It’s a new season, a new league, but still the same Taunton Tigers.
Losing to Madison Park, 63-61, in last year’s Division 3 quarterfinals left a sour taste for Taunton, and it’s using that as motivation this season. As newcomers in the Hockomock League the Tigers anticipated tougher competition than they were used to in the Old Colony League, and so far they have overcome that challenge.
Sitting at 9-1 (7-1 Hockomock) halfway through the season is a great accomplishment for Taunton, but the team knows the road back to the playoffs has just begun.
“At first I thought it was going to be a very difficult transition,’’ said coach Charlie Dacey. “This league has a history of success but we’ve measured up this year. Every single game you have to come to play. Every single practice is significant because we just can’t waste time.’’
If you expected this team to start the year slowly, you were wrong.
The Tigers opened the season winning six straight, a stretch in which they averaged 63.6 points per game. Then in a showdown with Hockomock power Mansfield, Taunton lost, 68-62. The Tigers bounced back by defeating Attleboro, previously unbeaten Milford, and King Phillip.
Not only has changing leagues helped Taunton be more physical and competitive, it has also helped create a fan-base that supports the team at home and on the road.
“Before there was no rivalry, no atmosphere in the gyms,’’ Dacey said. “We find now that the population of [Taunton] high school cares. It’s healthy and fun for our kids to play in front of crowds, which we generally haven’t done until we switched into the Hockomock.’’
Taunton’s success thus far this season has developed through great chemistry and unselfishness. The key for the Tigers is their ability to distribute the ball effectively, making it difficult for opposing defenses to focus on a single person. Whether it is junior point guard Shaquille Davis commanding the floor, or Gerald Cortijo-Pamilla speeding down the court, the Taunton players are never focused on trying to improve their stats.
“Everyone is averaging around the same amount of points,’’ said Anthony Parker, one of the six seniors. “We play tough defense, get stops, make runs, and just take the game over.’’
One of Dacey’s main areas of focus this season has been half court and pressure defense. The scrappy presses Taunton uses leads to a substantial amount of turnovers and forces teams to play a quick-paced game that matches its energy level.
“I’m optimistic that we are going to continue to get better,’’ Dacey said. “We had a Christmas tournament, which we won, but we were mediocre. We have focused, found a new level of intensity, and keep improving.’’
Taunton’s goal is to get at least a step further than they did last year. But before thinking about the postseason, the Tigers know they have to get through the second half of the season, including a much anticipated rematch against the Mansfield.
Games of the Week
It’ll be the battle of the Eagles Tuesday night when St. John’s Prep (11-0) takes on Catholic Conference foe BC High (8-2). Since losing to undefeated St. John’s Prep Jan. 4, BC High has won four consecutive games . . . St. Mary’s, which is looking to bounce back from a 61-48 loss to Whittier, will host unbeaten Danvers (10-0) Monday. The Falcons are averaging 73.4 points per game this season while allowing just 46.9 . . . In the Middlesex League, Watertown (7-4) will host Woburn (7-4). The Raiders, led by T.J. Hairston’s 19.1 points per game, are 6-1 at home.