AMHERST, Mass. -- The Mahar girls basketball made a fatal mistake on Thursday night at Curry Hicks Cage.
It poked the bear.
Actually, it poked the four-time defending Western Mass champion Hoosac Valley Hurricanes, who answered a 4-0 Mahar run to start the game with a 32-0 run of their own en route to a 75-27 win.
"They won the tip, so [the first basket] was a nice play by them," Hoosac senior captain Fallon Field said. "Then, we just realized: The game started, so we should probably play defense.
"Once we got started, it was good."
Field finished with 21 points and seven steals, and sophomores Lexi Mercier and Allie Mendel added 16 and 13, respectively, as top-seeded Hoosac (20-2) advanced to Saturday afternoon's sectional final against second-seeded South Hadley, a 54-42 winner over No. 3 Hampshire in Thursday's late semi-final.
Field did most of her damage in the first quarter, scoring 14 points in the first eight minutes.
Mercier was merciless in the second quarter, hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 14 points in the period to help send Hoosac into half-time with a 46-12 lead.
"When you make one and everyone cheers you on, your adrenaline gets going, and everything seems to go right for you," she said. "Everything fell for me.
"[The basket looked] huge."
Hoosac Valley coach Ron Wojcik said Fallon's proficency in the first quarter set the stage for Mercier's show in the second.
"We talked about pace," Wojcik said. "That was the big thing for us. ... Get some fast-break points, and once Fal [Field] was driving to the hole, it kind of collapsed them a little bit, and they even came out with some zone. That freed up the shooters, and Lexi did a good job of knocking down 3s for us, for sure."
Senior Kailynne Frederick was a major presence defensively in the first half, taking a charge midway through the first quarter that gave Mahar center Cassidy Verheyen her third foul.
At the time, it was a 7-4 ballgame. With Verheyen on the bench, Hoosac scored the next 25 points, including back-to-back 3s by Mercier on assists from Skylar Case (five assists) to open the second half.
Hoosac got a big contribution off the bench from freshman Riley Robinson, who four steals and four assists in the first half and finished with nine rebounds.
"Riley has really been a spark off the bench for us and every day in practice," Wojcik said. "We want to get her scoring more, actually. But she's doing everything else.
"She's offensive rebounding. She's defensive rebounding. Steals, pushing the ball up court. She can play 1, 2, 3, 4. We had her at the 5 in Boston. That was something entertaining.
"She's been outstanding, and the energy she brings ... We've talked about it through the years with the freshmen we bring off the bench: Any energy they can bring is huge for us, and it's a huge lift for the starters for sure."
Both Field and Frederick provided that freshman spark -- way back in Year 2 of Hoosac's five-year run of Western Mass success.
It all started when the pair were eighth-graders. On Thursday night, Field talked about her memories as a spectator to Hoosac's first sectional title of this magical run.
"I remember more of the game that got them into the Cage," Field said.
Wojcik helpfully provided the detail of the Hurricanes' double overtime quarterfinal win over Hampshire.
"I think that's when I started to realize how it exciting it was," Field said. "Because I never really knew about the Western Mass tournament. I was young, so I didn't really know. But then I came in here, and I was like, 'Wow, this is really cool.'
"And I got here."