Hoosac Heads Back to Western Mass Final
AMHERST, Mass. -- Midway through the second quarter on Wednesday night, Hoosac Valley senior Alie Mendel hit a 3-pointer from the left wing, turned and flashed a million dollar smile toward the Hurricanes’ student section at the other end of the floor.
She’s hit the shot hundreds of times before.
But it’s not every night that it comes in the middle of an 18-0 run to give her team a 29-point half-time lead in the Western Massachusetts semi-finals and against its biggest nemesis in Berkshire County.
So, yeah, it was kind of a big deal.
“I just felt like everybody was on,” Mendel said after Hoosac Valley beat Wahconah, 56-32, to advance to Saturday’s sectional final. “It was a good game defensively and offensively, and I just felt like that gave us a boost to show revenge for last year.”
The second-seeded Hurricanes (18-4) repaid Wahconah for 2018’s loss at Curry Hicks Cage and set up a date on Saturday afternoon against fourth-seeded Greenfield (19-3), which edged No. 1 South Hadley, 55-53, in Wednesday’s nightcap.
Hoosac Valley also repaid Wahconah for a two-point loss at Wahconah early last month, a loss that eventually forced a tie for the Berkshire County North Division title between the two squads.
After scoring 44 points in the game on Feb. 2 at Wahconah, the Hurricanes had 37 points in the first half on Wednesday night.
“In Dalton, I feel like we forced too many 3s,” Mendel said. “Today, we looked more inside and then came out to the 3s as a second option. And our 3s were hitting, so that made it that much better.”
Mendel hit three 3-pointers on the way to a 23-point night, and Lexi Mercier (21 points) connected four times from beyond the arc.
In that 18-0 run? Mendel scored the first 11 points, and then Mercier scored the next seven -- five on buckets assisted by Mendel passes.
“I think we get each other going,” Mercier said. “Like she’ll get going or I’ll get going, and then the other one will start following. We’ll keep each other going through the rest of the game.”
Is there ever any friendly competition between the two 1,000-point scorers?
“No, we don’t,” Mendel said with a smile. “But I feel like walking in and us playing together for the past four years and knowing that any game can be our last game together makes us work that much harder.”
The Hurricanes also worked hard on the defensive end.
Third-seeded Wahconah (19-3) likes playing a defensive-minded game. It hasn’t scored 60 points in a competitive contest all winter.
But the eight points in the first half was eye-popping, especially for anyone not used to seeing the Hurricanes play anything but the full-court pressure that has been their bread and butter for years.
On Wednesday, it was all about Hoosac Valley’s stifling half-court defense.
“We just put a game plan together that was a little different than our usual press and go after them the whole time,” Hoosac Valley coach Ron Wojcik said. “I just felt that Maria [Gamberoni] is such a strong guard and a strong player that we kind of went with the approach the last week and a half to kind of take her away, rather than go with our press and open up the court.
“We were going to work our press in if this didn’t work, but we said: Let’s go with that approach first.”
Wahconah’s Maria Gamberoni ended up with four points and four assists to go with a team-high eight rebounds. Abbie Steinman scored eight -- six in the second half. And Victoria Gamberoni scored six on a pair of 3-pointers.
Wahconah was down by as many as 34 in the second half when Sarah Field (seven points) scored with an assist from Averie McGrath to make it 46-12.
From there, Wahconah kept fighting to make it more respectable, outscoring Hoosac Valley 20-10 in the final 12 minutes of the game.
“I thought we really fought in the second half,” Wahconah coach Liz Kay said. “The ball didn’t necessarily go in and whatever. But, it’s easy to play that hard when you’re ahead by 20. It’s not so hard when you’re down by 30.
“I thought we had a lot of fight in us, and, to me, that’s much more important than the score at the end.”
Fight and family are things that Kay talks about a lot, and while she wanted to win and get back to the sectional final on Saturday, she really wanted to be able to get back in the gym and practice with her team on Thursday afternoon.
“Every coach says it, hopefully if it’s a good coach: It really has nothing to do with the loss,” Kay said. “It’s just not being able to spend more time in the gym with them. My seniors are awesome. To not be able to spend more time in the gym with them is tough. But it’s also a great transition because now I get to be their friend.
“I actually, wasn’t really in tears until I saw a player here [after the game] who played for me 12 years ago. She gave me a hug, and that’s the end of it, right? Because that’s really what it’s all about.
“Somebody has to lose. At some point, you’re probably gonna. But they’re not going to remember this time right now. They’re going to remember that we had one heck of a year.”