Hoosac Valley Girls Win Sixth Sectional Crown

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports
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AMHERST, Mass. -- Thousand-point scorers Alie Mendel and Lexi Mercier each scored in double figures, but it is safe to say that the Hoosac Valley girls basketball team does not win its sixth Western Massachusetts championship on Saturday without the hard work of its other captain, junior Riley Robinson.
Robinson grabbed 11 rebounds while battling the vaunted Greenfield front line, and the Hurricanes earned a 56-46 win over the Green Wave at Curry Hicks Cage to advance to Tuesday's State Semi-Finals in Division 3.
"Riley's been doing that all season on the boards," Hoosac Valley coach Ron Wojick said. "And her and Sarah [Field] had the responsibility inside on [Greenfield's Samantha] Smith. We had Alie hedging in front, trying to deny her as much as we can, but [Smith] is a great ballplayer. They've got three really, really good ballplayers on that team.
"But you can't say enough about what Riley did inside and Sarah also as well."
Mercier scored a game-high 19 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter, and Mendel scored 14 as Hoosac Valley won its sixth sectional title in the last seven years, completing a mission that began last year in a semi-final loss to Wahconah at the Cage.
Fourth-seeded Greenfield (19-3) was no pushover. The Green Wave kept it a one- or two-possession game most of the first half after a Robinson 3-pointer late in the first quarter gave the Hurricanes an 11-10 lead they never relinquished.
Raegen Hickey (12 points) was a big part of that, scoring seven first-half points and grabbing a few rebounds to complement the work of Smith (15 points, 11 boards).
"We knew we had to box out big time, and then we had to focus on Smith," Robinson said. "And our guards did a great job on top with Hickey and [Katherine] Haselton. I just thought we had to stop it on in the inside. If they kept getting putbacks, we knew it was going to be a close game.
"So Sarah and I just had to do our job boxing out."
It as a two-point game early in the third quarter before the Hurricanes went on a 7-0 run.
Junior Field (eight points) started the run when she was fouled in the post and hit one of her free throws to make it 29-26.
A couple of possessions later, Field's offensive rebound led to a pair of made free throws by Mendel.
Robinson got to the line on Hoosac's next trip and converted one shot to make it 32-26.
And Field capped the run with a 3-pointer to give her team a nine-point margin.
Greenfield never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
Field's two-way play was a big part of why Hoosac was able to build its lead in the second half.
"It's not easy to play both ends, and Smith is a tough cover down at the other end," Wojcik said of Field. "Between her and Riley, we asked them to body her and push her out as much as we can.
"When you can do that and still come back and contribute on the offensive end, that's a huge help for us."
Greenfield's Haselton (15 points) hit a pair of free throws at the end of the third to get the Wave within five at 38-33.
But Shaleigh Levesque hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth, and Mercier connected twice from beyond the arc over the next three possessions to give Hoosac (19-4) another double-digit lead at 47-36.
Greenfield was forced to put Hoosac Valley on the line at the end, and Mercier and Mendel combined to go 7-for-9 at the stripe in the final 1:21 to put the game away.
Although Hoosac Valley fans may have gotten spoiled by a run of five straight sectional titles -- and four straight state finals appearances -- last year's loss in the semi-final to interrupt the dynasty was a reminder of how special these Western Mass titles are.
Robinson has been a part of several of those title runs, but she said the idea of maintaining the program's legacy did not put added pressure on this year's edition of the Hurricanes.
"I didn't feel a lot of pressure," Robinson said. "I think it was more a matter of wanting to get back. I think we let ourselves down last year. We really wanted it this year, and I think that's great. We have alumni who are really supportive of us.
"We all knew it was going to happen some time; there was going to be a loss. But I think it just made us stronger as a team."
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