McGrath Leads Hoosac Valley Girls in Defensive Battle Against Taconic

By Stephen Sports
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CHESHIRE, Mass. -- Averie McGrath scored a game-high 16 points, and Ashlyn Lesure made three big free throws down the stretch as the Hoosac Valley girls basketball team edged Taconic, 38-33, on Wednesday night.
The Hurricanes held Taconic to just four points through the first 7-1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter to preserve their lead and survive a battle of the reigning state champions in Divisions 3 and 2, respectively.
"The women have really bought into the match-ups we're defining and the defensive schemes that we're implementing," Hoosac Valley coach Holly McGovern said. "They've really bought into that. We just need to figure out the offensive side. We look a little mechanical right now. I'd like to get into a better flow."
Neither team could find much flow outside of the second quarter, when they combined for 27 points and the Hurricanes emerged with a five-point half-time lead.
Coincidentally, the second quarter was when McGrath did most of her damage, starting the period with a 3-pointer from the left wing and going on to score 11 points in the frame after being held scoreless in the first eight minutes.
"She's a good player," Taconic coach Matt Mickle said. "Ahliya [Phillips] did her best on her, and we you just have to try and limit her. I don't know what she ended up with, but I felt like we did a pretty good job on her.
"[Sixteen] is pretty much what you're going to get out of her. I think she had to work for her 16. We held them to 38, so you can't be down on our defensive effort."
Taconic was hampered most of the first half after center Faith Cross picked up her second personal foul midway through the first quarter.
"It just takes her out of her rhythm," Mickle said. "She was frustrated. Maybe I leave her in, and she'd be fine. But I was worried, so I sat her for a little while. I didn't want her to get three because then she wouldn't have been able to come in until mid-third quarter to the end of the third quarter.
"It's always a tough call. I tried to get her in a couple of minutes here, couple of minutes there. But those minutes are nerve-wracking. You don't want her to get that third."
Cross finished with seven points and 15 rebounds.
Phillips led Taconic with eight points and 10 boards. McNeice scored seven, and Madison Winn had six points and nine rebounds.
Backing up McGrath, Gabby Billetz scored eight points to go with 13 rebounds while helping limit the damage from Cross and Winn in the post.
"I thought Taylor Garabedian and Gabby Billetz did a phenomenal job today," McGovern said. "They were able to clog up the middle and, at the same time, go and defend the dribble drive. Overall, I'm really, really happy with our effort."
Taconic trailed by as many as six in the first half but got within one early in the third quarter.
A conventional three-point play by Cross on a putback started the second half to get her team within two at 23-21. Moments later, Cross hit from the elbow to cut Hoosac's lead to 26-25.
It again was a one-point game when Phillips scored in the post off an assist from Jaelynn Walker with less than three minutes to play to make it 32-31.
But McGrath answered with a triple for her only bucket of the second half on Hoosac Valley's next possession.
The next points came almost two minutes later when Lesure converted a pair of free throws to make it 37-31 with 31 seconds to play.
Winn scored from deep on the right wing with 15 seconds left to make it a four-point game, but Lesure provided the final margin with another free throw with 4.9 seconds on the clock.
It was Taconic's first game in nearly two weeks and first loss of the season as it fell to 2-1 with a couple of postponed games to be made up this winter.
"We just didn't run anything tonight," Mickle said. "It was frustrating. We did have a few days off with the Christmas break. We just looked like we were rusty. We had a hard time running anything through all night.
"I have to give credit to [Hoosac Valley]. They played good, solid defense and probably took us out of some stuff we were trying to do. But we just did not finish. I don't know how many bunnies we missed."
After watching Taconic hold her team to a season low for points, McGovern was not raving about her offense either.
"We've been working with the team a lot on off- and on-ball screens and having the proper mindset of when to set it and then the proper footwork for how to set it," McGovern said. "It's been a work in progress for us. We continue to work on our offense. You can see we're still having some troubles.
"But I look at the defensive side and say: We're putting forth great effort."
Hoosac Valley (5-1) hosts Granby on Tuesday.
Taconic (2-1) is at Wahconah on Monday.
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