CHESHIRE, Mass. -- For more than five years, the Hoosac Valley girls basketball team’s pressure defense has been the key to one of the most remarkable runs in Berkshire County sports.
For 16 minutes on Saturday night, Minnechaug neutralized that press.
After half-time, the ‘Canes clamped down.
Hoosac took control of the game in the third quarter and put it away with a dominating run to open the fourth and earn a 69-52 win over the Division 1 Falcons.
Lexi Mercier scored 23 points, and Alie Mendel added 18 to lead the offense for Hoosac Valley (5-0). But it was its defense, once again, that proved decisive after Minnechaug trailed by just four, 29-25, at intermission.
“We went into the locker room, and we were like, ‘Hey, we’re up by four,’ “ sophomore guard Riley Robinson said. “We’re not really used to that, because we’re usually up by a lot more. We said, ‘We can’t let down. We can’t let up.’
“I think we just came out 100 percent, and we took it to them.”
Hoosac Valley forced only about a half dozen turnovers off its press in the first half -- way below its customary production and about as many as Minnechaug generated off its full-court press.
Hurricanes coach Ron Wojcik said he did not make any major adjustments to the Hurricanes’ press break at half-time, but he did recognize something that needed tweaking.
“I thought we just needed to be a little more aggressive coming to the ball,” he said. “We had our press offense set up, but I thought some of our girls were sitting back behind a little bit. We just said, ‘Make your cuts a little bit harder, make your passes quick, and when we get it, go.’
“That was the main thing. I wanted to attack them. Because when they’re up on the press, they have their big people up here, too. So we can maybe get something going against them. We only had one 2-pointer in the first half. We talked about that: We need some layups.”
It was a half-court set that produced the biggest basket of the third quarter, a 3-pointer from Mercier off an assist from Sarah Field with 1 minute, 6 seconds left in the period. Mercier knocked down the shot high on the left wing while getting knocked down herself. She then converted the free throw for a four-point play that gave the ‘Canes their first double-digit lead of the night, 47-37.
Three straight Minnechaug turnovers against the press fueled a 6-0 run early in the fourth to make it 53-39. Then, after Serena Fiore (team-high 14) scored in transition to get the Falcons within 12, Hoosac Valley scored the next 13: an Annabelle Canales 3-pointer, four straight free throws from Mercier and Robinson, a Mendel layup out of the press and Field’s conventional three-point play out of the press to make it 65-41 with about three minutes left to play.
Back in the first half, Mercier scored just less than half of Hoosac Valley’s points with four 3s and a long two for 14 points. Skylar Case had the team’s other 2-point field goal, and Mendel was 5-for-7 at the line.
In addition to not being able to dominate with its press, Hoosac Valley was getting dominated on the glass in the first half. Minnechaug had a 35-19 advantage in that department in the first half, and the Falcons’ Lauren Barry had 13 of those rebounds, including two that she turned into putbacks on the offensive end.
In the second half? Barry had four more caroms, and Minnechaug continued its statistical advantage. But the Hurricanes had a few second chance baskets of their own, and with Minnechaug getting far fewer shots, the vast majority of its boards were at the defensive end.
“Just boxing out,” Field said. “It’s one of the little things we hear from the coaches. We have to box out more, and I thought we did a better job of that in the second half.”
Hoosac Valley plays its next three games in the Berkshire County League, starting with Wednesday’s trip to Lee.