ADAMS, Mass. — The Hoosac Valley girls' basketball team gets a rare shot at redemption on Thursday, an opportunity to return the favor to the same team that eliminated the Hurricanes from the postseason one year ago.
Last year, an up-and-coming Hoosac squad got the attention of top-seeded Mahar, pushing the Senators into double overtime before finally running out of gas in a 57-55 loss in the Division 2 Western Mass. quarterfinals.
The eighth-seeded Hurricanes played a little beyond their years, pushing Mahar to the brink before a two-point period in double overtime eventually did Hoosac in.
One year later, Ron Wojcik's team is a little deeper, a little wiser and a lot more experienced going into Thursday's semifinal rematch against the sixth-seeded Senators (18-4). The matchup is much more even this year, as the No. 7 Hurricanes (17-5) don't have the disadvantage of playing on Mahar's home court. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Curry Hicks Cage on the campus of UMass-Amherst.
"Our girls are looking forward to playing them because of last year's loss," Wojcik said. "They graduated their whole front line from last year, so we should have an advantage inside with [Emily] Rosse."
Wojcik admitted his team's inexperience probably cost Hoosac in last year's loss to Mahar. Rosse was just a freshman last season but still managed a game-high 25 points and 18 rebounds against the Senators' defense. The sophomore center could have another big game on Thursday after leading the 'Canes in both points (11.41 ppg) and rebounds (7.45 rpg) this year.
Hoosac's offense is more diverse than it was a season ago. Junior guard Jenn Gale has developed into a consistent scorer and serious 3-point threat (38 threes on the year), while classmate Megan Rodowicz (6.73 ppg) is a versatile player that can score from both inside and out. Add in the fact that backup guards Madison Ryan and Amber Lesure are more than capable of hitting outside shots off of the bench, and Mahar has a lot of different players it has to defend.
The Senators have played some familiar opponents on their way to the Cage. They first defeated Frontier for the third time this season with a 44-39 win in the first round. After losing to No. 3 Athol twice during the regular season, Mahar finally broke through with a 46-38 road win over the Red Raiders in Friday's quarterfinal round.
The Hurricanes defeated a pair Bi-County East teams on the way to the semifinals, first stopping No. 10 Palmer 49-36 on Tuesday. Hoosac then went on the road and did what it couldn't do last year; upset a higher-ranked squad in double overtime. Gale shot 10 of 10 from the foul line late in the game on her way to a season-high 22 points, while Rosse and Rodowicz each added 17 points of their own to earn a 65-61 win over No. 2 Hampshire.
Led by the play of the active Rodowicz in the middle of the full-court press, the Hurricanes have done a great job of forcing its first two playoff opponents into turnovers. They will need another great defensive effort on Thursday with senior guard Jill Valley running the show for the Senators. Valley scored 23 points last year in her team's win over Hoosac and currently leads Mahar with a 16.7 points per game average.
"Jill Valley is one of the best guards in Western Mass.," Wojcik said. "She's tough, big, strong, drives and shoots.
"We will continue to pressure them and play our game, however. Our press has been effective against our first two playoff opponents. We have been able to wear them down and also force about 30-35 turnovers each game. I think we can do the same to Mahar, even with a good guard."
Valley is also a threat from behind the arc, sinking 22 triples on the year. Junior forward Natashia Patria (8.09 ppg) is another player to watch, while senior guard Jenelle Juskiewicz (6.09 ppg) leads the Senators with 34 3-pointers made.