AMHERST, Mass. -- For nearly a decade, Western Massachusetts girls basketball fans have come to expect big defensive performances out of Hoosac Valley.
No one expected this.
The Hurricanes Saturday held Wahconah to three points for nearly 2-1/2 quarters en route to a 43-30 win in the Western Mass Division 3 title game.
The victory gave the Hurricanes a chance to defend last year's D3 state title in this week's state semifinals, their seventh sectional title in the last eight seasons and a third win this season over top-seeded Wahconah.
Of course, the first two Hoosac wins came by three-point margins.
On Saturday, the Hurricanes had a 22-3 lead late in the third before Wahconah finally got its offense untracked.
"We knew they were going to come in really hard from last year," Hoosac Valley captain Riley Robinson said, referring to the 2019 Western Mass semi-final win over Wahconah. "We were pretty nervous at the beginning, but we settled down and played our game. And once the timer for the started for the game, we knew we were ready, we were confident in our play, and we worked together really well as a team.
"And I think that's why we succeeded today."
The difference was defense, not necessarily the press that has been Hoosac Valley's calling card over the
years, but in the half court.
"I just thought the communication was really good," Hoosac Valley coach Ron Wojcik said. "We know who their shooters are. Both teams know each other so well. Morgan [Marauszwski] and [Noelle] Furlong, we just wanted to be out on them. And really, it was the other three that had to work with Maria [Gamberoni]. So Riley, Gabby [Billetz] and Shay [Levesque], the three of them working together. Because the other three were basically out of the picture. We had them out on [the shooters].
"And we basically said to them: You have to switch on the screens, you have to help with Maria, and we were going to try to make their fifth player beat us, whoever that was."
Robinson and Billetz pulled down 13 and 11 rebounds, respectively. Hoosac Valley had a 25-16 advantage on the glass in the first half.
"A big part of that I have to give to Gabby Billetz," Robinson said. "She worked her butt off in the first half to get those rebounds. We know the importance of rebounding. We kind showed it all year.
"And Wahconah, we know, attacks the boards pretty hard. We did a really good job of containing that and we actually pressured them ourselves with rebounding."
Offensively, Hoosac Valley got 11 points from Averie McGrath and seven from Billetz, but it was a balanced attack that saw eight players in the scorebook.
"If you look at our stats, we don't have anyone averaging 10," Wojcick said. "Riley's averaging 9, Averie 9, Sarah 9. Riley averages six or seven assists per game and six/seven steals. But points-wise, we're not a juggernaut. After last year, we lost Alie [Mendel, 17 ppg] and Lexi [Mercier, 19 ppg], and we haven't been that way all year.
"I think it makes us tougher to guard, frankly. You can't rely on anyone person, and different kids step up. Even Annie Canales coming in and making a big 3 late in the game. She's been struggling with the shot a little bit, and I was really happy for her to see that."
Two fourth-quarter triples for the Hurricanes ended Wahconah runs and dashed any hopes for a miracle comeback.
With 6:29 left to play, Gamberoni (10 points, 11 rebounds) hit a pair of free throws to get the deficit down to 10 points at 28-18.
But McGrath connected from behind the arc on the next trip and scored the game's next five points in an 8-0
Noelle Furlong (nine points) answered with a 3 for Wahconah, but Canales dropped in her second triple of the game to re-establish the 18-point margin. And Wahconah never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
Saturday's win sends the Hurricanes to the state's Final Four against Central Mass champion Millbury, a 37-26 winner over Millis on Saturday.
Earlier this winter, the Woolies beat the Hurricanes, 45-28, at the HoopHall Classic at Springfield College, one of a handful of off nights this season for Hoosac Valley (17-6).
"All the ups and downs, in the end, they helped us get to the point where we're at," Robinson said as she clutched the D3 sectional trophy. "I think that any loss, any bad night, we all learned from that, and that's what helped us to today's game."