AMHERST, Mass. -- Mission accomplished.
One year after suffering bitter disappointment in the Western Mass Division 2 finals at Curry Hicks Cage, the Taconic boys basketball team Saturday night closed the deal, holding off Northampton in the closing seconds and holding on for a 44-43 win and a berth in
Tuesday’s Wednesday's state semi-finals at Worcester State University.
The lone senior on this year’s team and the lone non-senior on last year’s made the last big play of the night, grabbing a defensive rebound with 4 seconds on the clock and earning a trip to the foul line with his team clinging to a one-point lead.
Afterward, senior Javier Osorio said last year’s sectional final loss drove him to excel in his final go-around at Taconic.
“Ever since we lost here last year, every day, every night, when I go to bed, when I wake up, I’ve just been waiting for this moment,” Osorio said after scoring seven points and grabbing nine rebounds in the victory.
And Saturday morning?
“I felt like this was just meant to be and that the Lord upstairs helped me through this,” he said. “He had a plan for me, and he followed through.”
Quintin Gittens scored a team-high 12 points and grabbed a team-high 15 rebounds, and Christian Womble hit two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter -- Taconic’s only field goals in the period. Isaac Percy scored nine and had nine rebounds as sixth-seeded Taconic (16-7) won its sixth straight.
A year ago, Taconic’s loss to Longmeadow in the Western Mass final left one of the few holes on the resume of a standout senior class that produced a Western Mass football title and a baseball state crown.
Most of that Class of ‘17 gathered in the balcony at the Cage to watch Osorio and this year’s squad win the school’s first sectional title in boys basketball since 1976 and the first in five trips to the final for longtime coach Bill Heaphy.
“That group helped us dream a little,” Heaphy said of last year’s senior class. “This win is not only for these guys, right here, who earned it and deserved it, but it’s also kind of a tip of the cap to [the Class of ‘17], who helped us get here.”
Unlike last year’s team which featured several great multi-sport athletes who have gone to play collegiate football, baseball and basketball, this year’s Taconic squad is made up of mostly players who have basketball as their No. 1 sport.
That kind of devotion to the game and court sense paid dividends in a game like Saturday’s that came down to the final possession.
“They’re gamers and they’re basketball players, and they never stop doubting,” Heaphy said.
“I could just tell by the look in their eyes. A lot of the things in terms of communication when you’re on the floor, there was a lot of that going on with each other. The thought of helping your teammate and doing whatever your teammate needs because he’ll do it for you. That’s what we’ve been talking about, and they show it out there.
“They don’t quit, and they deserve all the accolades.”
Taconic emerged from a first half that Heaphy described as a “rock fight” with a 24-19 lead.
It used a 5-0 spurt early in the second quarter to open a six-point advantage.
Percy got things started with a basket from just inside the 3-point arc. The next time down the floor, Gittens set up Quincy Davis for a 3-pointer in transition to make it 15-9.
The lead got as high as eight points on an Osorio step-back 3-pointer off the glass midway through the second, but Northampton (15-7) closed on a 7-4 run to get within five at the break.
The top-seeded Blue Devils got within a point at the start of the third quarter thanks to six free throws in their first four possessions of the half. Jaeden Johndrow scored in transition to cut Taconic’s lead to 28-27 with about five minutes left in the third.
Taconic answered with an 8-3 run that saw Percy score twice -- once in the post and once on a drive from the left wing to make it 36-30.
Taconic led by four going into the fourth quarter, but that lead ballooned to nine with a little more than five minutes left to play thanks to a pair of Womble 3s that made it 44-35.
His second triple of the game provided the last points Taconic could muster.
At the other end, Heaphy’s team made Northampton scratch for every point. Of course, that was nothing new for a squad that held its three Western Mass tournament opponents to 42, 40 and 43 points
“It’s kind of ironic because we had so much trouble scoring in the beginning of the year,” Heaphy said. “We had to rely on our defense. And I think that sustained us throughout the year. And it came down to: We had to get stops.
“That’s what I’m proud of. We had to grind it out. It wasn’t pretty. … But we got stops when we needed them, and a win’s a win. We’re going to take it.”
Taconic had the ball up 44-43 with 52 seconds on the clock, but it committed a turnover with 32 seconds left to give Northampton a shot to take its first lead since it was up 6-4 back in the opening minutes.
With 11 seconds left, it appeared that Taconic got a defensive rebound under the basket, but the referees called a jump ball, giving Northampton a baseline inbound with the shot clock off.
A Blue Devil 3-pointer from the top of the key went off the back of the rim, and Osorio grabbed the rebound in the corner, drawing a quick foul with 4 seconds left.
After a timeout, he missed the front end of a one-and-one. Northampton got the rebound and pushed the ball into the front court, but a desperation 3 from the left wing was off the mark, and Taconic’s celebration began.
Tuesday Wednesday, Taconic hits the road to go to Worcester State University and a date with Central Mass champion Shepherd Hill in the state semis. Shepherd Hill Saturday improved to 17-6 with a 53-47 win over Marlborough.