WHITMAN – On Friday, Feb. 10, the Whitman-Hanson Regional High boys’ basketball team felt a sense of accomplishment.
The Panthers defeated Hingham, 56-42, to capture the Patriot League Keenan Division, giving the program back-to-back titles for the first time.
W-H, which graduated eight seniors, including its entire starting five, from the roster that made it to the Division 2 state semifinals last year, has defied all odds thus far.
“It’s pretty emotional,” Panthers head coach Bob Rodgers said of the win. “I think when a lot of people don’t give you a chance to do something, in particular these kids that had to keep hearing about last year’s team. They wanted their own identity and they came into this season with just some thing to prove.”
When W-H (13-3, 11-2) needed a basket, Nikko Rafteswas there to deliver. The Panthers, who led by as much as 10 in the fourth quarter, watched their advantage shrink as Hingham (8-8, 8-5) sliced its deficit to five, 45-40, midway through the fi nal frame. On W-H’s next trip down the court, Raftes drilled a turnaround jumper to push the Panthers lead to 47-40.
“Such a big play,” Rodgers said. “That was probably the dagger when he hit that.”
On the ensuing W-H possession, the senior captain then spotted up from beyond the arc and drilled a 3-pointer to push the Panthers cushion to 10, 50-40, all but sealing their victory.
“He’s amazing,” Rodgers said. “He’s just one of the best shooters we’ve had and we’ve had a lot of good shooters.”
Two Raftes free throws in the final minute made it a 56-42 game.
However, the Harbormen, who were out to avenge a 52-37 loss to W-H Jan. 13, gave the Panthers a bit of a scare early on. Luke Tamulevich (16 points in first half) kick started the Panthers offense with a 3-pointer, steal and layup to push W-H in front 5-0.
“Luke has been one of the biggest offensive weapons we’ve had all year,” Rodgers said. “He’s somebody who can get it done on both ends of the floor.”
Hingham would battle back behind the play of center Logan Larsen, and pulled ahead 12-11 at the end of the opening quarter.
W-H would begin to drive to the basket to begin the second quarter, despite the lengthy presence of Larsen inside, which opened the floor for four treys in the frame.
With W-H trailing 24-23, Raftes drilled a 3-pointer to push it ahead by two, igniting an 8-0 run.
Hingham followed up the triple with a pair of fouls, two missed field goals and a turnover.
Tamulevich’s trey with under a minute remaining in the second quarter giving W-H its largest lead of the first half, 31-24, capped off the run.
The Harorbmen sliced their deficit to as few as six in the third quarter, but W-H allowed just three field goals in the stanza to retain its lead.
The victory extends the Panthers winning streak to four games, which they are holding opponents to 44 points per contest.
Tamulevich led all scorers with 19 points, Raftes chipped in 15 and Jacob Hanson-Bartlett added 10 points and seven boards (five offensive).
“We just have to keep doing what we do,” Rodgers said. “Great plays don’t win championships, the boring plays win championships. All the little things [such as] boxing out, closing out and all of that.”