Right to repeat: Hoosac Valley girls basketball beats Millbury to advance back to MIAA Division III state championship game
SPRINGFIELD — The only direction is down after reaching the top of the mountain. The Hoosac Valley girls aren't ready to accept that fate just yet, though, and will have a chance to defend their title of MIAA Division III state champions after topping Millbury 42-38 at Western New England University on Tuesday night.
With two seconds left, the Woolies had a shot to tie the state semifinal game at 41, but Sarah Field came up with a big-time block for the Hurricanes.
"It was a great feeling [for Field to block it]," senior Shaleigh Levesque said. "We are usually outsized... we're used it.
"[Millbury] beat us in the Hoophall [Classic back on Jan. 17] by roughly 20, so we were pumped to come in as the underdog."
The Hurricanes embraced the role of underdogs throughout the contest and produced a few key-comebacks to complete the upset, so to speak.
Two turnovers by the Woolies early in the second quarter sparked the first run, despite Hoosac trailing 21-10.
Annie Canales took advantage of both turnovers, converting them into four points, before sophomore Averie McGrath knocked down her second basket of the night and suddenly the score was 22-17.
McGrath was forced into action as a freshmen in last year's state championship and rose to the challenge. With a year of experience as a starter under a belt, she came up big in the state tournament once again, finishing with a game-high 13 points.
"I embrace [the pressure of the big stage] a lot more [than I feel nervous]," McGrath said. "It is great to prove [the opposing crowd] wrong, especially when its because we all came together and worked like a unit."
The Hurricanes played as a unit for most of the outing, especially on the defensive side.
"I thought the difference in the last few quarters was that we got after it like we did against Wahconah on Saturday," Hoosac coach Ron Wojcik said. "We got up in people's faces and forced a couple turnovers. All of a sudden, they weren't getting clean looks and everything was rushed a bit."
After Millbury extended its lead to 29-24 in the third quarter, the Woolies called a timeout. Coming out of the break, the Hurricanes not only commanded the remaining 1 minute and 30 seconds remaining in the frame, but they alo took their first lead.
Riley Robinson found Sarah Field for three points, cutting the deficit to two. After a stop on the other end, it was McGrath from deep, making the score 30-29. Despite a basket from the Woolies, Field ended the quarter with two free throws and the Hurricanes held a one-point lead with a quarter to play.
It is nice to have flashy scorers, but it is more important to take what is given to you, especially at the charity stripe.
"We've been shooting [free throws] so poorly [coming into the game]," Wojcik said. "The girls have been shooting 50 or 100 a day.
"It is good to hit a couple 3's, but layups and free throws are going to win games like this."
For two talented teams, offense was at a premium in the fourth quarter. Up until the 3:12 mark, Robinson, who finished with eight points, was responsible for both of Hoosac's baskets. In fact, those were the team's only two baskets in the entire quarter, but the Hurricanes knocked down seven of nine free throw attempts in the quarter and finished 19-23 at the stripe.
On the other side, Millbury was 5-12 at the line, with three misses coming in the fourth quarter.
Following the aforementioned late block by Field, the senior herself was sent to the line and made one of her two attempts, extending the lead to four and putting the Woolies away for good.
Millbury jumped out to a commanding lead early on the shoulders of Morgan Cronan and Cameron Willbur down low. The duo combined for 10 points and four rebounds in the first quarter, helping the Woolies to an eight-point advantage.
"In the first quarter they jumped us and shot the ball well," Wojcik said. "I thought we did a good job boxing out [following the first quarter], you have to against a big team like that. They can all shoot the 3-ball well, so you can't really help off anyone.
"Everybody had to do their job and contain their girl, then its 1-1 in the post."
Thing certainly changed after that first quarter as Millbury's big-two combined for just seven points for the remainder of the game.
Freshmen Gabby Billetz brought down eight rebounds on the night, with five coming in the second half, paired with six made free-throws. Levesque added four points and five rebounds.
Saturday's state championship game could be a rematch of last year's bout, but St. Mary's doesn't play until Wednesday against Rockland.
For the Hurricanes, it doesn't matter if its the team they defeated a season ago, they're zoned in with the underdog mindset.
"I think it is good to come in as an underdog," Levesque said. "Once you're in the tournament, it doesn't matter. Each team could be your last."
"We know what it is like [to play for a state championship]," McGrath added. "We just have to stick with it and keep working hard."
HOOSAC VALLEY (42)
Canales 2-0-4, Billetz 0-6-6, Garabedian 0-0-0, Levesque 1-2-4, Robinson 3-2-8, Hugger 0-0-0, Bird 0-0-0, McGrath 2-7-13, Field 2-1-7. Totals 10-18-42.
Ke. Turner 0-0-0, K. Reno 1-2-5, Ka. Turner 1-0-3, Paulhaus 0-0-0, S. Reno 2-1-5, Vincequere 0-0-0, Phillipo 3-1-7, Wilbur 5-0-10, Cronan 3-1-7, Hermans 0-0-0. Totals 15-5-38.
Hoosac Valley 10 9 13 10 — 42
Millbury 18 7 6 7 — 38
3-point goals —HV 4 (McGrath 2, Field 2); M 3 (K. Reno, Ka. Turner, S. Reno).
Jake Mendel can be reached at email@example.com, at @JMendel94 on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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