Taconic Seniors Take Final Bow in Western Mass Final

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports
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AMHERST, Mass. -- It seems like the Taconic boys basketball team has been playing together forever.
On Saturday night at Curry Hicks Cage, forever came to an end.
The senior-laden Taconic squad saw its Western Massachusetts Division 2 tournament run come to an end with 56-49 loss to Longmeadow in the sectional title game.
"I'm going to miss those guys," Taconic coach Bill Heaphy said. "They're solid kids, very good players. They're all best friends. It's kind of a unique situation. They're so close, all of them. It will be tough to break them all up. They've been real important, and hopefully the young kids see what they've done and maybe carry the torch a little bit."
Longmeadow's Maxwell Robinson scored 14 points, and Raymond Manzi and Harry Levin added 13 and 12, respectively, as the Lancers earned a berth in Monday's state semi-final at the DCU Center in Worcester.
Taconic led by as many as six in the first half, but Longmeadow used an 8-0 run to close the second quarter and take a narrow 32-30 lead into the locker room.
Taconic stayed in it thanks to Brett Murphy's 12 first-half points and five first-half assists from Deonte Sandifer. Murphy went on to finish with 17, and Sandifer had eight points, eight rebounds and six assists.
The Lancers then closed the third with a 6-0 run to go up by seven, 47-40, and the extended that run to start the fourth, opening up a double-digit lead when Levin drove through the lane and dished to Levin, who finished to make it 50-40.
But Taconic was not about to lay down. It scored the next seven: an Izaiya Mestre drive on the left wing, a Sandifer jumper with an assist from Ryan Abel and Matt Stracuzzi's 3-pointer to make it 50-47 with 1 minute, 5 seconds on the clock.
Longmeadow ran the shot clock down, missed its shot but ended up with a team offensive rebound with 35 seconds left.
"At that point, we had to get a stop to get possession back," Heaph said. "A shot was taken, and we had a chance to get a rebound. Two guys kinda going for it at the same time, and it went out of bounds. That kind of took the wind out of our sails a little bit. I kind of felt if we could have gotten that rebound, you never know what's going to happen down the other end."
On the ensuing inbounds play, Manzi was fouled, and he drained both ends of a one-and-one to make it a five-point game. Then, after a William Echeverria rebound for the Lancers, he was fouled, and he converted both ends of a one-and-one to get th elead to 54-47. After a turnover, Manzi made a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left to put the game away at 56-47.
For Taconic, it was a bitter pill to swallow after a season in which it won the Berkshire North Division title on the heels of a Western Mass title run for a football team that featured many of these same seniors.
Given how much time they have spent together in the gym, the basketball title seemed like a natural complement to the gridiron trophy.
"The message to them was simple: They're champions whether they won or not," Heaphy said. "They're great kids, great athletes, great students, a pleasure to coach. It didn't end up the way we wanted, but it doesn't take away from the season that we had.
"This was the one we wanted, but don't let this override everything else that happened. They're winners as  far as I'm concerned."
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