AMHERST, Mass. — The playoff train that is the Hoosac Valley girls' basketball team kept on steaming down the tracks on Thursday night, sending the No. 7 Hurricanes to their third straight Western Mass. tournament win with a 57-37 victory over No. 6 Mahar.
Hoosac (18-5) broke open a close game at halftime with a convincing 18-5 run in the third quarter, sending Ron Wojcik's team to the Division 2 final on Saturday against archrival Drury, which defeated Wahconah 51-37 in the second game of the night. The Hurricanes forced seven turnovers in the third quarter alone and received eight points from sophomore center Emily Rosse, who led all scorers with 17 on the night. The Senators (18-5) trailed by just three points at the break, but a 12-2 run by Hoosac at the start of the second half put Mahar in too big of a hole to climb out of.
Overall, the Hurricanes' defense forced the Senators into 25 turnovers Junior Megan Rodowicz had five steals, while Rosse finished with two of her own to go along with three blocks.
"I thought our pressure was really good in the third [quarter], and I thought that was the key right there," Wojcik said. "We got them out of sync offensively, and we were just able to finally get things going. We just had to make lay-ups. We missed so many lay-ups, we had some jitters early and I saw some nerves. We really weren't as aggressive as we could be but, as we settled into the game, I thought that turned around. We started playing on our toes, the nerves went away and we started coming after them."
Hoosac's three-point lead at halftime could have been much more had the 'Canes been able to finish on several close looks they had in the first half. The course of the game changed midway through the third quarter, however, when freshman Madison Ryan (eight points, six rebounds) made a great hustle play to track down her own missed shot and score on an offensive rebound. She was fouled on the play and sank the free throw to put Hoosac up by eight points and kick off a 14-3 run to end the quarter.
"That changed the momentum," Wojick said. "It put us up by eight, and we kind of took off from there. Maddie just has a way of making big plays. She made big plays the other night up at Hampshire. She had a steal when we were down by one late in the game and, for a freshman, she's a pretty headsy kid at this point in the season."
Rosse followed Ryan's 3-point play with a pair of fast-break lay ins of her own. A few minutes later, sophomore Amber Lesure broke the game open with a three from the right wing. Rosse finished the quarter with a turnaround shot off of a pass from Rodowicz, giving Hoosac a 16-point lead heading into the fourth.
The fourth quarter was just a formality at that point, as the Hurricane defense held Mahar to just 13 points total in the second half. Senior guard Jill Valley, who burned Hoosac for 23 points in the Senators' double-overtime win in the WMass. quarterfinals last year, was held to just four points in the rematch on Thursday.
"At halftime, coach just told us to pick it up and step up our defense," Hoosac senior Tori Rumbolt said. "We needed to focus on our shots, and I guess it all came through for us in the third and fourth quarter. Our defense is definitely run and go. Our main focus is to break off [on the fast break] when we get a turnover."
Rumbolt had a strong game on Thursday, finishing with 11 points and six boards. She also went 4 of 6 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, helping the Hurricanes seal away a win in their first-ever trip to the Curry Hicks Cage on the campus of UMass-Amherst.
"Never in a million years," Rumbolt said when asked if she thought her team could play in the Western Mass. final. "It's amazing. It's definitely a good way to end our senior year. I hope we can keep going."
Senior Jenelle Juskiewicz led the Mahar offense, draining three triples on her way to an 11-point night. Junior forward Natashia Patria also had a good game in defeat, posting 10 points and game-high 12 rebounds.
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