Drury's Danielle Racette (10) goes for a steal against Wahconah's Gabby Lavinio.
AMHERST, Mass. — The Drury girls' basketball team showed why it was the top seed in the Division 2 Western Mass. tournament on Thursday night, using a strong second-half performance to dispatch No. 4 Wahconah 51-37 in the sectional semifinals held at the Curry Hicks Cage on the campus of UMass-Amherst.
It wasn't the most glamorous showing at times, but the Blue Devils made enough plays, particularly on the defensive end, to advance to Saturday's much-anticipated showdown with archrival Hoosac Valley. The No. 7 Hurricanes punched their ticket to the Western Mass. final with a big 57-37 win over No. 6 Mahar earlier in the night.
Much like Hoosac's game against Mahar, Drury (17-3) took control of the contest with big effort in the third quarter. After going to free-throw line just once in the first half, the Blue Devils found their way to the charity stripe four different times in the third quarter alone, shooting 5 of 7 in the period to help break up a 20-20 score at halftime. Junior Megan Benoit also made a couple of big plays in the third subbing in for classmate Morgan Lamarre, who left with an injury just a few minutes into the game.
Benoit first sank a lay in while being fouled and then swished the free throw to give her team a six-point lead. After sophomore Emily Jordan answered with a jumper for the Warriors (12-10), Benoit scored again with a runner in the lane. Senior point guard Danielle Racette then connected on back-to-back baskets, giving Drury its biggest lead of the game so far at 35-25.
"At halftime, we said we didn't think we were attacking the basket well enough, and we needed to limit their second shots," Blue Devils head coach John Franzoni said. "They got half of their points in the first half off of second shots. We always say that first shots don't win games; second shots do, so we knew if we just held them to just one shot, we'd have a good chance to win the basketball game.
"I also thought Megan Benoit and Amber Iacuessa came off the bench to give us a big lift and filled in nicely after Morgan's injury early in the first quarter."
Wahconah's Shannon Lussier (10) makes a move on Drury's Shannon Garvey.
Wahconah cut Drury's lead down to seven points going into the fourth quarter, but that was as close it would get the rest of the way. The senior trio of Racette, Ali Tatro and Shannon Garvey combined to score 14 of their team's 16 points in the fourth to put the game away. Racette led all scorers and rebounders with 15 points and 10 boards while also holding Wahconah guard Gabby Lavinio to 11 points on the night. Lavinio, who is one of the top shooters in Western Mass., hit a couple of 3-pointers late in the first quarter, but the Devils' defense did a great job of holding her to just five points in the second half. Senior center Shannon Lussier was the only other Wahconah player to reach double figures, recording 12 points and nine rebounds.
"Gabby is the best player on their team and a really good 3-point shooter," Racette said. "You can't leave her open because if you do, she'll knock down shots. She's definitely a tough person to defend but, with the right help and the right amount of pressure, we were able to hold her in check."
Tatro started the game off hot, scoring six of her team's first 10 points. She also finished the game strong, making a steal and going in for an uncontested lay-up at the other end to push Drury's lead back up to 10 points with 3:27 left showing on the clock. Overall, Tatro put up her second strong postseason game in a row, scoring 14 points, grabbing four rebounds and coming up with a game-high six steals.
"We switched Ali onto [Maddie] Sprague in the fourth quarter because she's a good defender both inside and out," Franzoni said. "She got that big steal for us after they had cut the lead to eight [points], and I thought that was the biggest play of the game. Ali had a huge game tonight. I was very proud of her effort. I thought she did a great job with shooting, attacking the basket and also getting some points off of turnovers. Both Danielle and Ali really attacked the hoop and got us going again early in the second half."
Megan Benoit attacks the basket.
Garvey also made some big shots down the stretch for the Devils. She only had two points coming into the final quarter but rallied by scoring seven of her nine points in the fourth. She started things off with a trey from the top of the key before knocking down a runner the next time she got her hands on the ball. Her last shot, a runner in the paint, came right after Tatro's steal and lay-up and all but sealed the deal by putting Drury up by 12 points with less than three minutes to go.
"She's had big fourth quarters now in back-to-back games for us," Franzoni said. "She had some openings, so we told her to keep attacking the basket and good things will happen."
Good things have been happening a lot to these Blue Devils, who won their 10th game in a row on Thursday night in their first trip back to the Cage since the 2006-07 season.
"Breathtaking," Tatro said when asked how it feels to finally play in the Cage in her senior year. "It was really fun to be here. All of the energy and the fans and our whole team knew that it didn't matter where we were playing. It could have been at Greylock School's gym, where we practice sometimes, but we knew we had to come out with as much intensity as ever."
The intensity will be even higher come Saturday, when North Berkshire County gets its dream matchup in the Western Mass. final.
"It couldn't be more of an exciting game," Tatro said. "I can't wait. We're ready for it."
While Drury moves on, the Warriors were left to reflect on a positive season that saw Wahconah rebound from a 9-11 finish a year ago. After starting the season off at 3-6, June Blake's squad won eight out of its next 10 games to qualify for the Western Mass. tournament. The Warriors were rewarded for their tough schedule with a high seed and a home game in the quarterfinals, where they were able to knock off No. 5 Belchertown.
Unfortunately, sophomore forward Katherine Lewis was hurt in that game, leaving Wahconah down one starter against the Blue Devils. Although Lavinio and Lussier leave big shoes to fill, the future of the Warriors' program looks bright with talented sophomores like Sprague, Lewis and fellow starter Katie Dumas to lean on for the next two years.
"Losing Katherine in the last last game was tough," Blake said. "But I thought both Rachael Brennan and Emily Jordan had good nights filling in that spot for us. We had some kids that stepped up, and I was happy with our effort. Obviously, we had some shots that didn't fall and things didn't go our way in certain situations. We had too many missed opportunities in the first half, and I felt that they took advantage of their opportunities in the second half.
"We started off the season a little bit slow, but we turned it around. For us to come on strong, win eight out of our last 11 games and really finish the season playing our best basketball, I was very happy with the way the kids have come along. I couldn't be more proud of this group, and I can't say enough about them."
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