Saturday, March 11, 2017

Whitman-Hanson Comes Out on Fire to Stun O'Bryant in D2 South Final

The Whitman-Hanson Panthers celebrate a second consecutive D2 South title

By Nate Weitzer (@Nweitzer7)

BROCKTON, Mass. – If you want to turn a high school basketball program into a perennial contender, it takes a bit of faith.

For a Whitman-Hanson team that won the Division 2 South sectional title last year, it took a strong belief that back-to-back trips to the TD Garden might be possible, and the Panthers used the support of a raucous fanbase at nearby Brockton High to bolster their confidence on the way to a 68-56 win over O’Bryant in the South final on Saturday.

“We knew we were going to have their support and it gave us so much adrenaline and made you want to play at the highest level you could and show the fans what we can do,” Panthers senior captain Luke Tamulevich said about the Panthers fanbase.

With the stands packed on their side of the gym, the third-seeded Panthers came out on fire. 

Senior Nikko Raftes dropped 13 of his game-high 18 points over the first 10 minutes to get Whitman-Hanson off to a hot start. Tamulevich and senior Lucas Franklin (14 points, 3 assists) also added triples, as the Panthers shot 5-for-9 from deep on their way to a 36-20 halftime lead. 

“The key was how we came out early and hit some shots to show that we could play with [O’Bryant],” said Whitman-Hanson coach Bob Rodgers. “When we were able to get some momentum it made believers of everybody on that bench.”

When Raftes was forced to sit out most of the third quarter due to foul trouble, Tamulevich (12 points, 10 rebounds) stepped up along with skilled big men Sean Leahy (6 points, 9 rebounds) and Bryan Tyrie (8 points) to maintain a double-digit advantage on the scoreboard. 

O’Bryant (18-7) provided a late 10-3 run to make it a 57-47 game midway through the fourth quarter, but the Tigers would get no closer.

“I didn’t just step up, the whole team stepped up,” Tamulevich said about the Panthers third quarter performance. “We played great defense tonight, held a great team to 56 points.” 

For Rodgers, a balanced effort on both ends of the floor has been the story for his team all season. 

“The biggest thing about our team is that they play unselfish and go with whoever is hot,” Rodgers asserted. “All three of my captains are just so special and for them to lead this team to where they are speaks so much about them as people.”

“Every team starts the season with the dream of trying to make it to the Garden, but really we were so young that our theme was just trying to get better every day. These guys just bought in from day one.”

Now Whitman-Hanson (19-3) will face the winner of the D2 North Final between Brighton and Lynn Classical Monday night (7:30 p.m.) at TD Garden. While the Panthers played D2 champion New Mission tough in the Eastern Mass. Final last season, Tamulevich and Raftes were essentially the only Panthers who played in that tilt.

“This particular team doesn’t have a lot of experience in big games,” Rodgers admitted. “But there’s something to be said for when your school experiences [a sectional title]. Once your realize the dream can happen, guys start to believe that it’s possible.”

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