Katelyn Pickunka exerted her will on the Western Massachusetts Division 3 championship game.
Whether she was scoring, directing teammates, or, most of all, rebounding, the Hampshire Regional senior left her fingerprints on nearly every play of Hampshire’s 47-41 victory over Wahconah, Saturday.
The Raiders will face Central Mass. champion Sutton, Tuesday at 5:30 at American International College in the state semifinals.
Pickunka scored a game-high 20 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in leading the Raiders to their first sectional title since 2007.
“I think it was pure will. We needed to stop their second opportunities and get offensive boards,” Pickunka said.Pickunka and the Raiders often limited Wahconah to one shot and carved out multiple opportunities on offense.
“We were one and done every time down the floor,” Wahconah coach Liz Kay said. “They did a great job on the boards.”
Add some on-target early shooting, and the Raiders (21-2) led 16-7 after the first two minutes. Maggie Rubeck banked in two 3s during that stretch.
“I didn’t hear her call it,” Hampshire coach Amy Cyr joked.
Hampshire made six 3s in the game. Rubeck, Kyleen Labrecque and Maddie Pond each hit two.
“Their role players where huge,” Kay said.
The Raiders built a 10-point halftime lead at 25-15. Wahconah (20-4) made its first charge at the start of the third quarter with a 7-0 run. Julia O’Connor hit a wide-open 3 to cut Hampshire’s lead to three with 5:36 remaining in the quarter, forcing Cyr to call a timeout.
Pickunka steadied the Raiders, making 7 of 9 free throws and adding a layup. They pushed their lead back to 10 by the end of the quarter.
“We’ve had some challenges this season,” Cyr said. “We can settle in, and we can take care of the basketball.”
Wahconah pushed again in the fourth and cut Hampshire’s lead to five with 1:16 left after Noelle Furlough hit a 3. The Warriors fouled Hampshire freshman Lila Labrie with 36.6 seconds left. She swished both free throws to extend the Raiders’ lead to seven.
“I was definitely feeling nervous, but I remembered what my coaches always tell me about mental toughness,” Labrie said.
Wahconah freshman Maria Gamberoni answered with a 3 to make it a four-point game with 29.3 seconds left.
Hampshire turned to Pickunka on an out-of-bounds play. She snuck into the paint under the basket and calmly dropped a layup through the net with 19 seconds left.
“When we need big buckets, we know we can go inside,” Cyr said.
Labrie popped up again on the last possession of the game. She stripped the ball from Gamberoni to end the game and seal the title.
“I didn’t want to lose my player or the ball,” Labrie said. “I was just zoned in the whole game.”
Receiving the trophy ended years of heartbreak for Pickunka. Hampshire lost in the sectional semifinals the previous two seasons before breaking through.
“Ever since I made varsity in eighth grade I’ve wanted to win Western Mass. It’s been on my bucket list,” she said. “This year, I knew right from the start it was going to be different. I had a different feeling.”
Kyle Grabowski can be reached at [email protected]
Hampshire Regional 47,
Steinman 1-0-2, Warren 1-0-2, Gamberoni 7-0-17, Furlong 2-1-7, McMahon 2-0-6, O’Connor 3-0-7. Totals 16-1-41
Hampshire Regional (21-2)
Labrie 0-2-2, Pickunka 6-8-20, Rubeck 2-0-6, Labrecque 2-0-6, Pond 3-0-8, Golasinski 0-0-0, O’Connor 1-3-5. Totals 14-13-47
3-Pointers—Wahconah 8 (Gamberoni 3, Furlong 2, McMahon 2, O’Connor), Hampshire Regional 6 (Rubeck 2, Pond 2, Labreque 2)