Hurricanes Shock Devils to Win Western Mass.

By Ryan
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Hoosac won their first-ever Western Mass Division 2 title on Saturday against archrival Drury High.

AMHERST, Mass. — The Hoosac Valley girls’ basketball team wasn’t supposed to win the Western Mass. title this year. Somebody forgot to tell the Hurricanes that, though.

No. 7 Hoosac pulled off an improbable win on Saturday, picking up its third straight victory over a higher-seeded team with a 47-35 victory over No. 1 Drury in the Division 2 championship game. The Blue Devils had already defeated the Hurricanes twice this season, including a 59-38 thumping of their rivals to the south back on Jan. 14. Under head coach John Franzoni’s watch, Drury was 18-2 against Hoosac coming into Saturday’s game. The Blue Devils’ senior class of Danielle Racette, Ali Tatro and Shannon Garvey was 8-0 in the careers against the Hurricanes.

Now, that record is 8-1, and the Hoosac girls’ basketball program has its first-ever Western Mass. championship. The Hurricanes last made it to the sectional finals in 1992 but lost to Taconic.

“I knew we could win from the moment we stepped on the court,” Hoosac junior Megan Rodowicz said. “I think our team just focused on our defense. They have good defense, but I think ours is better.”

Hoosac (19-5) picked the perfect time to break up Drury’s dominance, playing some of its best basketball at the most critical time of the season. Ron Wojcik’s squad took control of a tight game with a superb second-half performance, outscoring the Blue Devils 37-22 after halftime. It was the first time the Drury (17-4) failed to score in the 40s in the past 11 games, breaking the Devils’ 10-game winning streak in the process.

Rodowicz played an integral part in Saturday’s victory. She finished with eight points and five rebounds, but her biggest impact came on the defensive end. She was the main player in the Hurricanes’ trap defense, forcing the Drury offense into 28 turnovers. Rodowicz also held Racette scoreless for most of the game until the Blue Devils’ point guard scored four points from the foul line in the final two and half minutes of the contest.

“Not to make excuses, but Megan was sick the last time we played Drury,” Wojcik said when asked what the difference was between Saturday’s game and the last time his team lost to the Blue Devils. “She played a couple of pokey minutes. The key to our press right now is Megan Rodowicz up front. She’s just relentless on the ball. She’s tall, she’s long and she’s all over it.

“If you really think about what Megan Rodowicz did in this tournament, she guarded [Alyssa] Darling from Palmer, [Chelsea] Moussette from Hampshire, [Jill] Valley from Mahar the other night and Racette tonight. She guarded three of four of the best guards in Western Mass. I don’t know what Danielle got tonight, but she had to work for everything she got.”

Quite simply, the Hoosac defense was the difference in Saturday’s game. Drury only committed 11 turnovers in its semifinal win over Wahconah on Thursday night, but the Blue Devils coughed it up 16 times in the first half alone on Saturday. Racette and Tatro had combined to score just under 30 points in Drury’s first two playoff games. That same pair was held to just eight points total against the Hurricanes.

The Blue Devils lost starting shooting guard Morgan Lamarre to a shoulder injury in their last game, leaving Franzoni’s squad down one ball handler to face Hoosac’s trap defense. The Hurricanes did a good job of getting the ball out of Racette’s hands and didn’t allow the Drury offense much time to run its plays.

“I think Morgan’s loss definitely hurt because she’s another ball handler for us,” Franzoni said. “We talked about having to reverse the ball. We knew Danielle was going to have to give it up but, when we reversed it, we didn’t step to the basketball. We kind of waited for balls and got beat to basketballs and that was a big key. It seemed like we couldn’t get anything in sync today, and that’s a credit to them.”

Another big factor in Saturday’s game was free-throw shooting. Both teams went to the line 23 times, but Hoosac made 15 of their attempts compared to just nine for the Blue Devils. Drury missed its first five free throws of the game and went just 3 of 8 during a critical stretch early in the fourth quarter when it was trying erase a seven-point deficit. The Devils’ defense was getting stops and turnovers and held the Hurricanes scoreless for over three minutes at the start of the fourth quarter, but couldn’t catch up to its rivals with so many misses at the foul line.

“In the fourth quarter, we kept getting steals and fouled and if we make those free throws, we could have tied the game up,” Franzoni said. “I think at one point it was 30-26 and were only 3 of 8 [at the foul line]. We’ve shot about 70 percent all year on our free throws. If we just make our free throws right there, it’s a one-possession game and we’re right back in it.

“But you know what, you have to make those shots. If you don’t make those shots, you don’t win.”

Both teams struggled through a first half highlighted by strong defense and marred by high amount turnovers. Hoosac jumped out to a 5-0 lead thanks to a bucket by Rodowicz and 3-pointer from classmate Jenn Gale. Drury responded with an 11-1 run, however, putting the Devils up 11-6 early in the second quarter. That’s when the Hurricanes’ defense started clicking, though, and the Blue Devils managed just one more basket the rest of the half. Gale hit another jumper, and Rodowicz made two more baskets to key an 8-2 run that gave Hoosac a slim 14-13 lead at the break.

“We’re up 11-6 in the second quarter, and one of their best players gets hurt,” Franzoni said. “We just didn’t respond and all of a sudden they came out running around and making steals. We scored two points the rest of the quarter, and that was our chance to extend our lead. We started scoring at the start of the third quarter, but then we couldn’t get any stops.”

See more game photos here.

Hoosac had to survive the loss of senior forward Tori Rumbolt, who left the game with a leg injury early in the second quarter. It was a scary moment for the Hurricanes, but it was one that seemed to galvanize the team together. The Hoosac offense really picked it up after halftime, led by Gale and sophomore center Emily Rosse, who scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half.

With the game tied at 17 points apiece, the Hoosac offense started making things happen in transition. Rosse got loose for three fast-break lay ins in the third quarter, while freshman Madison Ryan added a huge three from the right wing to put the Hurricanes up for good. Senior Erika Lucia, who was subbing in for Rumbolt, added another fast-break lay-up, sparking a 9-2 run that put Hoosac up 30-23 at the end of the third quarter.

“I thought the two keys in the second half were we started running more and we also picked up our defensive pressure,” Wojcik said. “Rosse started beating their bigs down the court and she got behind there two or three times.”

After Drury missed its chance at the foul line early in the fourth quarter, Hoosac put the game away by shooting 11 of 17 from the charity stripe the rest of the way. Rosse also had two huge buckets down the stretch, hitting a turnaround midway through the fourth quarter to increase her team’s lead back to five points. With two minutes left on the clock, Wojcik called a timeout to set her up for another turnaround on the right baseline. She made the shot, which gave the ’Canes a three-possession lead at 39-31.

Gale led all scorers with 16 points, including a 9 for 11 effort at the free-throw line.

“We’ve been spending a half hour a day on free throws during the tournament,” Wojcik said. “We’ve had girls underneath the basket yelling at each other, while the other girls are shooting. They’ve never been here, so I told them that’s what’s it’s going to be like. Jenn is just in a zone right now. She was 10 for 10 down the stretch in the Hampshire game, and I think she only missed one down the stretch here tonight.”

While losing to your rival in the biggest game of the year is a tough pill to swallow for the Blue Devils, Franzoni was quick acknowledge the accomplishments of his senior class. With Racette, Tatro and Garvey (team-high 10 points on Saturday) leading the way, Drury has gone 31-9 over the past two seasons. The Blue Devils returned to the Cage this year for the first time since the 2006-07 season and were one of the final two teams remaining in the Division 2 tournament.

“I don’t think words can describe what Danielle has done for our program in her four years, what Shannon and Ali have meant to our program,” an emotional Franzoni said after the game. “They’re special kids. It’s been an honor and privilege to coach them. I can’t imagine having practice without those three kids. I couldn’t be more proud of our three seniors. I’m just sad we don’t get to practice tomorrow.

“It’s been a special year, and this loss doesn’t take away from the special things our kids have done. We’re all pretty upset right now, but at some point we’ll all smile because we were all a part of it and we all contributed to it. Once we have a little time to heal, we’ll realize how special this season was.”

While Drury looks back on a season that was, Hoosac looks forward to Monday night’s game against Central Mass. champion Nashoba (21-2) in the state semifinals at 6 p.m. The Hurricanes were thought to be a little inexperienced, maybe a little too young to make a run at a Western Mass. title this year. Hoosac jumped its own learning curve, however, and looks to have a bright future with several of its key players back next year and for years to come.

“Our coaches really motivated us,” Rodowicz said. “They knew we had the potential to go to Western Mass. when the season first started. In the beginning of the season, it wasn’t really going our way, but we just picked it up because we really wanted this.”

“It’s awesome,” Wojcik said about winning a Western Mass. title in his third year with the team. “I’ve been here four times with the Pittsfield boys, and we went to two finals. It was Division 1 so realistically we were always underdogs. It’s tough to win, but I told the girls when we got here, ‘Don’t be satisfied.’

“It’s hard to get here, but don’t be satisfied. There’s no reason we can’t win two games. I couldn’t be prouder of a group of girls.” 

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