Hoosac Savors the Flavor of Victory over Drury

By Ryan HolmesiBerkshires.com
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ADAMS, Mass — In some ways, there really wasn't much riding on the result of the Drury-Hoosac Valley boys' basketball game on Monday night. The Blue Devils had already punched their ticket for the Division 2 Western Mass. tournament, while the Hurricanes were eliminated from playoff contention early last week.

In the big picture, the game meant nothing.

But try telling that to a packed house at Adams Memorial School, three seniors and a young roster full of Hoosac players eager to pull something positive out of what has otherwise been a dreadful season. Rivalry games will do funny things to expected outcomes, and playing Drury at home in one of its last few games of the season was all the motivation Hoosac needed to pull off a 51-47 upset against its neighbors to the north.

The victory was big one for a young Hurricanes' team that has had to learn on the fly this year. Hoosac (3-16) got drilled by the Blue Devils by 19 points on the road less than a month ago, but had enough drive in the engine on Monday to earn its third win of the season and the first victory all year in front of its home crowd.

"We had to take a terrible season and turn it into the greatest thing ever," Hurricanes senior Jesse Larabee said after the game. "There's nothing better than beating Drury at home in your senior year. It feels great. That was pretty much our Western Mass. game."

Talent hasn't really been the issue for Hoosac this year. It's been a lack of experience that has caught up with the Hurricanes, especially when it comes down to close games. Hoosac had two games against Pittsfield get away from them at the end, while close losses to Mount Greylock and Monument Mountain also doomed the 'Canes chances of a winning season.

Closing out the game wasn't an issue for Bill Robinson's team on Monday night. The Hurricanes led wire to wire and withstood several runs by the Blue Devils in the second half. Drury (10-8) didn't the one thing it couldn't afford to do: give a desperate team at home playing for pride and with nothing to lose too much confidence early on. It's foolish to think that a four-minute span in a 32-minute game can make all the difference, but the first four minutes of the game was absolutely crucial in Hoosac's ability to win on Monday night.

Larabee, who scored eight of his 10 points in the first half, got the hosts started off strong with a 3-pointer from the right wing. The Blue Devils had several chances to get on the board, pulling down eight offensive rebounds in their first two trips up the court, but couldn't put the ball in the basket. The next thing you know Judge Duval makes two foul shots, Sean Ryan-Kut drills another three and the Hurricanes have a quick 8-0 lead out of the gate.

More importantly, Hoosac had all the confidence in the world.

That confidence also translated to the defensive end, where the 'Canes held Drury to just five points in the first quarter of play. The hosts' half-court zone defense completely flustered the Blue Devils, who trailed 14-5 after the first quarter and 23-15 at the break.

"I'm not making excuses because they flat out beat us," Drury head coach Jack Racette said. "We missed seven chippys in the first three possessions. You can't miss those on the road. We had seven possessions at one time and didn't get a basket. I told my guys that they're going to shoot way better in their own gym. Again, they scored 23 points in the half and we're still down eight because we only scored 15."

Hoosac seemed comfortable in its own gym and wasn't afraid to chuck it up. Five out of the 'Canes seven field goals in the first half came from outside of the paint. Ryan-Kut was extremely effective from downtown all day, hitting three shots from behind the arc on his way to a team-high 15 points. The 5-foot-6 sophomore guard has come on strong as of late, scoring 14.5 points per game in the last four outings.

"We've been shooting the ball in practice," Robinson said. "We've been taking some shots I'll tell ya. We have a couple of home games this week, so we wanted them to fill good about their shots, and tonight they did. Early on in the year, I wanted to gradually bring [Ryan-Kut] along. I thought defensively we were going to run into some issues with him, but so far we've gotten by with it. He's an offensive-minded kid. He's very good with the dribbling. He's not quick, but he's shifty. He can hit some floaters and like you saw tonight, he can hit the three."

While Hoosac had a rhythm down on the offensive end, the visitors just couldn't buy a bucket from the outside against the Hurricanes' attacking zone defense. Too many of Drury's outside shots were off the mark, and junior Nolan Bird never seemed to get on track. The Devils' forward was all over the place in the first meeting between the two teams, scoring a game-high 23 points with four 3-pointers. Bird didn't hit one shot from behind the arc in the rematch, though, and settled for a very quiet seven points and 10 rebounds.

"We really tried to focus on the high post," Robinson said. "I thought their offense in the zone was all predicated on getting the ball to the high post, so we really tried to take it away. We played for 32 minutes tonight. Our kids have been growing up a little bit. We've talking all year about playing 32 minutes and the last few games we've been playing hard. Tonight, Drury struggled with a shot and we were able to play off that a little bit. The biggest difference is we played 32 minutes, and we guarded Bird tonight. He killed us in the first game."

The Blue Devils made some adjustments at halftime and found senior center Slayter Aubin down low for some quick offense early in the third quarter. Aubin, who finished with a game-high 19 points and 10 boards, scored six out of his team's first eight points in the quarter, cutting the hosts' lead to 25-23. Hoosac responded with a 6-1 run to close the quarter, though, taking a 31-24 lead on Shaun Knapp's trey from the left wing just before the third-quarter buzzer.

"We tried to get the ball [inside], but our guard play really struggled tonight," Racette said. "We had open looks that we didn't knock down from the outside. We didn't shoot the ball well, and you have to shoot the ball well when you go on the road. Again, no excuses. They defended hard, and we didn't run our offense. We've had eight days off, and you can tell. We were flat when we played Wahconah on Thursday, and we were lucky to get out of there with a win."

Led by senior forward Robert Jutras, Drury made one more final run early in the fourth quarter. Jutras (11 points, four rebounds) hit consecutive threes and scored eight points in a row to pull the visitors within one point at 33-32. Sophomore guard Matt Braman (12 points, five rebounds, six assists) finally stopped the run by picking up a clever foul on the baseline and sinking a pair of free throws. Bird answered back with a foul shot of his own to keep it a one-possession game, but that's when the Hurricanes took over the game for good.

Sophomore forward Trevor Alibozek (seven points, seven rebounds) first pulled up for a wide-open 3-pointer in transition before Ryan-Kut drilled another triple from the opposite side of the court the next time up. Braman then came up with a key steal and finished off the lay-up to put the hosts up by 10 with less than three and half minutes to play in the game. Aubin did his best to rally the Devils, scoring 11 points over the final three minutes of play. But despite cutting the lead down to two points on three different occasions, Drury was unable to make the crucial foul shot or force the key turnover it needed to grab the lead.

Braman sealed the win by going 5 of 6 from the foul line in the final 35 seconds of play. He was just one of a handful of underclassmen that Robinson hopes takes something out of Monday night's big win.

"This win takes us a long way," Robinson said. "For our kids and our program, it's a big step for us. It's a big step to beat a team like Drury, who is off to the tourney and just buried us the first time. They just ripped us apart, but we did some really nice things tonight on both ends."

"Tonight was definitely a win for our three seniors who will be leaving us, but it's a great experience for our younger kids. We talked about it practice how we can play with these guys. They just needed to believe in it, stay focused and stay mentally into it. If they can take that 32-minute idea and play that hard for 32 minutes than they'll be OK."

The Blue Devils now await their seeding for the upcoming Western Mass. tournament, while the Hurricanes close out the year with a home game against Wahconah at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday night.
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