AMHERST, Mass. – There wasn’t much separating the Drury and Hoosac Valley boys’ basketball team in the regular season
this year. The Blue Devils and Hurricanes split their season series, had similar records and earned the No. 3 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, in the Division 3 Western Mass. boys’ basketball tournament.
There wasn’t much separating the two teams in the postseason either. That is, except a huge 3-pointer from sophomore J.P. Levesque with 35 seconds left, which made all of the difference in Hoosac’s 45-42 semifinal win over Drury at the Curry Hicks Cage on Wednesday night.
Levesque’s swished an open look from the left corner to answer back-to-back 3s by Blue Devils’ point guard Nick Trombley, whose clutch shots helped Drury rally back from an eight-point deficit and tie the game at 42 all with 48 seconds left on the clock. Hurricanes’ guard Matt Koperniak penetrated deep inside the lane on the next possession, however, causing the Devils’ defense to collapse on him and providing a huge opportunity for Levesque, who sank his second triple and scored his team-high eighth point of the game, all of which came in the fourth quarter.
“I challenged [the team] at halftime,” Hoosac head coach Bill Robinson said. “I said ‘Guys, somebody’s got to step up and make plays.’ That’s what these games are all about when you get down here. You’ve got to make plays. We had a couple of kids step up. Levesque, who’s a sophomore, hit some big, big 3s for us down the stretch. Trombley hit that 3 to tie, and he answered right back. That was huge.
“I tell you what its all effort. We’re no better than Drury. They could have won that game. We just survived. That’s all it is right now. We just survived.”
The Hurricanes (15-7) survived and advanced to Saturday’s final against No. 4 Wahconah for two big reasons. The first was the play of Levesque in the fourth quarter and the second being a big defensive stand midway through the second half which allowed Robinson’s squad to go on a 10-0 run. On a night when the Blue Devils (13-9) played an outstanding game on the defensive end, holding Hoosac’s 1-2 punch of Koperniak and center Jameson Coughlan to just seven points apiece, it was a sharp-shooting sophomore who helped put the ’Canes over the top.
Trailing 35-30 early in the fourth quarter, Drury’s Justin Girard, who led all scorers with 13 points, picked off a Hoosac pass at midcourt and looked to have a clear path to the basket. Hurricane’s Dahndray Sistrunk made contact with Girard as he went in for the lay-up, however, and no foul was called. Hoosac took advantage of its numbers on the other end of the court and found Levesque open in the left corner for three that capped off a 10-0 run and gave the ’Canes their largest lead of the game at 38-30.
“We were just trying to find a hot hand,” Robinson said. “Nate [Tomkiewicz] was off a little bit tonight with his shot, and I was trying to find a man to step up and he did. I just called his number and said let’s go, and he answered the bell. They left him alone a few times, and that was huge.”
The Blue Devils didn’t go down easy, though, closing the gap to four points on consecutive lay-ins by seniors Kareen Beckett and Cameron Lesure. Beckett did a good job of attacking the basket for Drury, finishing with 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds, but he struggled with his outside shot the entire game. Drury had a chance to cut the lead to two points but missed a pair of free throws, allowing Levesque to hit two foul shots of his own to bump the lead back to six.
“We held them to 45 points,” Blue Devils head coach Jack Racette said. “If we can’t get 46, you have to tip your hat to their defense. We did a decent job, but Levesque hit a couple of big shots for them. I thought we did a good job on the people we needed to.”
After a basket by Drury center Doug Sigsbury and two more free throws by Hoosac senior Austin Milesi (seven points), the Devils finally got the big shot they needed when Trombley hit his second triple of the night from the left wing with 2:16 left in the game. That cut the lead down to three points, and then Trombley struck again less than 90 seconds later from the top of the key to bring his team all the way back. Overall, the Drury point guard finished his career with 11 points, three assists and three steals.
“Trombley single-handedly put us on his shoulders right there,” Racette said. “He knocked down two 3s, we dug in and got a couple of stops. They helped us out by missing one but, again, [Levesque] made a big shot. He made a big shot when he had to, and we didn’t get one.
“We had good looks, but we just didn’t put it in the basket. Again, it’s our first time here. I think our guys were a little overwhelmed with it, but we didn’t finish when we needed to. We missed some easy ones.”
It was a frustrating finish for a Devils’ squad whp looked very efficient in the first half. After falling behind 11-5 out of the gate, Drury rallied back with a 7-0 run to take a one-point lead at the end of the first quarter. Girard scored nine of his 13 points in the first half, helping his team open up as big as a six-point lead at one point in the second quarter before going into halftime up 23-20.
Two big 3-pointers by Milesi and Koperniak helped the Hurricanes tie the game early in the third quarter, and then Robinson mixed up his defense by using full-court pressure to slow the Blue Devils down the rest of the period. Drury only managed seven points in the third and found themselves down two heading into the fourth.
“I thought our press, in that little spurt we had to open it up, did some damage to them,” Robinson said. “They just got squirrely a little bit, and we were able to get a little bit of a lead and make them play catch up. We didn’t know when we were going to use it, but we just popped it in there at the right time.”
Defense might have set Hoosac up for the win, but it was Levesque’s final shot that knocked the victory down. It was a feeling the young player won’t soon forget.
“It felt good,” he said. “When Trombley hit the 3 to tie it up, Coach just told me to get to my spot and hit it. I wasn’t thinking a whole lot after I made it. When the buzzer went off and we won by three, it felt great.”
While Levesque and the Hurricanes have some more work to do on Saturday, the Blue Devils are now forced to say goodbye to six seniors while closing the book on what was a successful rebound season from a year ago.
“We were 5-15 last year, and nobody expected us to be here,” Racette said. “Honestly, we got no respect, and I thought we showed people we could play with anybody. Berkshire County will be well represented by Coach Robinson and Hoosac Valley, and I wish them the best.”
Drury might not have been respected at the start of the season, but they were certainly respected by their bitter rival on Wednesday night.
“I have a ton of respect for that program, though, and the job that he does over there,” Robinson said. “Coach Racette does one hell of a job with those kids. They play hard boy. I don’t know if there is anybody that plays any harder in Western Mass on a night-in-night-out basis. They go at it.”