BROCKTON – The Whitman-Hanson boys’ basketball team moved to Division 2 South Sectional finals on Wednesday, March 8.
Playing in front of a packed crowd at Brockton High’s Staff Gymnasium, third-seeded Whitman-Hanson knocked off second-seed Westwood by the final score of 51-48, qualifying the Panthers (18-3) for the sectional title game for their second consecutive campaign.
“It’s actually surreal,” W-H head coach Bob Rodgers said of making it to the Sectional finals. “Nobody gave these guys a chance to even make the tournament when the season started. When we walked out of the [TD] Garden last year, if I’m really honest, I’m kind of thinking it’s going to be a while before you have a chance to taste something like that again.”
Westwood (20-4), which trailed by as much as 12 in the final frame, found itself down by three, 51-48, with 3.3 seconds remaining after W-H’s Luke Tamulevich came up empty on the front end of a 1-and-1.
Fortunately for the Panthers, their defense continued its stout performance – forcing an errant Wolverines shot with time expiring to hold on for the victory.
“The reality of it is, our identity all year has been our defense” Rodgers said. “I think if you ask Westwood, they’re probably going to tell you that was one of the best defensive teams they’ve played all year.”
One of the Panthers calling cards all season, their three-point shooting, was ineffective early on as W-H went 0 for 3 from beyond the arc in the first quarter.
However, Tamulevich caused a mismatch for the Wolverines out of the gate. The senior guard sliced to the hoop with ease throughout the opening eight minutes – netting 10 of the Panthers’ 14 points – as W-H led 14-13 at the end of the first quarter.
“Luke is a special player, he’s very dynamic,” Rodgers said. “He can get to the hole, he can shoot it, he’s one of those guys.”
In the second quarter, Sean Leahy began to assert himself down low – netting eight points, with four coming off a pair of offensive rebounds and put backs – to help the Panthers claim a 30-23 halftime lead.
“When you move the ball like we did and exploit switches, the mismatches we had, they switch every screen and it presented a lot of mismatches for us and we were able to take advantage of it,” Rodgers said.
After being forced into nine first-half turnovers, Westwood would settle down in the third quarter.
With 5:48 remaining in the frame, the Wolverines pulled within three, 32-29. However, the Panthers would answer.
A 10-3 run – spanning 5:26 – pushed W-H ahead double digits, 42-32. The run was sparked by treys from Tamulevich and Bryan Tyrie.
Tim Giovino would not let the Wolverines’ season end just yet, as his back-to-back three-pointers brought Westwood within four, 50-46.
After a Westwood miss, the Panthers’ Nikko Raftes was sent to the line, where he connected on one of two free throws to extend the W-H lead to 51-46.
With 5.9 seconds to go, Westwood’s Sean Linehan drove to the hoop and drew a foul and connected on his first two points of the contest to make it a one-possession game, setting up a wild ending.
For the Panthers, Tamulevich led all scorers with 18 points, Raftes added 10 points and Jacob Hanson-Bartlett (eight points, seven rebounds) and Leahy (10 points, nine rebounds) combined for 18 points and 16 rebounds.
W-H, which has not lost since Jan. 27 (64-54 vs. Silver Lake), has held six of its past 10 opponents since that game to under 50 points.