Lussier Leads Wahconah Past Taconic

By Stephen
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DALTON -- In its next-to-last game of the regular season, the Wahconah girls basketball team showed why it will be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason.

Shannon Lussier scored 17 points, and Wahconah used stifling defense in the second and third quarters to take control and earn a 42-34 win over Taconic on Monday night.

Although Lussier had the big night offensively, the Warriors (11-8) got contributions throughout the lineup in winning their fourth straight game heading into Wednesday's showdown with North Division-leading Lee.

Wahconah coach June Blake said she is pleased with the way her team has come together after a 3-6 start.

"I'm happy with the way we're playing right now," Blake said. "We're peaking at the right time. We're playing our best basketball. We're just trying to improve our seed for the tournament."

Wahconah got off to a slow start on Monday night, falling behind 13-6 when Taconic's Kristen McNeice drove the left wing for a basket on the first play of the second quarter.

But after that basket, Taconic (2-17) managed just two more field goals until the 5 minute, 25-second mark of the fourth quarter.

"I felt like we picked up our [defensive] intensity a little bit better, especially in the second half," Blake said. "We went to our half-court zone. We got some turnovers out of it and got some good offensive opportunities.

"There are times we kind of throw [the zone] in because it requires some high intensity, and hopefully it translates to some turnovers and some easy baskets. We try to throw that in when our offense isn't producing."

In the second quarter, sophomore Katherine Lewis was a big producer for Wahconah, scoring nine of her team's 11 points in the frame on the way to an 11-point night for herself.

"She hit some big shots on the baseline against Taconic's zone, she hit that 3-pointer on the outside there," Blake said. "She did some great things for us in that second quarter."

Wahconah's leading scorer on the season, senior Gabby Lavino, scored just four points but made her presence felt in other ways, contributing five steals, two assists and seven rebounds. Sophomore Maddie Sprague had a team-high eight rebounds to go along with four points and two assists.

Lussier did most of her damage in the second half. She scored four times in a 13-2 Wahconah run that opened a 31-19 lead early in the fourth quarter.

During that stretch, the Wahconah defense forced five Taconic turnovers in a span of about four minutes.

"Their trap gave us some difficulty," Taconic coach Matt Mickle said. "Their 1-3-1 half trap, they did a good job with that.

"I thought our effort was good."

Taconic got 12 points and seven rebounds from junior Angela O'Neil, while sophomore Brianna Rogers tied for game-high honors with eight rebounds. The Braves were limited by the absence of injured junior center Nyanna Slaughter, who averaged double figures in points and rebounds before being relegated to wearing street clothes.

Despite her absence, Taconic continued a run of narrow decisions that belie its two-win record and give it hope for the future.

"We've been in almost every game," Mickle said. "It seems like every game's the same -- eight points, nine points."

And with the entire roster back in 2013-14, Taconic should come out on the other side of some of those close games next winter.

"I honestly think it's a lot of offensive stuff -- offensive skills that need to be developed," Mickle said. "Early in the year, we lost three or four games by 30 points. For us to be in some of these games with the better teams not just in the county but in Western Mass, is definitely encouraging.

"We've got a great, young group. The whole team is coming back. ... It is frustrating, being in every game and not being able to get over the top. And we just had that conversation about keeping our heads up and staying focused."

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