PITTSFIELD -- It was the last game on their home floor for the seniors on the Taconic girls basketball team. They weren't about to squander the opportunity.
"It's definitely a giant accomplishment," said Taconic's Nyanna Slaughter after the seventh-seeded Braves routed No. 10 Springfield Commerce 66-19 in a Western Massachusetts Division II first-round game Monday night. "We've been wanting [to get into] the tournament for so long. We got it.
"We got our first Western Mass. game on our home court as seniors; it just feels amazing. We came out hard, strong. We wanted it and we got it."
Slaughter had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. She also had five blocked shots and five steals. Angela O'Neil chipped in with 12 points as the Braves opened the game on a 13-2 run and ran away with the victory.
"We've been working toward this since our freshman year," said O'Neil. "It's been a goal of ours forever. It's a really good feeling to make it to the second round, and we're going to try to make it to the Cage."
To get to the semifinal, the Braves will have to survive a long bus ride on Saturday and then beat No. 2 seed North Middlesex in the quarterfinals.
The North Middlesex coaches were in attendance and watched a Taconic team put on a defensive show. The Braves forced 36 Commerce turnovers and scored 18 points off of those turnovers. The Braves outrebounded the Red Raiders 50-24 and Taconic blocked seven Commerce shots.
"I think it was their 1-3-1. Their defense was really strong tonight," Commerce coach Krystal James said. "They're very aggressive. That was something that gave us problems.
"They were possibly the best defensive team we've played this year."
How bad was it for the Red Raiders? They made their first shot when Alexus Anderson caught a nice pass from Breanna Marchena and scored with 5:41 left in the first quarter. It was Commerce's seventh possession of the first quarter, and the Red Raiders committed turnovers on the first six.
By the time Commerce had committed its 10th turnover, the Braves were up 13-2, and the rest was academic.
Slaughter had six of her team's first 13 points and Kirsten McNeice scored four in that spurt. And when the first quarter was over, the Braves were up 19-6. The Red Raiders didn't know what hit them, and the fans in green and gold were planning a trip to Central Mass.
"The theme of the past four years has been intensity because of [former coach] Bob O'Neil," said Kirsten McNeice, who is a tri-captain along with Slaughter and Angela O'Neil, Bob's daughter. "I think that we played with intensity tonight. We came out really hard. We didn't know much about them."
Taconic coach Matt Mickle admitted that he didn't have a scouting report on the Red Raiders, but wanted his team to do what it does best -- play defense and run the floor when it can. That worked on Monday.
The Braves led by 20 points at halftime, and held the Red Raiders to only two field goals in the final 16 minutes.
There were hugs and smiles on the Taconic side as the players came out of the locker room after the game for one last time.
"It's pretty upsetting knowing it's the last time that we get to say ‘Home of the Braves' and stick up our right arm," said McNeice. "It was a great feeling that we came out on top."
To reach Howard Herman:
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.