The Whitman-Hanson Regional High boys’ basketball team made the tournament for the 10th straight season, won at least 16 games for the sixth straight winter and captured its third straight division crown.
The 2017-18 season didn’t come together the way 18-year Whitman-Hanson Regional High boys’ basketball head coach Bob Rodgers was expecting, but it came together in a way that he hadn’t envisioned.
“We were able to accomplish some things that I didn’t think would be on the table for us,” Rodgers said.
The Panthers went 16-5, which marked the sixth straight season in which they won at least 16 games, made the Division 2 South Sectional tournament for their 10th straight campaign and grabbed a share of their third consecutive Patriot League Keenan Division title and fourth in the past five years.
“Winning the league championship with Hingham was really a testament to how hard the kids worked and how they believed even though we hit that tough stretch in the middle of the season,” Rodgers said.
In that tough stretch to which Rodgers referred, were three straight losses to Hingham (71-45), Cardinal Spellman (78-76) and Quincy (55-54) that dropped the Panthers to 5-4. But, they turned it around and rode a 10-game winning streak until Division 1 Bridgewater-Raynham topped them, 60-45, in an exclusion game for W-H. Perhaps W-H’s most impressive victory during the winning streak was a 68-51 triumph at Hingham. The Harbormen had dealt the Panthers their worst regular-season loss (71-45) in more than 10 years four weeks prior.
“I think what really happened at that point was the guys were humbled and realized that nobody is giving Whitman-Hanson anything because it says Whitman-Hanson across your chest, and they started to work harder and we kind of found a way,” Rodgers said. “In reality, because Sean Leahy put the team on his shoulders and was just an immense player that was a difference-maker in a lot of the games, especially that game in Hingham. I told him before that game, ‘If you’re an MVP, if you’re a league MVP, you got to go play like it because the other guy that’s vying for league MVP is on the other team.'”
Leahy poured in a game-high 25 points and retrieved 10 rebounds in the win en route to being tabbed Patriot League Keenan Division MVP.
However, in the playoffs, the sixth-seeded Panthers succumbed to 11th-seeded Nauset, 65-56, in the first round.
“We didn’t shoot it well,” Rodgers said. “We got plenty of shots, but we just didn’t shoot it well. We didn’t have that rhythm of guys that could stick it, so if Sean [Leahy] wasn’t scoring we were going to have difficulty putting points on the board.
“The other thing in that Nauset game [is] we made a couple little runs, but we weren’t able to get stops. We weren’t able to get the big bucket down one end and the get the big stop down the other end.”
Shooting, which had always been a strength of the Panthers over the years, was an issue all season long, forcing them to form a new identity on offense.
“Jake Hanson-Bartlett shot it well, Cole Lewis shot it well, Bryan Tyrie shot it well, but other than that we really didn’t shoot the basketball well as a team,” Rodgers explained. “That’s unusual for us, that’s unusual for Whitman-Hanson basketball. So, we were able to get to the basket a little more, get some stuff off of our defense, so that was really the biggest difference. We had to score points in ways that we really didn’t do in years past.”
While there was no trip to TD Garden like there had been the previous two seasons for the Panthers, they exceeded what Rodgers had for expectations.
“I thought when we lost [Lucas Franklin, Nikko Raftes and Luke Tamulevich] last year, I knew how important they were to our team,” Rodgers said of his former captains. “We only lost three guys, but that was three-fifths of the starting lineup and they didn’t come out a lot last year.”
The Panthers will once again have a significant number of holes to plug next season with the departures of senior captains and league all-stars Leahy (19.7 PPG, 9.2 RPG) and Hanson-Bartlett (12.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG), fellow senior and league all-star Josh Genereux (8.7 PPG), and classmates Tyler Rice (5.1 PPG) and Tyrie (5.9 PPG). But, they’re no stranger to that.
“We won’t have a lot of guys that have played a lot of varsity minutes, but we’ll have some,” Rodgers said. “And then we have some good guys in the JV that if they put in their time and get in the weight room and really spend the next month months getting better, I still think we’ll be one of the better teams.”