DALTON, Mass. – Two years after a global pandemic denied the Hoosac Valley girls basketball program a trip to the state championship game, the Hurricanes would not be denied on Tuesday night.
Averie McGrath scored 20 points, and Rylynn Witek added 16 as top-seeded Hoosac Valley beat a short-handed Taconic squad, 72-38, to earn a berth in this weekend’s Division 5 final at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.
Hoosac Valley will face third-seeded Hopedale, a 58-56 winner over Springfield International Charter School on Tuesday on the other side of the bracket.
For the Hurricanes, who won it all in 2019, it will be a third straight trip to the finals. In 2020, Hoosac Valley was declared Division 3 co-state champion when the tournament ended abruptly at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, there were no sectional or state playoffs.
McGrath was just a freshman the last time there was a state championship weekend in Massachusetts high school basketball. This time, she goes back as a senior, a 1,000-point scorer and a leader on a team that improved to 22-3 with its seventh straight win on Tuesday night.
“I had really great leaders throughout my years, so I really just hoped and prayed that I was that for the younger kids,” she said. “I don’t get nervous, but I’m sure that they do. As long as I can be there for them, that’s all that matters.”
After Taconic opened with a 6-2 run in the state semi-finals, McGrath helped settle any Hoosac Valley nerves with a 3-pointer to start a 15-0 run.
Ashlyn Lesure capped the run with her first triple of the game to put the Hurricanes ahead, 17-6, and they went on to take a 26-9 lead after one quarter of play.
Witek dropped in two first-quarter 3s to help the Hurricanes get off to a fast start.
They went on to extend their lead in every quarter, although Taconic was able to tighten things up at the end with the Hurricanes’ starters on the bench.
The fifth-seeded Thunder (15-10) played the whole game without two of their starters. Leading scorers Ahliya Phillips and Faith Cross each were unavailable. Earlier in the day, the Pittsfield Public Schools Department announced that some Taconic players had tested positive for COVID-19 and would have to sit out the state semi-final.
“The last 24 hours were unfortunate,” Taconic coach Matt Mickle said. “But like I just told [the team], I’m proud of them. I thought we had a great year. … I know all that stuff doesn’t mean a lot to people right now, but when we have a chance to reflect and look at our season, I think we can say it’s a successful one.
“This is one of four times the Taconic girls basketball team was in the state semis.”
One of the other times was 2020, when Taconic also was credited with a co-State Championship – in Division 2, in their case.
The battle of defending state champs lost a little of its luster when the Thunder learned it would be without two of its key players.
“I feel bad for Ahliya and Faith more than anything,” Mickle said. “Obviously, the rest of the team, too, but they’re sitting at their house watching it on TV helpless.”
Taconic put up a fight with 13 points from Madison Winn and six apiece from Jalisa Jessup and Alexandra Hudson, who started the game with a 3-pointer. Amelia Leasure’s three-ball gave the Taconic faithful in the Wahconah gymnasium hope with that early 6-2 advantage.
After McGrath and Witek, Hoosac Valley got 10 points apiece from Alyssa Garabedian and Lesure. Taylor Garabedian scored seven points and grabbed nine rebounds while passing out a couple of assists.