WORCESTER, Mass. -- On Saturday, the Hoosac Valley High School girls basketball team learned how the other half lives.
After beating up on teams all season with wins by 30, 40 and 50 points, the Hurricnaes came out on the wrong end of a 74-36 decision against St. Mary's of Lynn in Saturday's Massachusetts Division 3 state championship game.
The North sectional champions were every bit as good as advertised, with UMass-Lowell-bound Brianna Rudolph scoring 26 points with 12 rebounds, and Sharell Sanders accounting for 13 points -- 11 in the first half -- with three assists an seven boards.
For the two-time Western Mass champion Hurricanes, it was a disappointing end to a magical season that saw the Hurricanes (23-2) win 22 straight against Massachusetts opponents before running into the buzzsaw that is St. Mary's.
"I think we could have played a lot better than we did, but they're a great team," Hoosac senior guard Meg Rodowicz said. "They just outhustled us a little bit, but I'm so proud of where we are today, so proud of where we came. I couldn't be happier for our team."
Hoosac coach Ron Wojcik, who has taken the 'Canes to two state tourneys in his first two years, was as disappointed as anyone in how Saturday's game unfolded. But he realized the focus had to quickly turn from what happened in Worcester to what transpired over the last four years.
"I'm good friends with Lou Conte, our Western Mass tournament director, and he told me coming off the court, 'Remember the journey,' " Wojcik said.
That friendly reminder helped Wojcik frame his remarks in what he described as an emotional Hoosac locker room.
"Coach was telling us after the game, when he came in, our freshman year, we started out winning the South [Division], nothing big," said Rodowicz, one of just two graduating seniors along with Jen Gale for the 'Canes.
"Then we moved on to winning Western Mass, winning Western Mass again, making it to state finals, which is something we've never done before. It's such a great feeling to be part of making history for Hoosac Valley girls basketball."
It was fair to say that St. Mary's (24-2) was the favorite coming into Saturday's final. The Spartans boasted a starting five who could probably play with anyone in any division of Massachusetts basketball. Rudolph and Sanders are both getting full athletic scholarships next year, the latter at DII Caldwell College. A third St. Mary's senior, Jennie Mucciarone, is bound for Division III Tufts, a New England Small College Athletic Conference power playing Saturday evening for a berth in the NCAA Final Four.
It was even more fair to assume Hoosac would not be able to use its full-court pressure to disrupt the Spartans' offense the way the 'Canes harrassed Western Mass teams for the last three months.
What was surprising was the way the Spartans' dismantled Hoosac's offense, holding junior forward Emily Rosse to two points and forcing 24 Hoosac turnovers.
The 'Canes turned over the ball six times in its first nine possessions as St. Mary's jumped out to a 14-4 lead.
McKenzie Robinson scored in transition, and Madi Ryan (team-high 10 points) knocked down a couple of free throws at the end of the first quarter to make it a more respectable 19-12, but St. Mary's went on a 10-0 run early in the second quarter and never looked back.
It was a 34-17 game at half-time, and the Spartans outscored Hoosac, 29-6, in the third quarter to put the game away.
"It was pretty hard," Rodowicz said about playing out the string in the second half. "We just tried to keep our heads up to the end, to stay with it. I think we got outhustled, but we kept our heads up and kept fighting for it."
Hoosac achieved a small moral victory in the fourth, outscoring its tormentors, 13-11, in the last eight minutes. The 'Canes, who struggled all over the floor, hit their first 3-pointer of the game with three minutes left when Kailynne Frederick connected from behind the arc. Ryan added a triple a minute later for Hoosac's last points of the game.
St. Mary's coach Jeff Newhall said his team was aware of Hoosac's reputation for playing stifling full-court defense, and the Spartans took it as a challenge.
"I don't know that we took them out of it," Newhall said. "I think they continued to try it. You get to this point playing a certain way, and I don't know if you can turn around that quickly.
"I think any time you [are playing a team with] three guards like we have, it's difficult to come out and trap and press. If you're trapping, and you find a weakness, you turn the ball over. But when you have three guards who are basically scholarship guards and one who is going to Tufts ... that's not about me. That's a luxury for me to have."
On the other bench, Wojcik too has benefited from having some pretty talented players. He loses two of them next year, but don't look for the Hurricanes to take too much of a step back in Berkshire County play. And do not be too surprised if they are back in the mix in the Western Mass tournament again next March.
"Jen [Gale] and Meg [Rodowicz] were the face of our program these last four years," Wojcik said. "Hopefully, we have some younger kids coming up that see that. We do have some great players returning, and we can continue down that road."