Taconic boys basketball reflects on state title loss to TechBoston a year ago
PITTSFIELD — There are times on a basketball court when players can feel helpless, watching a game slip away as the opponent puts more and more distance between the two.
As a program, Taconic had about as rough of an experience as one can on the floor at the MassMutual Center in Springfield last year.
TechBoston used a 29-2 run to scuttle any hope the Braves had of returning to the Berkshires as MIAA Division II state champions.
"It was impressive. Had I experienced that, no. And I didn't enjoy one minute of it. I had a real hard time trying to figure out how to stop it," Taconic coach Bill Heaphy said after a practice on Friday. "Those are the things we have to avoid tomorrow."
That tomorrow is now today, as Taconic heads back to the D-II state final against that same TechBoston program that ended its season with a 78-40 trouncing on 364 days ago.
"I remember coming out of the game and then just seeing the lead build up as we struggled to beat their press," now-senior Quentin Gittens said. "Just seeing the game get out of reach and you just had to sit there and watch it. Felt like you couldn't do anything, but accept it."
As bad as that run hurt to watch and play against, the Braves haven't spent sleepless nights this past year worrying about it. Instead, Taconic got back to business with an extensive returning roster and fought its way back to the precipice of a state title.
"Short-term memory," piped senior reserve Christian Womble.
Javier Osorio, who captained last year's team before graduating has seen the Braves rebound from that 29-2 streak.
"It's indescribable. We hadn't been through something like that. We struggled, but we could always come back. It was just hard to go through that," said Osorio over the phone on Friday. "They're more prepared. Some of the team was nervous last year, they're first year of varsity. This year, they're ready for the challenge."
That challenge is again TechBoston, which continues an impressive style of full-court pressure from opening tip through the final buzzer.
Bears head coach Johnny Williams preaches conditioning from their first fall meeting, with what he told the Boston Globe they call "Two Weeks of Hell."
It was that defensive pressure that Taconic's upstart crew of mostly first-year varsity players couldn't handle a year ago. But with immense growth over the last school year, Osorio sees a different team and hopes for a different result.
"I see them being just way more confident in themselves and each other," said the former THS captain, who has passed the leadership torch to senior point guard Quentin Gittens.
"Quentin feels more comfortable in his skin. He really took on that leadership role for this team. He always had it in him, but he's just more vocal this year. He's just such a smart basketball player."
Gittens will pilot Taconic's offense against TechBoston's pressure, but Heaphy knows it will be a full team effort to counter the Bears defense. Taconic spent much of its Friday practice working on inbounding against pressure and utilizing the height of center Mohammed Sanogo and forward Isaac Percy.
"You can't rely on one or two guys to do that with the pressure the whole game," said Heaphy. "With the pressure we're going to see, guys are going to have to be comfortable and confident carrying the ball and carrying some of that load."
Taconic's size advantage was nullified by the speed of last year's state title game. The Bears rely heavily on junior guard Shamar Browder, who stands just 5-foot-6, but is well built and lightning quick. He scored 30 points in the team's state semifinal win.
Taconic has had this game in the back of its collective mind all season, and the Braves have practiced hard to gain the confidence necessary to handle this rematch.
"We just get after each other every single day, making each other better," said senior Quincy Davis. "Have to shout out to the bench and some of the guys that don't get in there. They have a real impact on this team in practice."
Practices are done now, though. All that remains for Taconic's class of 2019 is today's state final.
"For us, it feels like we need this one to finish it off. Complete everything we needed to do," said Gittens.
Mike Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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