Taconic bench steps up in clutch to help deliver team's first Western Mass. title in 41 years
AMHERST — Taconic junior Nick Sayers was so amped up to enter Saturday's Western Massachusetts Division II tournament game against No. 1 Northampton that he sprinted to the scorer's table in excitement. Before taking the floor, the forward looked down and realized he forgot to take off his warm-up shirt.
You may view Sayers' excitement as a negative, but the undersized post player only knows how to play one way — with confidence, effort and energy.
When starting center Mohammed Sanogo picked up his fourth foul just 17 seconds into the third quarter, No. 6 Taconic coach Bill Heaphy knew he'd have to rely on Sayers to fill a huge void — literally.
Sayers answered the call, providing key minutes in the Braves' 44-43 win over the Blue Devils.
"Nick's a warrior, he's a gamer and he's kind of fit into that role," Heaphy said. "When Mo needs to come out of the game for whatever reason, [Sayers] is a physical kid and he was up for it."
Spectators may not believe the 6-foot Sayers would be the perfect replacement for the 6-foot-6 Sanogo, but Sayers never doubted his ability to contribute.
"At first I was a little bit nervous, getting through the crowd and everything like that," Sayers said. "But as soon as I got through the crowd, I just want to dominant. I feel like I'm the best player on the court. I want to get every rebound and do everything on the court possible to help my team win."
Sayers was just one of several key reserves that helped Taconic earn its first Western Mass. title in 41 years.
Sanogo's insertion to the starting lineup coincides with the Braves run through the Division II tournament. Making the big man a starter meant moving Christian Womble to the bench. Womble, to his credit, embraces his role as a reserve. The sophomore scored the final six points of the game off 3-pointers.
Womble was ready to contribute when called upon, but playing with such unselfishness is something he learned over time.
"It's all about the team at the end of the day," Womble said. "If that's what's going to make us win games, then I'm happy to sit down and let another man take my spot. Whatever it takes to win.
"When I was younger I used to be cocky and I didn't like to give up my playing time. Now I have to realize I'm not always going to be the best player on the team. Whatever it takes to win, we have to do that no matter what."
Junior guard Quincy Davis is another player that had to adjust to a new role. Davis had one of his better games during the team's regular season meeting against Northampton in early December. Davis suffered an injury in late December and missed an entire month of action. He returned to a reduced scoring role, but his 3-pointer against the Blue Devils helped extend the Braves' lead to six with 6:55 left in the first half.
Heaphy said the unselfishness of his reserves embodies the togetherness the team plays with.
"Helping your teammate and doing whatever your teammates need because he'll do it for you," he said. "That's kind of what we've been talking about and they show it out there. They just don't quit and they deserve all the accolades."
Akeem Glaspie can be reached at email@example.com, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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