DALTON, Mass. -- The Hoosac Valley girls' basketball team was a quarter and a half away from building on what has already been an impressive season. Wahconah, on the other hand, was a quarter and a half away from possibly seeing its postseason chances come to an end.
What happened in the next 12 minutes would change all of that, however, as the final quarter and a half played out a lot differently than the first 20 minutes of the game. The Hurricanes, led by a swarming full-court press and unselfish play on the offensive end, jumped out to a pair of 14-point leads in both the second and third quarters. Ron Wojcik's squad seemed to be sitting pretty when senior Tori Rumbolt finished off a lay in to give Hoosac a 36-22 lead midway through the third.
The Warriors changed up their defense and their fortunes, however, going on a 20-4 run from that point on to pull out a shocking 42-40 win at home on Thursday night. June Blake's squad won its third straight game to improve to 6-6 overall, rallying back to earn a much-needed victory in its quest for qualifying for the Division 2 Western Mass. tournament.
"At this point in our schedule, they are all very important games," Blake said. "We need some Ws to get us to that 10-win mark and tonight was a big win for us. We knew they definitely rattled us in that first half, but we definitely settled down in the second half and made better passes and better decisions with the basketball. Once we started becoming stronger with the basketball, we were able to capitalize on our opportunities."
Rattled might have been a little bit of understatement to describe Wahconah in the first half. The hosts were not on their game early on, thanks mainly to a smothering Hoosac defense that forced 15 first-half turnovers and helped the Hurricanes jump out of the gates with a quick 9-0 lead. The Warriors turned the ball over five times during that stretch, while Hoosac junior Jen Gale scored five of her team-high 14 points within the first couple minutes of the game.
"Things were a little rough," Wahconah's Katherine Lewis said. "We just needed to play as a team and get it together. [Coach told us] we just needed to be smart with the ball, work together and trust our teammates. It didn't matter we were down 14 points. We just needed to get back, try and pick it up and keep going."
Lewis was one of the lone bright spots for the Warriors in the first half. The sophomore forward was active on the boards, pulling down nine of her game-high 11 rebounds in the first two quarters. She also hit Wahconah's first field goal, a baseline jumper that sparked a 9-2 run which helped the hosts climb within two points after the first quarter.
The second quarter was all Hurricanes (10-4), who received three 3-pointers, one from Gale and two more from freshman Madison Ryan, on their way to outscoring the Warriors 17-9 in the frame. Sophomore forward Emily Rosse (six boards, six steals) also had a good second quarter, scoring seven of her 11 points in the frame and capping off the first half with a little hook shot off of an inbounds play as time expired. Her shot at the buzzer gave the visitors a 28-18 lead at the half and left the Warriors searching for answers.
"We knew we had to step it up, and we knew we weren't playing to the best of our ability," Wahconah senior Shannon Lussier said. "We wanted to shut them down [in the second half]. We just wanted to pick it up and play like we know how to play. We didn't want them to dominate the game because we knew we could beat them in the end."
Although they talked a mean game, the Warriors made it tough on themselves by receiving a five-second call on the first inbounds play of the second half. Hoosac took advantage of the hosts' slow start, again forcing Wahconah into several turnovers in the second half and building its lead up to 14 points on three different occasions. That's when Blake switched her team's defense, however, and the move paid off just in the nick of time.
"We switched to a 1-3-1 half-court trap," Blake said. "We were just looking to pressure the basketball a little bit more. They were getting some easy looks, especially on their flex cuts, and they were getting some good opportunities in the paint, so our goal was to eliminate those. We also wanted to speed them up a little bit after they spent the whole first half speeding us up."
It didn't seem like much, but a 1-for-2 showing at the foul line by senior captain Gabby Lavinio was the first domino to fall in what turned out to be a 20-4 run for the Warriors to end the game. Wahconah first closed out the third quarter with an 8-0 stretch, highlighted by some nice passes by Lavinio (seven points, eight rebounds, six assists) and a momentum-swinging play from Lussier at the end of the quarter. With just a few seconds left and teammate Maddie Sprague at the foul line, Lussier fought her way to the rebound after Sprague missed her second shot. She went underneath the basket, popped up on the left side and swished a baseline floater to pull her team within six points heading into the fourth quarter.
"I just wanted to get the shot up," Lussier said. "I knew there was only like a second left, so I just wanted to try to get it in."
Lussier added four more points in the fourth quarter, helping her finish with a game-high 15 points to go along with 10 rebounds. With her team down four points, Lussier first sank a runner off of pass from Katie Dumas before calmly sinking a pair of free throws to tie the score at 40 points apiece with 3:12 left showing on the clock.
"Her shot at the buzzer was huge," Blake said. "It gave us all of the momentum going into the fourth quarter. I couldn't say enough about how she played in the second half."
After a miss by the Hurricanes on the other end, Lewis capped off the comeback by tracking down an offensive rebound on a shot that smacked off of the front of the rim. The ball came right back to her with her feet set, and Lewis wasted zero time going back up with a short jumper. The ball barely touched net to give Wahconah a two-point lead, and neither team would score again over the final two and half minutes of the game.
"I was just hoping it goes in," Lewis said. "I just shot the ball. It's what you do at practice, so it's what you have to do in the games."
Hoosac had its chances in the final couple of minutes, but Rosse missed a turnaround in the paint and Lavinio came up with a huge offensive rebound with a minute left to play. That led to a pair of missed free throws by Sprague, giving the 'Canes a few good looks at either tying or winning the game. Gale got off a couple of good 3-point attempts, but both of them were slightly off the mark.
Although his team had won three straight and eight out of nine games, Wojcik had trouble seeing the positives in Thursday's outcome. Hoosac had a good North Division team on the ropes in its own gym and was unable to finish off the job.
"It doesn't matter how we played in the first half," Wojcik said. "You have to put two halves together. They went to the 1-3-1 half-court trap and we didn't handle it. I thought once we got out of sync offensively, for whatever reason, we stopped playing defensively, too. I thought it was a combination of the two things but, really, there's no excuse for that.
"I thought it was just poor on our part. You can't play 20 minutes against a good team and expect to win the game. They've played enough basketball now where they need to play better than that. We'll keep plugging away, but you can't let games like that get away."
Lussier had a slightly different take on Thursday's game.
"It feels awesome," she said. "It's just a big pick up for our team. We played together, and we won tonight."