control for most of the game, but those plays came in handy late.

Jilly Cote ignited the Warriors with eight points in the second half and a 3-pointer from Emma Belcher, along with Gamberoni free throws, cut the Hurricane to lead to 10 with 6:27 left in championship bout

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From there, Hoosac Valley showcased its shooting ability.

McGrath, who made a name for herself as a freshmen in last year's state championship game, brought the Hurricanes home with an eight-point fourth quarter. Two of her threes, and one more from Canales, all came off of Robinson assists.

"I am really proud of Gabby [Billetz] and Averie [McGrath], today was big for them" Wojcik said. "Canales made the big 3-pointer late. She's been struggling with her shot a bit, but I am really happy for her. She is a shooter and really stepped up."

Robinson finished with four assists and seven rebounds, and McGrath was the game's leading scorer with 11 points. Meanwhile, Levesque, Field and Canales each had six points.

"I was probably the most nervous I've ever been coming into today," Field said, "but I am so happy to be headed home as a Western Mass. championship as a senior captain."

"When you come to Hoosac Valley, there are big expectations," Robinson added. "It was our biggest goal of the year and I think a lot of people expected us to be here, but it takes a lot of grit and a lot of heart.

"I am so proud of the girls I play with."

The story doesn't end here, though. The Hurricanes are headed to the state tournament and will face a familiar for in Millbury, a team they lost to back on Jan. 17.

"Defensively, I thought we played well against them early in the year," coach Wojcik said. "They pass the ball well. We'll make some adjustments and if we can make our shots, we can definitely play with them."

The time and date of the MIAA state semifinal is yet to be determined.

———

HOOSAC VALLEY (43)

Canales 2-0-6, Billetz 3-1-7, Garabedian 1-0-2, Levesque 2-2-6, Winn 0-0-0, Robinson 2-0-4, Hugger 0-1-1, Bird 0-0-0, McGrath 3-2-11, Field 2-0-6. Totals 15-6-43

WAHCONAH (30)

Belcher 1-0-3, Cote 3-2-8, Furlong 3-0-9, Gagliardi 0-0-0, Gamberoni 4-2-10, Marauszwski 0-0-0, Morris 0-0-0. Totals 11-4-30.

Hoosac Valley     11     9     6     17     —      

Wahconah     0     3     10     17     —     30

3-point goals — HV 7 (McGrath 3, Canales 2, Field 2); W 4 (Furlong 3, Belcher 1)

Jake Mendel can be reached at jmendel@berkshireeagle.com, at @JMendel94 on Twitter and 413-496-6252.


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