Taconic boys basketball playing its own game in MIAA state semi vs. Shepherd Hill
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify a sentence. Taconic is looking to be the first city team to win a state title since 2001. St. Joseph made the 2012 state finals.
PITTSFIELD — What do you do for an encore when you've already accomplished something that hasn't been done in 41 years?
Continue to rewrite the history books.
And that's exactly what the Taconic boys basketball team is setting out to do ahead of tonight's Division II state semifinal game against Shepherd Hill.
The Braves (16-7) will face off against the Central Massachusetts champion Rams (19-6) for the chance to go the state championship game Saturday. Taconic is trying be the first city team to win a state final since St. Joseph won in 2001. Taconic coach Bill Heaphy served as an assistant under Billy DiNicola for the '01 Crusaders squad.
Taconic entered the Western Mass. tournament with an underdog's mindset. The Braves lost a majority of the 2017 Western Mass. runner-up team, and the current group of players were eager to prove that the cupboard was far from bare. After achieving a goal decades in the making, Taconic junior Quentin Gittens said the team is hungry for more.
"Basically when we found out in the beginning of the season that we weren't ranked at all in Western Mass., we were the sixth seed in the tournament and everyone really didn't expect us to win," he said "the whole time our main goal was to win Western Mass. from the start. Now that we did that, we want nothing but to win the state title."
If the Braves were underdogs, then the Rams enter the state semis as comeback kids.
They overcame an 18-point halftime deficit to defeat No. 1 Marlborough 53-47 in the Central Mass. championship game. Shepherd Hill — which was the No. 2 seed — also needed to come from a 14-point deficit to beat No. 6 Westborough in a 78-56 semifinal win.
Senior Jack O'Regan is the Rams go-to player. The 6-foot-4 forward is a versatile inside-outside player. Junior Cody Adams is a talented shooter and Kenny Flynn will also man the post. Against a Marlborough team led by 6-foot-8 Notre Dame commit Chris Doherty, the Rams struggled with a slower pace before upping the tempo and catching fire from deep.
Taconic could slow the game down and run the offense through 6-foot-6 center Mohammed Sanogo, but the normally uptempo Braves have no plans on straying from what's worked for them so far.
"We really just want to play our game, get our shots and do what we've been doing," senior Javier Osorio said.
"We know that we can play at a faster pace, but we can also slow it down," added Gittens. "We're going to try and to figure out how we want to play early against them and duplicate that throughout the game."
Playing a strength-on-strength game against the Rams could lead to a high-scoring affair. Offensively, Osorio runs the show at the point guard position. Gittens is a longer player, also capable of running the offense. The duo does a good job of finding shooters in positions for them to catch and shoot. Robert McCown, Isaac Percy, Christian Womble and Quincy Davis are all capable 3-point shooters. Defensively, Sanogo uses his length to protect the paint, but he must defend without fouling, something he struggled to do in the Western Mass. championship game.
"We're going to play our game," Heaphy said. "We want to be the best version of ourselves. We'll make an adjustment where we need to if it makes sense. But we want to continue to do what we think we do best, because that gives us the best chance.
"You want the kids playing confident. Playing the way they play, they have confidence in that style. To change anything and then try to become something we're not, I refuse to do that."
One problem with playing an up and down style is the difficulty in creating easy looks at the hoop. Poor free-throw shooting and the inability to finish at the rim sent Taconic into a 5 minute, 30 second scoring drought to end the Western Mass. championship game. Shepherd Hill likes to use pressure to force turnovers, but beating the press will give Taconic good looks in transition it must convert.
Taconic showed it could do what it takes to pull out a close win on the biggest stage. The stakes are raised for the state semis, but Heaphy is relying on his experience to help his players keep a clear view of the challenge that lies ahead.
"Just to try to keep everything in perspective that it's still just a game," he said of his message to the team. "The biggest thing I tell them is to get rest. It's so important. We like to try to get them out of [practice] early enough so they still want to play, but we end it so they stay hungry. If I could sum all that up: Distractions, limit them. Get plenty of rest and remember it's still just a game."
Akeem Glaspie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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