Youthful Taconic girls basketball team downed by Northampton in Western Mass. Division II final

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AMHERST — Taconic girls basketball coach Matt Mickle may start two freshmen and a sophomore, have another freshman first off the bench and helm a program that hadn't made a Western Massachusetts title game in 24 years.

But to him, the 12 girls sitting beside him on the Braves bench are all just basketball players. They're gamers.

Taconic was beaten 46-42 in the Division II sectional final on Saturday evening at Curry Hicks Cage, but in Mickle's words, "they just did not want to get beat. They were doing anything and everything they could not to get beat."

The Braves trailed 32-22 after Northampton managed to draw the fourth fouls on both Ahliya Phillips and Faith Cross late in the third quarter. At that point, junior captain Taea Bramer, the team's top scorer, had yet to find her way into the book and was nursing a knee that walloped off The Cage's hardwood earlier on. But Bramer is a gamer. She kept right on attacking the rim despite more-than limited success and zero free-throw attempts. In the final minute of the third, she took contact and got managed to finish for the first time since Tuesday's semifinal win over Longmeadow.

"I thought our defense was great, especially late. We were getting into passing lanes and causing chaos," said Mickle. "Taea getting banged up early affected her, but Curry stepped up, Cross, Jordan Hamilton. Girls who hadn't been our main scorers really stepped up with good defense and kept us in it."

Northampton answered with a bucket, but Taconic senior J. Curry knocked down her second 3-pointer of the night with seconds left on the clock. The Braves started the fourth down just six.

Bramer opened the fourth with another trip to the line, hitting 1 of 2.

"We just knew we had to battle back. We had to focus and keep our heads up," said Bramer. "That's what it was all about."

Taconic's swarming defense, which caused the Blue Devils immense trouble all night, forced another turnover on a Kendra Buda steal. The layup at the other end rimmed out, but Ciany Conyers, another freshman and another gamer, was there for the putback.

Conyers showed superb poise throughout her first game at UMass' famed gym, leading both teams with 16 points. She had seven in the fourth quarter, including a jumper on a kickout from Curry to draw Taconic within 36-34.

"It gets frustrating, but you have to keep working through, feeding your open teammates and it'll come to you," said Bramer about the lid on her rim. "We found Faith, found Ciany, and really just worked the ball around, and dug in on defense."

A minute later, with 4:50 left in the game, Bramer clocked serious hangtime on a reverse layup to tie things at 38.

"Really a matter of needing to prove ourselves. We are younger than everybody. We get looked at as just freshmen," said Conyers. "But they don't know our game. These girls can play.

"I fed off the crowd a lot, that energy was great. I really just wanted to come out and play my best. We'll get it next year."

Northampton had the experience, though. The reigning — and now repeat — Division II champs leaned on five starting upperclassmen, including senior big Kolbie Jones.

Jones scored all 12 of her points in the second half, and put down a clutch putback on the Blue Devils' next possession.

Bramer scored on a tough layup to draw Taconic back within 42-40, but again Jones had a response to keep the Braves at bay. Northampton was 6 of 8 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. Taconic just 2 of 7.

"It's cool. I'm happy for the kids. It's an experience they're never going to forget," said Mickle. "It's important to them, we just told the girls who are coming back that sometimes a tough loss just makes it all the sweeter when the victories do come."

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TACONIC (42)

Bramer 3-2-8, Phillips 1-0-2, Curry 3-0-8, Cross 3-2-8, Hamilton 0-0-0, Buda 0-0-0, Conyers 6-4-16, Christopher 0-0-0. Totals 16-8-42.

NORTHAMPTON (46)

Sledzieski 3-0-8, Kesin 0-0-0, McGrath 1-2-4, Mieczkowski 5-2-13, Allen 1-1-3, Jones 5-2-12, Lewandowski 1-0-2.

Taconic     7     9     12     14     —     42

Northampton     6     13     15     12     —     46

3-point goals — T 2 (Curry 2); N 3 (Sledzieski 2, Mieczkowski).

Mike Walsh can be reached at mwalsh@berkshireeagle.com, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.


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