AMHERST, Mass. -- After starting the game, in their coach's words, looking like "deer in the headlights," the members of the Taconic girls basketball team were ready to shine when it mattered most.
Taconic used two big runs in the fourth quarter to break open a four-point game and earn a 49-30 win over East Longmeadow in the championship game of the Western Massachusetts Division 2 tournament.
Taea Bramer scored 17 points, and Ciany Conyers added 14, including 10 in that decisive fourth quarter, as Taconic won its first sectional title since going back-to-back in 1992 and 1993.
"Even when these kids were freshmen -- Ciany, Ahliya [Phillips] -- they were talking about winning state championships their first week as freshmen," Taconic coach Matt Mickle said. "They're made for these games. We talk about it contantly. This has been a goal of ours from the beginning of the season last year. This is where we wanted to be.
"They're gamers. They're not scared of this situation. And even though it wasn't the prettiest basketball in the first half, we settled down."
Taconic led after that less-than-pretty first half and took a four-point margin, 24-20, into the fourth quarter.
It then went on an 11-2 run to start the fourth.
"We just knew that the energy wasn't there yet," Bramer said of Taconic's approach to the fourth quarter.
"We just really had to pick it up. As soon as the team came together, we started going."
Bramer started the fourth with a 3-pointer to make it 27-20.
The next time down, Tamia Patrick (8 points) drove to the basket to make it a nine-point lead.
East Longmeadow got a pair back at the charity stripe, but Phillips (eight points) scored in the post and had a steal and a lay-in to give Taconic its first double-digit lead, and Conyers capped the run with a triple from the right wing to make it 35-22.
After the teams traded baskets, Taconic put the game out of reach with a 9-0 run that featured two more buckets from Conyers.
"We started going a little screen and roll on the top of the key with Taea and Ciany," Mickle said of the fourth quarter. "We were really trying to spread it out and settle it down. I felt like we were never in rhythm on offense all night and we were kind of running around and didn't take good shots.
"At the end, I felt if we could just spread everybody out and get our two best ball-handlers isolated, we can get some better looks, and I think it worked."
After neither team could find its footing offensively in a 5-4 first quarter, Taconic made a run to build a slight edge going into halftime.
Tamia Patrick got things started with a free throw with 6 minutes, 13 seconds left in the quarter to cut into a three-point East Longmeadow lead.
The next time down the floor for Taconic, Ahna Balcolm hit a 17-footer to tie it.
After Nicole Coolidge scored in the post for East Longmeadow, Taconic scored the next six to go to the locker room ahead by four points.
Ahliya Phillips drove the left side for a conventional three-point play. Taea Bramer sank a free throw, and
Ciany Conyers put back an offensive rebound in transition to make it 15-11 at the break.
Taconic moves on to the state semi-finals next week on a date to be announced against Central Mass champion Medway.
It's another step toward an ambitious goal for the upstarts from Valentine Road.
"I've never had kids walk in that confident that they're talking about state championships," Mickle said. "It's almost arrogance. But that's just how they're built. They're confident. They're built for these moments. They love these big games.
"Like I tell them all the time, there are a lot of kids who have come through Taconic who wanted to be in this situation. ... Sometimes, it's easier said than done. We've went through a lot of tough years, and I've loved all the kids who have come through the program. Unfortunately, we just didn't get to get to this stage."