SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- After testing one another for three months, the Hoosac Valley Hurricanes showed they are ready for finals week.
The Hoosac girls basketball team, which romped through the regular season and rolled through the Western Mass tourney with three 30-point wins, finally was put to the test in Tuesday's Massachusetts Division 3 state semi-final.
Give Hoosac an A-plus.
Megan Rodowicz scored 13 points to lead three Hurricanes in double figures, and Hoosac held off a furious fourth-quarter comeback for a 54-52 win over Central Mass champion Bellingham and a berth in Saturday morning's state championship game in Worcester.
Hoosac led by as many as 16 points late in the third quarter and had an eight-point lead with three minutes gone in the fourth before Bellingham (20-4) rallied. The Blackhawks finished on an 11-5 run and scored the game's last seven points. but Hoosac slammed the door on three straight possessions when Bellingham had the ball down, 54-52, in the last minute, 30 seconds.
"I'm not going to lie," Hoosac junior point guard McKenzie Robinson said. "I was worried. When they kept creeping up, creeping up, I was worried, and I was a little out of control.
"But with such an amazing coaching staff -- if they're yelling at me, they're not really yelling at me. You've got to take it from the perspective that they're just talking to you, but it's in a tone that's yelling because they want to get a point across.
"At the same time, you've got three other coaches behind you who will calm you down, talk to the other players. I've got four other players on the court and a whole bench that keeps me up, and that helps me play better."
Robinson's classmate, forward Emily Rosse, echoed the point about Hoosac's coaching staff.
"Coach said the game's goign to be about runs tonight," Rosse said. "They could hit a run or we could hit a run. And we just had to stay focused, and that's what we did tonight."
This Hoosac team had really just one other experience with a tight game all year, and it was a loss on the road ... way on the road, in Florida, in December in a game that did not mean a whole lot.
"I give a ton of credit to Bellingham because that's the first game we had to play like that. The Austintown Fitch game was like that," Hoosac coach Ron Wojcik said, referring to a 53-40 loss to an Ohio school at Disney World. "It was two points with two minutes to play. They made the plays, and we ended up having to foul them.
"That's the first time we've been pushed like that."
This time, it was Bellingham that was forced to foul, but not until after Hoosac made some big defensive stands down the stretch.
Bellingham had the ball three times down two points in the last minute but could not tie it.
On the Blackhawks' first chance, Rosse blocked a shot by Sabrina Ulsh (24 points) in the post and grabbed the rebound.
Next time down, Bellingham got to the foul line for a one-and-one, but the first shot was off the mark, and Rosse got the rebound.
Then, after a Bellingham steal on the baseline, Jennifer Gale stole the ball back at mid court with 10 seconds left, and the Blackhawks were forced to start fouling.
It was just Bellingham's fourth foul of the half, and it would have needed three more before it put the 'Canes on the line. Hoosac (23-1) inbounded the ball three straight times, taking off precious seconds each time.
The last inbounds pass came with 2.9 seconds on the clock, and Robinson dribbled the clock out to ice the game.
"I thought the girls did an awesome job, and it showed, I think, their experience in a pressure situation, being able to do it, running plays that we ran in practice, realistically, two weeks ago, before the tournament, and doing it without me having to call timeouts," Wojcik said. "I just called out, 'Stack.' I called out, 'Elbows.' And the girls ran the sets and got the ball in.
Rosse finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Gale scored 12 points. Robinson and Madi Ryan each had three assists.
Hoosac will play North sectional champion St. Mary's of Lynn (23-2) on Saturday at 10:45. St. Mary's beat Archbishop Williams, 47-45, Tuesday in the other state semi-final.
The Hurricanes are not expecting things to get any easier next time around.
"In the fourth quarter, when they started making their run, we knew something was going to happen," Robinson said. "This is states. This is not Western Mass. It's not the regular season. We're not going to blow teams out by 30. We've got to play with heart. We've got to play with defense."