NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- The No. 4-seeded Hoosac Valley Hurricanes girls basketball team punched its ticket to the Final Four in Saturday night's heart-pounding thriller, defeating the Georgetown Royals, 59-52, in the Division 5 State Tournament Elite 8 championship game.
In a home game that wasn’t so home due to water leaks in their gymnasium's roof, the Hoosac girls had to host at Drury High School, where Taylor Garabedian led the Canes with 19 points in their victory over Georgetown.
“We have to come together,” Garabedian said, “work hard on defense so we can limit the amount of baskets they take so it doesn't get too high. And you just have to keep up the intensity to keep pushing to win. I think somebody hit a basket to pick it up. And when we got that basket, it carried on throughout the game and gave us the energy needed.”
Garabedian put up two 3-pointers to help get to her 19 points, Gabby Billetz followed up with 17 points, 15 of them coming from the free throw line. Ashlyn Lesure scored nine points, seven also from free throws and Abby Scialabba had eight points for the Hurricanes (20-4). Also scoring Saturday night for Hoosac were Hanna Shea with four points and Emma Meczywor with a pair.
"We do a lot of foul shooting at practice." Billetz said. "We get in there early. We take about 50 foul shots a day, and that really benefits us. We knew that they were going to foul us if we drove to the paint, so we just did what we knew we had to do."
For the fifth-seeded Georgetown Royals (14-9), Carena Ziolkowski scored half of the team’s points with 26, which included six 3-point shots. Marley Morrison scored seven and Neiylah Marcelin had six for their team.
"I just think this is one of the best groups of kids you ever gonna meet," visiting coach Tim Mahan said, "and you know, outside of basketball, it's more about life and I think they're good humans who do the right thing all the time and I'm just gonna miss spending time with them."
The further the tournament, the tougher the competition, and the Hoosac Valley Hurricane girls can attest to that as they fought their way tooth and nail through a hard earned win on Saturday.
At the end of the first quarter, Georgetown was in the lead 14-12, that was until Billetz went 4-for-4 from the line on one trip, taking advantage of a technical foul. Canes then hit one more field goal to close out the first with six unanswered points.
Hoosac continued into the second quarter with their run going 13-2 in all. Finally the Royals full-court press was able to put a stop to it and then started a run of their own shutting down Hoosac 14-0, taking control of the game before halftime and leading the Hurricanes 30-25.
"We decided to slow the ball down," Lesure said. "Don't make stupid passes, just feel out the court. We take 50 foul shots a day at practice, and I think that's what gets us there."
Georgetown showed up the second half not slowing down, putting up four more points, expanding its lead to nine, when persistence ensued for the Hoosac Valley Hurricanes as they scratched their way back in it. Pecking away at the lead, they switched up man-to-man defense, in addition spreading the ball around more and drawing fouls, which led to a 12-0 run and giving Hoosac the lead 37-34.
The Royals were not giving up yet, though. Hoosac Valley opened up the final quarter ahead 42-41. Both teams fought for the lead until they were tied at 52 a piece, with 45.1 seconds remaining on the clock, Lesure went to the free throw line and hit two clutch shots, giving the home team the lead. After that Hoosac did not look back, denying Georgetown any more baskets for the remainder of the competition.
In an Elite 8 game that was decided by free throws, Hoosac Valley went 31-for-43 on the free throw line and overcame their opponents 59-52.
"We knew they were gonna press us and we said, let's try to press them," Hoosac Valley's head coach Jon Frederick said, "and then I think the second quarter we're running a different press and we just got stuck leaving [Ziolkowski] wide open. I think she had three 3s in a row down here from the corner. So that was kind of a shame on me, I guess.”
“But in the second half, we went back to our man defense, and we pretty much caught off the pass. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, you know, and the girls stepped up and they played great man ‘D.’ Taylor shut down [Ziolkowski]. I think she had six points in the second half. And she did a great job.”
“All the girls played great today, everybody who got in was a contributor. And, you know, this isn't a selfish group, which makes it kind of easy to coach, but they get it they know, I don't have to be the hero. Somebody else can be the hero right now, so it's, it's been good. It's been good.”
Hoosac Valley moves on to the state’s Final 4 and a date on Wednesday against top-seeded Millis (15-8) in a game to be played at Springfield’s High School of Science and Technology.
“We're so excited,” Billetz said. “I don't know if you can hear us down there, but we were loud.”