Pickunka, Hampshire Girls End Wahconah's Run
AMHERST, Mass. -- The rugged Division 3 girls basketball field left Hampshire well prepared for a furious Wahconah comeback effort, and the tournament's top seed emerged with a 47-41 win on Saturday in the sectional title game at Curry Hicks Cage.
Sixth-seeded Wahconah (20-4) battled back from a 10-point half-time deficit to twice make it a one-possession game, but Hampshire, on the strength of 20 points and 21 rebounds from senior Katelyn Pickunka, pulled away with an 8-0 lead at the end of the third and never led by fewer than five poins the rest of the way.
"We had some challenges this year," Hampshire caoch Amy Cyr said. "The Greenfield game, the South Hadley games. We learned we had to stay composed. We knew we can settle in. We can take care of the basketball."
After a first half that saw Wahconah play tentative and, in coach Liz Kay's words "stagnant" offense, Hampshire took a 25-15 lead into the locker room.
Pickunka had just six points in the first half, but Hampshire hit four first-quarter 3-pointers -- the last from freshman Maggie Rubeck to make it 16-7 late in the first quarter.
"Live by the 3, die by the 3," Cyr joked. "I said to my team, this is great, but we can't stay this hot the whole game. We've got to get it inside.
"My assistant coach told me, 'It's alright. This will make them come out further [defensively]."
Pickunka ended up equaling her field goal total in the second half, with three more, but she she did most of her damage at the foul line, scoring eight at the line.
Wahconah roared out of the locker room on a 7-0 run to get within three points.
First, Maria Gamberoni scored in transition after a Julia O'Connor rebound. Then, after a steal by Kelly McMahon, O'Connor put back an offensive rebound to make it 25-19.
Finally, an O'Connor steal at one end of the floor led to her 3-pointer off a pass from Cassie Tobler to get Wahconah within three points.
It was just a two-point margin after McMahon's triple moments later to make it 29-27.
But Hampshire (21-2) answered with an 8-0 run to end the quarter. It started with a pair of free throws from Pickunka and ended when she made one of two at the line to give her team a 37-27 margin with eight minutes left.
Wahconah pulled within five points twice in the fourth quarter but could not get over the hump. Pickunka had her team's last two field goals, and freshman guard Lila Labrie made a big one-and-one with 36 seconds left and her team ahead, 43-38.
"Their role players made massive shots," Kay said. "As good as Katelyn Pickunka was, some of the other kids they had made big plays. That's what you need in a championship game, for some kids to play out of what they normally do. And they did."
Whaconah freshman Gamberoni scored a team-high 17 points and O'Connor and Furlong finished with seven apiece.
It was the final basketball game in a Wahconah uniform for O'Connor, McMahon and Suzanne Stefanik, the last remaining trio from Kay's first year at the helm in Dalton.
"We have overachieved, and they are why," Kay said. "They are so all about the team and not themselves. We would be a 12-8 team or 10-10 or maybe not even make the tournament if those three kids weren't leading the team."