Hoosac Valley Girls Return to State Title Game
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The Hoosac Valley girls basketball team went into half-time of Tuesday's Division 3 State Semi-Final with a six-point lead.
Before the third quarter was two minutes old, it was an 11-point margin.
And things just got worse from there for Central Mass Champion Millis.
Lexi Mercier scored 17 of her game-high 22 points in the second half, and Alie Mendel scored 21 to lead the Hurricanes to a 63-42 win and give Hoosac Valley its fifth state championship game appearance in the last six years.
On Saturday in Worcester in a place and at a time to be determined Wednesday, the Hurricanes will face either St. Mary's or Archbishop Williams, who play in the North-South semi-final on Wednesday afternoon.
On Tuesday night, Mercier scored seven straight to open the third quarter, the last a 3-pointer that gave the 'Canes a double-digit lead they never relinquished.
"Once I hit a couple, it's like everything just keeps coming to me," said Mercier, like Mendel, a 1,000-point scorer during their stellar careers in Cheshire. "I just try to take better shots and not rush my shots. But my teammates did a great job of setting me screens and getting me open for the ball."
And Hoosac did a better job at the defensive end, forcing three turnovers in the first three minutes of the second half to set the tone.
"We put a lot of ball pressure on them, and I think it made them a little nervous," Mendel said. "We forced a lot of turnovers."
And, as they have so many times in the last seven years, those turnovers turned into offensive chances at the other end for the Hurricanes.
"I thought defensively we picked it up," Hoosac Valley coach Ron Wojcik said. "And some of these guys, I think we get going with our defense. We got a couple of breakaways.
"We saw their center was kind of hanging in to take away our drives. So with Sarah [Field] in foul trouble, I told Averie [McGrath] to step up because you're going to have shots. And she knocked down a couple of big shots for us."
McGrath, a freshman, hit a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. The first came after Millis had used a pair of 3s of its own to trim a 17-point lead down to 11. The next McGrath triple ignited a 9-0 Hoosac Valley spurt that put the game away.
Mercier ended that run by converting both ends of a one-and-one with four minutes left to give Hoosac Valley a 55-34 lead.
Riley Robinson scored six points and passed out three assists, and Shaleigh Levesque scored four to go with eight rebounds.
On Saturday, the Hurricanes will seek one more time to get over the hump and win the state title. But win or lose, the accomplishment of getting to the last game of the season five times in six years is something few programs can claim.
"They all feel good," Wojcik said. "Western Mass feels good. This feels good. The kids certainly were disappointed [losing in last winter's sectional semi-finals], but you can't win them all. We all know that.
"I thought it was a gut check for them last year. They worked in the off-season, regular season, and the last three weeks, ever since Foxborough, I think, we've really put it together as a team. We played a couple of really good teams there, defended really well. And we seem to have really come together.
"This was a really, really good Millis team. They play hard, aggressive. And fortunately, we were able to create some space in the second half."