CHESHIRE, Mass - From the very start of the season, the Hoosac Valley girls basketball team knew that it was capable of something special.
Every player on the roster realized she brought something useful to the team, and all year long they have all been able to count on one another to do their part.
Friday night, that group continued their special journey with a 80-43 home victory over the Sabis Bulldogs in a Western Massachusetts Division 3 quarterfinal, earning the Hurricanes a return trip to the Western Mass semifinals at the Curry Hicks Cage on the UMass campus in Amherst.
“We realized from the beginning that we have a strong team and a deep bench and it carried over to the end of the season, and now we hope to carry it out,” senior Alie Mendel said.
The Hurricanes (17-4) will take on Wahconah on Wednesday, after the Warriors also advanced following a 47-24 victory over Granby in their quarterfinal action. Game time is set for a 6 p.m. tipoff.
“We are looking forward to it and we are excited to be back in The Cage,” Hurricanes coach Ron Wojcik said. “It is our third round with Wahconah and I’m sure it will be another great game.”
Hoosac wasted no time in jumping right out to a lead it held the entire time. Exercising the same ball movement and up-tempo that has become their trademark, the Hurricanes worked fast and efficiently up the floor with the ball and then just as quickly applied pressure on the ball handlers to force them into mistakes. Sabis committed five straight turnovers to begin the game, and turned the ball over on seven of its first eight possessions, finding itself in an 8-0 hole less than two minutes into the action.
“We realized that this was mine and Lexi’s last game here, so we wanted to leave it all out there,” Mendel said.
Hoosac left it all out there. Even with a large lead, the Hurricanes never let up. The team was on a mission and the celebration did not truly begin until after the game when they gathered to cut down the nets together.
“To play here for four years and to finish it off is just great,” senior Lexi Mercier said.
After Sabis grabbed the opening tip, Hoosac grabbed control. Mendel got the scoring going with a free throw just 11 seconds in, and Mercier followed that by taking a nice pass from Riley Robinson and draining a 3-pointer from the corner. Mercier then assisted down low to Robinson for an easy layup, and Shaleigh Levesque had a steal and fed Mercier for another easy two points.
All season long the Hurricanes have been difficult to contain, and whenever they get off to a fast start it seems as though stopping them is impossible.
“We’ve really been bringing energy lately, and I feel like we are going to carry that energy over to The Cage and it is going to do us well,” Mercier said.
Mercier was as reliable as always, closing with a game-high 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting, with three rebounds and two assists. She connected on four 3-pointers and stayed heavily involved in the offense all throughout the night. Mendel had 12 points, three assists and two rebounds, Sarah Field added nine points, five rebounds and three steals and Shaleigh Levesque had seven points, three rebounds and three assists.
But perhaps most impressive of all on the night came from the production straight down the lineup. Hoosac substituted with great regularity, as every member of the team saw substantial playing time in key moments. Wojcik trusted all of the girls on the team, and they rewarded that trust by producing up and down the floor. Freshman Averie McGrath contributed 10 points and four rebounds and freshman Abby Bird snared four rebounds over the final few minutes of the game to help close things out.
“We have a great bench and a great group of young kids, and just to be given an opportunity here in a tournament game is awesome,” Wojcik said. “It’s great for us, because it gives us that opportunity to rest some of the starters a little bit and get these kids some tournament experience. It’s a great position to be in.”
The Bulldogs (11-11) got their closest at the beginning of the second quarter, when Sydney Borders connected on 1-of-2 free throws to make it 18-13. Hoosac responded with a 13-2 run led by Robinson, who had her hand in nearly every scoring play during that stretch, with two steals, four points and an assist. She closed the night with six points, five steals, four rebounds and four assists.
The best had yet to even come. Sabis finally managed to fight off the ropes and pull within 35-20, only to watch as Hoosac went on a 14-0 run to close out the first half and leave no question what the final outcome would be.
Hoosac displayed its finest play during that stretch, from a smooth layup by Abigail Hugger, followed by a jumper from Mercier that saw nothing but the back of the net, which was then followed by a steal form Robinson and an outlet back to Mercier for an easy layup. Robinson then assisted with an inbound bounce pass to Sarah Field, who went soft off the glass for the two points. McGrath got into the fun with a pair of free throws and Kaley Winn also joined the scoring party with her second field goal of the quarter.
“I thought a lot of it had to do with our substitution gap,” Wojcik said. “We give these guys a blow partway through, and a lot of times other team’s starters are in there and then back in at the end of the quarter to try and make a run. So I think that is really it in a nutshell, is that we give them an opportunity to play a lot of kids, and kids get some rest.”
Every Hurricane can truly know that she contributed in getting them the win and earning the trip to The Cage. They have rooted one another on, and have been backed by a strong local fan base. The goal all along has been to reach the big stage and go after a championship together, and ow is that chance.
“I think we have one of the best fan sections around Berkshire County, so I thought it was great playing in front of all of these fans,” Mendel said. “I have the best teammates and we’re going to carry our whole fan base to The Cage with us too.”