BOSTON — It’s said all good things have to come to an end, and for the Whitman-Hanson boys’ basketball team, that was their season. The Panthers (22-3) lost a tough fought battle in the Division 2 State semifinals, held at the TD Bank Garden Tuesday, to New Mission 62-50.
“I give my kids so much credit for how hard they played,” head coach Bob Rodgers said. “They were very aware of New Mission’s athleticism and I think that prevented us from sharing the ball as well as we usually do.”
In what was a back-and-forth game all night, a three-point basket by senior guard Alonzo Cooper, which put his team up by three with under 2:30 left in regulation, would be the nail in the coffin for the Panthers’ season.
The Panthers notched the first two points in this one, not even 30 seconds in, but New Mission was relentless on the offensive glass, like they were all night, and came back to tie it at six. A putback by six-foot-one junior forward, Kevin Nunez (11 points), with under 50 seconds remaining in the quarter pushed the Titans ahead 14-13 at the end of the first.
The Panthers weren’t about to roll over just yet and captured their first lead in over three minutes at the 5:10 mark of the second quarter, after senior captain Nick Smith (14 points, two rebounds) knocked down two free-throws. Smiths’ makes would ignite a three-point barrage by senior guard Brenndan Rogers, who would hit a three to tie the game at 21. Tied at 24, Rogers would go on a 6-0 run of his own to give the Panthers their biggest lead of the night so far, 30-24. Though, a three-pointer by junior guard Alexander Delarosa put the Titans right back in this one heading into the half as they trailed, 30-27.
After hitting four three-pointers and scoring 16 points in the first half, the Titans were able to hold Rogers in check after the halftime break.
“We went cold, we couldn’t get anything off,” Rodgers said. “They started to face guard Brenndan. [He] was playing so well for us, and we still got some good looks for him, but I think that kind of changed the momentum a bit.”
Five points by senior captain Joshua Rice (13 points, three rebounds), contributed to a 10-3 Panthers run to start the third quarter as they led by their largest lead of the game at 40-31. But like the second, the Titans answered with a run of their own and a Delarosa bucket with under 20 seconds remaining cut his team’s deficit to two heading into the final eight minutes.
“We got the stops tonight, we just didn’t score the ball as well as we usually do,” Rodgers said in regard to the Titans’ third quarter run.
Tied at 45 with under 3:50 remaining, a two-point basket by junior guard Nikko Raftes would push the Titans ahead. Rice, who scored all eight of the Panthers’ fourth quarter points, notched it back up at the 2:46 mark. Following Cooper’s make, Delarosa would score four points in the final two minutes as his team held on.
The Titans hauled down 17 rebounds in their win.
“You’re not going to win many games when that happens,” Rodgers said.
Eight of the Panthers’ players, including their entire starting five, played their last game on the court for the Whitman-Hanson this season. Rdogers said that is a stat that hurts more than the loss.
“Those seniors are very special,” Rodgers said. “They’re very special to each other, they’re special to me, they’ve been special to this program. That to me, is honestly, the hardest part of the night. You knew there was going to become a time which you wouldn’t be able to coach them anymore. They’ve had an impact on this program that is bigger than I think any of them realize.”
Rodgers said he couldn’t even put into words as to what they’ve meant to this program as a whole.
“They’re character kids who do things the right way,” Rodgers explained. “They set a standard for how hard you have to work, the good decisions you have to make away from basketball and being unselfish. I told them, there are a lot of little kids from Whitman and Hanson that they’ve coached in the camps that we have, that will be back here in Boston because of them.”