Taconic Girls Upend Wahconah

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- Start saving your pennies, Ron Wojcik.
“Ron teaches here [at Taconic High], and I told the girls if they win they have to go to him and tell him to buy them all pizza,” Taconic girls basketball coach Matt Mickle joked before Saturday’s matinee against Berkshire North co-leader Wahconah.
Wojcik, the varsity girls coach at Hoosac Valley, is going to have some hungry girls on his doorstep when classes resume after the February vacation after Taconic beat Wahconah, 55-48, to give the visitors their second loss in the league and give one-loss Hoosac a solo Berkshire North title.
Ashley Rufo scored 20 points, Aubrey Lazits had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Tamia Patrick had 15 boards and four assists as Taconic improved to 7-11 and won its third game in its last four outings.
It led by 18 early in the fourth quarter before surviving a furious Wahconah comeback bid to avenge a 20-point loss in Dalton earlier this season.
Taconic earlier this week knocked off Monument Mountain, which, like Wahconah, is headed to the MIAA Western Massachusetts Division 3 tournament.
Mickle’s team will be sitting out the tournament itself, even if it wins its last two to finish the season on a four-game winning streak. But you would not know that from the way Taconic’s players celebrated Saturday’s upset win.
“This was huge,” Mickle said. “It’s probably the last game in this gym. And we talked about that. We talked about the fact that this win meant a lot to [Wahconah]. You’re trying to find anything you can to motivate your team right.
“They were playing for first place in the North, which Hoosac has pretty much dominated through the years. We were trying to give our girls any motivation we could, especially when you’re out of the tournament.”
Taconic looked highly motivated from the get-to, jumping out to a 6-2 lead on Rufo’s 3-pointer early in the first quarter and then responding to a 6-0 Wahconah run with a 7-0 spurt of its own. Lazits set up Rufo.
It was 13-11, Taconic after a triple by Maria Gamberoni (game-high 21 points), but Taconic went on a 9-2 run to open a nine-point lead when Ayannah Moody (14 points) connected from the right wing to make it 22-13.
Again, Wahconah responded and went into the break down, 26-22.
Coach Liz Kay said her team’s offensive inefficiency did not bother her as much as the 26 points allowed -- 12 on four 3-pointers by Rufo, who ended the half with 15 points.
“They got a lot of open looks,” Kay said. “Offensive adversity, I can handle. Defensive adversity was a bit surprising for us. But we haven’t had a lot of adversity this year.”
Moody hit a pair of 3s in the third quarter to help Taconic stretch its lead to 16. She scored the final points of the quarter on a triple with an assist from Patrick to make it 42-26.
Ellie Christopher found Moody in the post for a bucket early in the fourth to give Taconic it’s biggest lead of the game, 46-28.
It was still an 18-point margin when Moody made both ends of a one-and-one with 5 minutes, 13 seconds on the clock to make it 48-30.
And then … Wahconah happened.
Kay’s squad turned up the heat with its full-court press and forced 10 turnovers over the last five minutes.
Gamberoni had three steals in the fourth quarter and scored seven points, including a 3-pointer to cap a 12-0 run and make it 50-45 with 2:29 on the clock.
Julia O’Connor, who had six points in the fourth quarter, hit a 3-pointer with 1:11 left to get Wahconah within four at 52-48.
“I’m happy that we at least put forth that effort to close the gap in the fourth quarter,” Kay said. “We didn’t give up … and I haven’t had to see that all year, to see their grit and their determination.”
Rufo made a foul shot with 1:08 left to get the lead back to five points, and Patrick, Lazits and Moody made rebounds at the other end to hold Wahconah (15-3) to just one look at the basket on each of its possessions in the final minute.
The game’s final points came from Lazits, who drained a pair of free throws with 13.9 seconds on the clock to put the game out of reach.
“We were hanging on for dear life,” Mickle said. “They’ve got some serious athletes on that team, and she went to a smaller lineup and they were giving us problems with that full-court pressure.
“I thought our girls showed some poise there at the end, because we’ve been in this situation before where we started playing really fast. I thought we slowed it down a little bit, got to the foul line and made some foul shots. I know we weren’t perfect, but we made a few of them and enough to win the game.”
Kay said despite the difference in the teams’ records coming in, she was not looking past Taconic. She is, however, looking forward to Taconic’s new high school.
“Matt has done a phenomenal job with that team,” she said. “If we have to play them twice, I wish we’d done it in the beginning of the year.
“This is a tough place to play. I’m glad we’re not going to play here anymore because every time we come in here, no matter what anybody’s record is … that’s not what it’s about at this point. This was the game I was most concerned about the last two weeks of the season because it’s always a tough place for us to play. They always bring their best. And they made big shots tonight.”
Wahconah goes to Mount Everett on Monday before finishing the regular season at home against Lee. Taconic closes Tuesday at Lee and Wednesday at Amherst.
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