Drury's Season Comes to an End with Loss to Wahconah

By Ryan HolmesiBerkshires.com
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The Blue Devils fell before the Warriors on Friday night, ending the season 14-8. Wahconah heads to the Curry Hicks Cage for the Western Mass. semifinals. More game photos here.
DALTON, Mass. — After splitting four games against each other this season, one could argue that the Drury and Wahconah girls' basketball teams are even as they can possible be. 

That is until the second quarter came around on Friday night, when the Warriors clicked on the offensive end and distanced themselves enough from the Blue Devils to jump out to a 14-point lead at halftime. Despite a furious comeback by Drury in the fourth quarter, Wahconah had all the cushion it would need to pull out a 59-49 win in the quarterfinal round of the Division 2 Western Massachusetts tournament.

The third-seeded Warriors (15-6) now move on to the semifinals, where they will meet second-seeded Hampshire. The Red Raiders (17-4) punched their ticket to the Curry Hicks Cage by defeating No. 7 Monument Mountain 48-40 on Friday night. The Blue Devis, who were seeded sixth in the tournament, finish the 2010-11 season with an overall record of 14-8. 

"The second quarter was the key," Drury head coach John Franzoni said. "We dug ourselves too deep of a hole in that quarter, and you can't do that against a very good team like Wahconah. You have to play tough and play good defense. To give up 31 points in the first half is unacceptable on our part. They're capable of scoring a lot of points if you don't defend them, and that's what happened in the second quarter. 

"Our defense was not up to par and they took advantage of that because they're a good team." 

The defense in the second quarter was uncharacteristic for a Blue Devils team that had held Wahconah to just 19 points in the first half in a one-point win over the Warriors last week. They allowed 31 points in the first half on Tuesday, nearly the same amount they gave up all game in last Monday's 39-38 win in Dalton. Overall, the 59 points Drury surrendered was the highest total the Devils allowed all season, a frustrating fact considering it was their final game of an otherwise successful season. 

"It was a little bit of everything," Franzoni said of his team's struggles on the defensive end. "Our defensive transition wasn't good, our post defense wasn't good, and they were getting penetration to the basket. In the second quarter, the total defensive effort just wasn't there really." 

A lot of Drury's struggles had to do with a Wahconah team that was eager to avenge last week's loss at home on Senior Night. June Blake's squad was the quicker, more aggressive team in the first half, and it showed especially in the final 12 minutes of play. After Blue Devils' point guard Danielle Racette (10 points, four rebounds, three steals) banked in a shot from the elbow to give the visitors a 10-6 lead midway through the first quarter, the visitors closed out the frame on a 7-0 run. The Warriors, who had eight different players score baskets in the first half, then outscored Drury 18-7 in the second quarter to roll into halftime with a 31-17 lead. 

The Wahconah defense wasn't shabby either, forcing Franzoni's club into 11 first-half turnovers compared to just five on their side of the ball. 

"We've been harping on our offense, trying to put some points on the board and relying on our defense to hold people under 40," Blake said. "We didn't do that tonight, but we did move the basketball, got the ball inside and out and we got our shooters some shots from the outside, while also attacking." 

Seniors Sam Burgner and Sara Hamilton led the first-half charge with six points apiece, while fellow classmates Kelsie Dumas and Aliah Curry both hit back-breaking 3-pointers during the second-quarter run. Hamilton was her normal self on Tuesday night, getting the ball on the move inside the post, beating her defender off of the dribble and getting to the basket for timely buckets on her way to a team-high 13 points and 10 rebounds. All year long, she's been the one player the Blue Devils could never really find an answer for.

"I think that was the key in the second quarter, too," Blake said. "We got her the ball where she could create a little bit of space from her defender. A few times we tried to force it in. We can't do that. We have to make sure to get it to her when she's open, so she can make strong moves to the basket." 

Although it caught the hosts on a night where they were rolling on the offensive end, Drury refused to go away quietly in the second half. Senior guard Cassie Lincoln played like it was the last game of her career, raising her level of play in the second half and scoring 12 of her game-high 16 points in the final two quarters of play. She came out of the locker room on a mission, scoring or assisting on her team's first five baskets of the second half. She also went to the basket hard and was rewarded with seven foul shots, five of which she made. 

After failing to advance past the quarterfinal round of the Western Mass. tournament the past two seasons, Lincoln has openly discussed her desire to make it to "The Cage" for the sectional semifinals in final year with the Blue Devils' program. While the four-year player and three-year starter for Drury fell one game short of her ultimate goal, she should take solace in the fact she saved her best game for last, scoring a season-high 16 points to go along with three assists and four steals. 

"Cassie just played like she always plays," Franzoni said. "She leaves her heart on the court every game, and she's special player. In four years in this program, she's played that way every time she's stepped on the court." 

Despite the strong play of Lincoln, however, the Blue Devils were only able to shave one point off of the Warriors' lead heading into the fourth quarter. They actually found themselves down by 16 points with about five minutes remaining when Franzoni opted to go to a smaller, quicker lineup to pressure Wahconah full court. The move paid off as Drury forced the hosts into 13 second-half turnovers and went on a 12-2 run late in the game to cut the lead down to six points. Lincoln swished a three from the left wing, and Racette finished a runner in the lane to make it 53-47. 

After Curry hit two free throws on the other end, sophomore forward Ali Tatro kept the Blue Devils alive with a lay in with 1:03 remaining on the clock. Drury got a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play and had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but a 3-pointer by Racette from the left corner was off the mark. Curry then iced the game by going 4 for 4 from the foul line down the stretch. The senior guard finished with 12 points, six rebounds and four steals, while fellow classmate Sarah Whitestone chipped in with nine points and seven boards. 

After nearly blowing a 16-point lead to South Hadley in their first-round game on Tuesday night, the Devils almost flipped the switch, storming back from their own 16-point deficit to make the game interesting against the Warriors. In each case, however, the deficit was just too big for the losing team to overcome. 

"It's a sign of our team and our character how we battled late," Franzoni said. "Those kids who were on the court at the end really battled and got us back into it, and I was really proud of their effort. We were playing for the rest of our season there. We had a good rotation going on with our double teams, and I think we were playing that desperate kind of basketball that we saw against us on Tuesday."

Although the season ended at least one game short for Lincoln and her fellow seniors Kelsey Ouimet (eight points, 10 boards on Friday night), Meagan McCarthy and Kendra Hinkell, Franzoni was happy with the progress made under the 2011 senior class. This group missed the playoffs in their freshman year, but came back a little better every year, winning two South Division titles along the way before bumping back up to the tougher North Division this season. 

"We told the seniors and the team that there were a lot of questions about this season," Franzoni said. "People questioned us moving back to the North, but we played Wahconah four times and split with them. Unfortunately they won the most important one at the end, but we also beat Monument and Taconic twice and beat some very good teams throughout the season. I'm proud of the leadership we got from our seniors and we have a great group of kids coming back next year. Obviously you're excited when you have a sophomore and a freshman starting. 

"We have some good young players and a strong JV program this year, so now it's up to those kids to go out, work hard and get better, so we can come back next year as a better team." 
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