AMHERST, Mass. – The Hoosac Valley boys basketball team is getting really good at winning close games. That’s a good thing, too, because the Hurricanes are in an awful lot of them lately.
Hoosac won its fourth game in a row by four points or less on Saturday, holding its breath in the final seconds of the game as a Wahconah 3-pointer went in and out of the basket. Had the ball stayed in, fourth-seeded Wahconah would have won the Division 3 Western Massachusetts championship and given second-year coach Dustin Belcher his first sectional title.
The ball bounced out, however, securing a 48-46 victory for the second-seeded Hurricanes at Curry Hicks Cage and giving head coach Bill Robinson his third Western Mass crown. Hoosac previously won titles in 2003 and 2009, but had the ’Canes not pulled out the win on Saturday, Robinson wouldn’t have even had the most sectional championships in his household.
Robinson’s daughter Mckenzie would have held that honor after her squad defeated Granby in the previous game to give the Hoosac girls their third straight Western Mass title. The boys team had a chance to pull off the daily double last season, but the Hurricanes came up short in a finals loss to top-seeded Sabis.
“Winning two here, the girls’ and the boys’ teams both winning it, is pretty special,” Bill Robinson said. “We didn’t get it done last year, but we got it done this year. I told [Mckenzie] coming down here tonight that I don’t know what’s going to happen, but you cannot one up me. The pressure was on us because I knew they were going to give Granby fits.
“I said to my guys that we can’t lose to [Wahconah] because [the girls] will have three and we’ll only have two. We have to do something about this, and now we each have three. It’s great … it’s sweet.”
To say that Saturday’s game against Wahconah (14-9) was a close one would be an understatement. Hoosac (16-7) led by one point at the end of the first quarter, two points at halftime and by only two points again at the end of the third quarter. The largest lead of the night for either team was six points: Wahconah jumped ahead by that margin early in the second quarter, while the Hurricanes created a six-point cushion of their own late in the third quarter.
“All year we haven’t been blown out and we haven’t blown out anyone,” Hoosac center Jameson Coughlan said. “Every game we play in, we either win by two or we’re down by two, and I think that helped us today.”
It also helped having an extremely active and effective Coughlan, who was mainly held under wraps in Hoosac’s semifinal win over Drury on Wednesday. Coughlan only managed seven points against the Blue Devils, but he came out swinging on Saturday, scoring his team’s first five points on his way to a 16-point first half. Wahconah adjusted its defense at halftime, but Coughlan kept on producing, finishing with a game-high 24 points and 13 rebounds.
“The middle of the zone was open, and I took a lot of shots from there,” Coughlan said. “I took a lot of bad shots, too. I should have taken some better shots, but the middle was open. Coach emphasized that all week at practice that the middle would be open.”
It was pretty much a two-man battle between Coughlan and Wahconah forward Marco Anastasio, who put on a mid-range shooting clinic with a team-high 20 points to go along with eight boards. Anastasio found a sweet spot in the Hurricanes’ zone defense and knocked down elbow jumpers one after the other.
“He did it on both ends of the floor,” Belcher said. “He was making some big shots for us. He drew the assignment of Coughlan in the second half when we went man. I thought he responded well there too. He’s a senior, a captain, and a four-year varsity player, so this was his stage tonight. He really embraced the moment for sure.”
Anastasio hit four straight jump shots for his team in the third quarter, helping Wahconah rally back from a 37-31 deficit. Wahconah trailed by two points heading into the fourth quarter, but quickly jumped back on top thanks to a pair of foul shots from Luke Steinman and another elbow jumper from Anastasio. Hoosac responded with a 5-0 run of its own, however, getting a huge 3 from junior guard Matt Koperniak and a lay-in from Coughlan, his final basket of the game with 4:25 left on the clock.
That gave Robinson’s squad a three-point edge, one it kept until two minutes later when Wahconah guard Collin Parrott (nine points, five assists) hit one of two free throws. He missed on his second attempt, but Anastasio made a nifty move to secure the offensive rebound and scored on a putback to tie the game at 42 all.
“What defense?” Robinson said when asked about his team’s defensive strategy against Anastasio. “We didn’t guard him at all tonight. He’s the only guy we couldn’t guard. We were in zone most of the night, and he was just hitting jump shots. We were OK with that because we didn’t want him around the boards. We thought if he missed them ... but he was hitting them all.”
Parrott then put the Warriors ahead a minute later, driving through the lane and banking in a runner. Koperniak, who went 0-for-4 from the foul line in the fourth quarter and just 1-of-6 from the charity stripe in the game, quickly tied the score, however, with a lay-in of his own. After a stop on the defensive end, the Hurricanes had the ball inside the final minute with a chance to go ahead.
Wahconah did a very good job of keeping the ball out of Coughlan’s hands in the final four minutes of the game, so it was Koperniak’s turn to make something happen with the shot clock winding down. He got himself into the lane, dribbled to the left, hung in the air and hit a one-handed runner with 13 seconds remaining to give Hoosac a two-point lead.
“It opened up a lot,” Koperniak said. “I saw holes, and I took them. I knew I was either going try and get fouled or try to make the shot. They were definitely sticking tight on Jameson, so I just knew someone else had to make a basket.”
Overall, Koperniak made two 3-pointers on his way to finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
“He struggled from the line tonight, and that is unlike him, but he made the shot in the end when it counted” Robinson said of Koperniak’s game winner. “That’s the one thing about Koperniak or a Koperniak. We’ve had a few of them in the past, and when the money is on the line, they’ll step up and knock the winning shot down for you.”
Belcher called a timeout and ended up getting the shot he wanted: a wide-open look for McMahon.
“The play was to get Collin the ball at the top of the key” he said. “If he could beat the man off the bounce, he could go. If he drew a double team, he would kick it to McMahon. He drew the double team, he made the pass, we got the shot we wanted and it was halfway down. You can’t ask for better than that.”
“The game can be cruel sometimes.”
Although it wasn’t the ending he had hoped for, Belcher said he couldn’t have been more proud of a team that helped rebound the Warrior’s program and advanced to its first Western Mass. title game since 2003.
“This group of seniors came in and we were 2-18 with them as freshman,” Belcher said. “They turned the program around and to be one shot away from winning it is pretty impressive.”