Devils, Warriors Meet Up Once Again

By Ryan
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — There's a bit of history between the Drury and Wahconah girls' basketball teams. 

The Blue Devils and Warriors, two consistently strong programs in both Berkshire County's North Division and the Division

2 Western Mass. tournament, just keep finding ways to bump into each other. Over the past three years, the two squads have played each other 10 times. On Thursday, they will meet again for the fourth time this year with a trip to the Western Mass. finals on the line. 

"There's really no secrets between the two of us," Wahconah head coach June Blake said. "We've played them a lot over the past couple of years. We used to be in their Gene Wein Holiday Tournament and we've seen them a few other times in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament. It's going to be a good game, and I'm just glad to be one of three Berkshire County teams in the semifinals.

"I think that's really cool that we still have three teams remaining." 

No. 7 Hoosac Valley takes on No. 6 Mahar in the first semifinal game at the Curry Hicks Cage on Thursday. Drury, which earned the top seed in the tournament, then matches up with the fourth-seeded Warriors at 8 p.m.

The story of the recent rivalry begins two years ago when Blake was in her first year as head coach of Wahconah. The Blue Devils (16-3) won the three-game season series between the two squads by earning a one-point win in the last game of the regular season. The Warriors (12-9) got the last laugh 11 days later, however, when they earned a 10-point victory at home in the WMass. quarterfinals. Wahconah went on to win the Division 2 title that year, a sectional crown that could have been Drury's if it were able to defeat the Warriors three out of four times in one year. 

That's the same challenge facing John Franzoni's squad on Thursday. After sweeping Wahconah in three games last season, the Blue Devils went 2-1 against the Warriors this year. Drury has a pair of double-digit wins against its North Division rival, but dropped a game in between that propelled Wahconah on a late-season run that saw Blake's squad win eight out of its final 11 games. 

While it would seem that the Devils have a significant advantage based upon its 5-1 record over the Warriors in the past two seasons, there is actually very little that separates the two teams. Drury will need to be on top of its game if it wants to avoid seeing Wahconah play in its second Western Mass. final in the past three seasons. 

The Warriors feature three top-flight players, led by senior guard Gabby Lavinio, who has played a prominent role on the team for the past three years. Lavinio is as good as a shooter as there in Western Mass., and she proved it with game-high 23 points in Wahconah's quarterfinal win over Belchertown on Saturday. On the season, Lavinio leads the team in scoring (13.25 ppg), 3-pointers (36) and assists (2.2 apg). 

Blake also has two highly qualified post players to lean on. Senior Shannon Lussier is a skilled player who makes good moves in the paint, while sophomore Maddie Sprague has really come into her own this year, giving the Warriors a legitimate third option to turn to. Both are capable of putting up double-doubles. Lussier averages 10.45 points per game and 7.25 rebounds a contest, while Sprague chimes in with 8.5 points per game and a team-high 8.95 boards a night. 

"We have to limit them to one shot on every possession," Franzoni said. "Wahconah has two very active and athletic players inside with Sprague and Lussier, who really hurt Belchertown on the offensive boards on Saturday. We must deny their inside possession and neutralize them in the paint. 

"Gabby Lavinio is a very good scorer and 3-point shooter, who we must defend effectively on the perimeter. Wahconah does a good job setting screens to get her looks at the basket, so we must hedge all screens to help Danielle [Racette] defend Gabby and not allow her to get good looks from the 3-point line."

Racette, Drury's senior point guard who has been the driving force in her team's current nine-game winning streak, will play a major role in the outcome of Thursday's game. She will take on the task of guarding Lavinio and will also be in charge of running the Devils' offense. In her last game, Racette made several key plays down the stretch to lift Drury to a 54-51 victory over South Hadley. She finished with a game-high 17 points and eight assists, as Drury advanced to the Western Mass. semifinal for the first time since the 2006-07 season. On the year, Racette is second on the team in scoring (10.37 ppg) and first in both 3-pointers (14) and assists (5.63 apg). 

"On offense, we must take care of the ball and play two-tempo basketball, meaning we must attack in transition when it is available as well as being efficient in our half-court sets."

The Warriors will also need to keep an eye on senior forward Shannon Garvey, who leads the Blue Devils in scoring at 12.21 points per game. Garvey has been shooting with a ton of confidence lately and made two huge jump shots in the closing minutes of Friday's game to finally take down the Tigers. Add in senior Ali Tatro's all-around game, junior Emily Moulton's presence in the paint and the healthy return of junior guard Morgan Lamarre, and Drury has a number of players who can make a difference on Thursday night. 

The only other thing to consider is experience. Wahconah does have a few players that played in the Cage on the Western Mass. title team from two years ago, while this current crop of Blue Devils have yet to play a game in Amherst. 

"We knew it was special to get to the Cage the first five years I coached at Drury, and we got there every year," Franzoni said.  "However, we really came to understand how special it is to get to the Cage the last five years when we played well against some tough opponents but just did not quite get there.

"The girls are excited to have earned their way to the Cage, but we know that we have to play very well against a tough Wahconah team on Thursday if we want to advance. Our three seniors were spectacular against South Hadley, and they have been strong all year, but our depth has been a real advantage for our team and we'll need good production from all of our juniors and [freshman] Olivia Carlson to be successful."

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