PITTSFIELD >> When the final buzzer sounds at Taconic High School on Friday night, one team will be crowned the unofficial champions of the city and the other will need to process what was a successful season until that point.
Whenever the Pittsfield and Taconic boys basketball teams meet, the stakes are raised and the electricity in the gym is elevated. However, with a trip to the Western Massachusetts Division II semifinals on the line, the teams know there's more than pride on the line.
Taconic (17-3) enters as the No. 4 seed. Pittsfield (13-7) is the No. 5 and avoids a long road trip, needing only to travel across town to face the Braves. The Generals suffered a 62-50 loss to South Hadley in the semifinals last season. Taconic has not made it out of the quarterfinals during the four-division format, losing to Longmeadow 80-68 last season.
Despite their recent success, Pittsfield coach Steve Ray said his team is playing with a chip on its shoulder.
"We believe the pressure is on [Taconic] more than us," he said. "No one predicted we'd be here after losing our starting five last year. We've split with them. We know we can play with them and anyone else in Western Mass."
Despite the roster turnover, Pittsfield's new faces are very familiar with playing in the rivalry game. Players such as senior Connor McDonough have faced off against Taconic at the varsity level for two years and while growing up in youth leagues for his entire childhood.
"I want to beat them, and in the past two years its been 1-1 and 1-1 [between the teams]," McDonough said. "The winner of this game can really tell who the better team is — I want that to be us."
Seven of Pittsfield's 13 players are seniors, so the Generals have an added sense of urgency as opposed to junior-heavy Taconic.
The Braves have a younger team, but they must deal with the emotion of playing a playoff game versus their rival, without the postseason experience of Pittsfield.
"It's huge," Mestre said of hosting Pittsfield in a tournament game. "We came close in the first game and lost, and we got a big win in the second game, so we've got to come out strong. We've been talking about it all week in practice. Not getting too high or too low."
Taconic's younger players must perform in crunch time, and Pittsfield's newcomer Josh Moore will also need to adjust to the tournament stage.
Moore dealt with foul trouble during his first meeting with Taconic. In the second game, Moore played more of a facilitator role, but Taconic kept him under control in that game as well.
"I'm looking forward to this game," Moore said. "I just do whatever the team needs me to do. Whether that's passing or scoring. Whatever I need to do to get the W."
Limiting Moore's drives to the basket will be key for Taconic. Pittsfield must limit Treyvon Ringgold's production in the post, while making sure to close out on strong shooters Mestre and Matt Stracuzzi.
Anthony Reinhold's play could greatly impact the outcome of the game as well for Pittsfield. Reinhold shows a quick first-step and can get to the basket at ease when playing with aggression. The match-up between Reinhold and Mestre or Deonte Sandifer will be one to watch.
After learning of the seeds on Saturday, Taconic coach Bill Heaphy said he's excited for both schools and earning a home game was key. The home team has won both match-ups. Pittsfield needed a last-second shot from McDonough to win, while Taconic pulled away in overtime for a 10-point win.
Despite playing on the road, Ray said his team is playing with confidence.
"Our confidence comes from the fact that we played two close games with them," Ray said. "If we can work on the little things — we've been watching video and working out — we know the bigs things will take care of themselves."
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252