The Whitman-Hanson Regional High boys’ and girls’ basketball teams have punched their tickets to the tournament.
This is the second straight season, and third time in the last five years both W-H basketball programs have earned a spot in the postseason.
The boys’ team (14-4, 12-2 Patriot League) clinched its berth with a 70-53 rout of Plymouth North at home on Friday, Feb. 2, giving it its 10th win of the season.
The Panthers were in command for much of the contest, leading by double digits essentially all evening, but did have to thwart a Blue Eagles charge that sliced their lead to seven in order to claim victory.
“After the game, I congratulated the kids on checking off one of their goals but [said] that we had several more to go,” W-H boys’ basketball head coach Bob Rodgers said.
In the victory, senior captain Sean Leahy led the way with 19 points and fellow senior captain Jacob Hanson-Bartlett chipped in 12.
Not only did it give the Panthers their 10th win of the winter, but it also marked the 10th straight season the boys’ program has qualified for the Division 2 South Sectional tournament.
“I’m a firm believer that each team has the potential to motivate the players of tomorrow,” Rodgers said of the consistent success. “When a young player comes into the gym and watches our guys play, it is my hope that they will go home dreaming of one day being on that court. If enough kids in town have that dream I’m confident enough of them will find a way to make it a reality.”
But as Rodgers stated, the Panthers, who have clinched two straight Patriot League Keenan Division titles, and been to two straight Division 2 state semifinals, their eyes are on a much bigger prize.
“We just want to keep playing fundamental basketball with a great deal of intensity,” Rodgers said. “Hopefully that translates into enough wins to earn a home playoff game.”
Girls follow suit
As for the girls’ team (12-7, 8-6), they had a little more work to do if they wanted to head back to the tournament. Playing a 21-game regular season, the Panthers had to win at least 11 of their tilts.
Down 24-21 at halftime Tuesday, Feb. 6, on the road against Pembroke, the Panthers weren’t about to fold over. Two key aspects of their campaign this season have been their depth and defense, both of which played a key role in the second half, as they held the Titans to 12 points in the second half to claim a 51-36 victory, securing their spot in the playoffs.
During that second-half charge, junior captain Erin Leahy (11 points and 10 rebounds) secured a double-double, fellow junior captain Kathryn Dunn caused the Titans fits on the defensive end of the court, classmate Olivia Johnson sank two key 3-pointers, junior Leah Badger tallied seven points and sophomore Olivia Martin connected on two pivotal left-handed layups.
“The number one thing we wanted was to come out with urgency from tipoff,” W-H girls’ basketball head coach Jenna Olem said. “It was awesome to see a bunch of players who work so hard during the week step up and contribute to the win.
“At the beginning of the game, I talked about the adversity that we went through in January and how it kind of led us to where we are now. To appreciate the process of getting to this point and going out and getting a big win against a tough team on the road was something to be proud of. The girls talked about how they think team chemistry is their biggest overall strength and it was on full display Tuesday night.”
This marks the second straight season the Panthers have qualified for the tournament. But, there is a wrinkle in that this year as they were moved up to Division 1 over the offseason, so they will have to get past some top-tier competition if they hope to advance come March.
“I mean, once you get into the state tournament I think all of the teams are tough,” Olem said. “Obviously, D1 consists of the powerhouses, but the Patriot League has some very tough teams that we face twice every season with Duxbury, Quincy, Hingham etc., so we will obviously have to elevate our game and hope we are playing our best possible ball the rest of the way.”
W-H and Quincy are the only two Patriot League schools to have qualified both basketball teams for the postseason.
The girls continue competition Thursday, Feb. 15 on the road against Quincy at 6:30 p.m.
The boys will be back in action Friday, Feb. 16 at home against Quincy at 6:30 p.m.