WORCESTER, Mass. -- Hoosac Valley girls basketball fans have seen Riley Robinson do a lot of running over the last three years.
Her most important steps came Saturday -- well away from the court and out of sight of the Hurricane faithful
Robinson, a junior guard, went the extra mile to prove her fitness to the training staff at Worcester Polytechnic’s Harrington Auditorium, and it made all the difference in Hoosac’s 66-49 State Championship win over St. Mary’s of Lynn.
It was a scary moment for all those Hoosac fans midway through the first half when Robinson was taken down hard under the basket going to the hole after Hoosac’s full-court press forced a turnover.
She had to leave the game and eventually needed temporary stitches to a cut on her forehead. But she was far more concerned with heading back to the court.
“Every five seconds, I was turning around and looking at the score,” Robinson said. “I could hear the crowd cheering, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’
“They made me go upstairs and run and everything, and at that point, I was like, I don’t think I’ve ever run that fast because I wanted to get back in the game.”
She rejoined her teammates with 6 minutes, 42 seconds on the clock in the second quarter -- to enthusiastic applause from “Hurricane Nation” -- and contributed to an 11-0 run that gave Hoosac Valley control of the game for good.
Lexi Mercier scored a game-high 21 points, and Alie Mendel scored 11 to cap their stellar careers in Hoosac Valley red and white. Freshman Averie McGrath contributed 11 points, and Shaleigh Levesque scored five to go with eight rebounds as Hoosac Valley won the title for the first time in five state final appearances in a six-year span.
Things were not looking nearly as cheery at the 4:53 mark of the first quarter, when Robinson was helped off the court with her team ahead, 6-5.
What was Hoosac coach Ron Wojcik thinking at that moment.
“Ahhhhh … this is going to be a long day,” Wojcik said. “Riley is the heart and soul of our team. She doesn’t do the scoring of Alie and Lexi, and the senior leadership is unbelievable. But Riley does everything.
“She usually plays the ‘big’ on defense. She plays the center of our zone if we’re playing it. She runs everything. When she went out, yeah, I was scared, I was nervous, for sure. I was just hoping she was able to come back in, and we were fortunate she was able to.
“That’s a gutsy effort for a kid.”
Robinson wasted no time getting back into the mix, forcing a team rebound at the defensive end and coming back to drive the lane to give Hoosac Valley a 29-22 lead.
After a couple of empty trips for St. Mary’s, McGrath scored in transition to cap the 11-0 run and make it 31-22, Hoosac Valley with about four minutes left in the half.
“It wasn’t weird to see her come back in the game because she’s a fighter,” Mendel said of Robinson. “We knew she was going to come back in the game.
“It just lifted up our energy, and we went from there.”
Hoosac Valley led, 39-28, at half-time, and ran that lead to 20 points late in the third quarter.
Mendel started an 8-0 run with a basket in the post on an assist from Mercier. Mercier then grabbed a defensive rebound and got to the line for a one-and-one, which she converted. McGrath scored in transition, and Levesque grabbed a loose ball under the Hurricanes’ basket and scored to make it 57-37.
St. Mary’s, which defeated Hoosac in its first finals’ appearance of this run, back in 2014, hung around, whittling the lead back down to 13 with just less than two minutes left to play. But any hopes of a comeback evaporated with just more than a minute left when Mendel knocked down a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc to give Hoosac Valley a 66-48 lead.
That allowed Wojcik to pull Mendel and Mercier from the game, and as the three shared a hug at the Hoosac bench, a four-year odyssey came to a satisfying conclusion.
“The past four years, this is what we were trying to get,” Mendel said. “We made it here when I was a freshman and sophomore, but we were never able to become victorious in the end.
“This was the year.”