Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Taconic boys, girls teams reaching Western Mass. finals creates special atmosphere for school

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AMHERST — The results may not have been what basketball fans in the city of Pittsfield might have liked. But the memories will last for a long, long time."It's an incredible thing for Pittsfield to have both teams" in the Western Massachusetts championships, said Josh Cutler, a member of the Pittsfield School Committee, a graduate of Pittsfield High School, and one big time sports fan.

Cutler was with Pittsfield fans at the Curry Hicks Cage on Saturday, when the Taconic boys and girls both played for Western Massachusetts Division II championships. The boys repeated as Division II champions, while the girls came up short in their bid to win a title for the first time since 1993.

"Just to see them compete at the highest level in the Western Mass. tournament, it's a terrific thing," Cutler said.

When the Taconic boys beat Northampton on Wednesday night, the students, teachers and administrators from the school on Valentine Road had the rest of the week to prepare for Saturday.

"It's been insane," Taconic student, and hockey goalie Jake Risley said before the start of Saturday's games. "What do you want to know? It's been insane. It's been happy. There's been nothing bad going on. It's just a good environment.

"Everyone's just here to support them."

Shaun Stannard, a physical education teacher at Taconic and the boys soccer coach, backed up Risley's estimation.

"The kids have been pumped, the boys and the girls. They're real excited to play," Stannard said. "All the kids are psyched. We announce it in our classes. When we have the kids in class, we wish them good luck.

"All the kids are really excited for them."

It had to be quite the week for parents of the athletes on both teams.

Pat Bramer, whose daughter Taea plays for the Taconic girls, has been through this kind of a run as well. Bramer was a member of the Wahconah boys basketball team that won the 1987 state Division II title. His wife Tina played for a state title the same year as a member of the Pittsfield girls. That team, however, did not win a state title.

"For our team being young, it's great for them to experience this," Pat Bramer said. "Start at [Western New England] and come here to UMass and see the crowd, it's great for them."

Dad said it was kind of quiet around the house all week.

"She's pretty mellow," he said. "She was here before as a freshman [at Pittsfield], so she doesn't get too excited."

And about that state championship win?

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"[Taea] saw the video," her dad said. "She wanted to watch it this week actually, to see what it was like again."

Getting two teams into a championship game happens, but winning both is a much, much tougher task.

As far as Berkshire County is concerned, it has happened twice since 1989, when the Hoosac Valley boys and girls both won Western Mass. titles in 2015 and 2016.

If there's anyone who would have a good take on this kind of doubleheader, it would be Hoosac girls basketball coach Ron Wojcik.

After all, Wojcik was Hoosac's coach when they earned their double with the boys in 2015 and 2016. He was also the coach of the Pittsfield High School boys back in 2002 when they and the PHS girls both made it to the Division I championship games.

And, Wojcik is currently a teacher at Taconic. He's seen it three times in three places.

"We've got to go and do our celebration in the town right now, with the police and fire truck escort," Wojcik said after the Hurricanes clinched their fifth Division III title in the last six years. "I would love to be here tonight to see the boys and girls games. If we weren't in it, I definitely would be."

The PHS boys lost to Cathedral 78-63 in 2002, but the Pittsfield girls — led by Courtney Shepard — beat East Longmeadow 52-51 for the second of the Generals' back-to-back titles.

"The one thing, honestly, is if you're playing the second game and the first team wins, it's almost like there's added pressure on you," Wojcik said.

Bill Robinson coached those Hoosac boys teams when the Hurricanes doubled up titles.

"It's great for the community you live in," he said. "It's an exciting time."

Robinson also concurred with Wojcik about winning or losing. But Robinson said the real pressure was on Wojcik's teams in those days.

"There's a lot of pressure on both programs, especially the team that plays first. If the team that plays first wins, then it puts all the pressure on the team that plays second," Robinson said with a chuckle. "If the team that plays first loses, there's not as much pressure on the team that plays second. We always had fun with it.

"It's an incredible experience for Taconic, the student body, the faculty and everybody from Pittsfield who comes to the game. They'll remember this day the rest of their life."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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