By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
TAUNTON, Mass. – The Tigers have a young roster, one that has suffered through injuries and missing players during a difficult first half of the season, but on Tuesday night Taunton set aside the early season disappointments and found a way to get its first win of the season.
Senior forward Alyssa Gibson led the Tigers with 13 points and nine rebounds, including five points in the fourth quarter as Taunton rallied from from five points down to pull out a 44-40 victory over Milford.
“We needed to pick it up,” said Taunton coach Walter Harrigan. “We needed a win. These girls have worked hard, we’ve been decimated with injuries and all the stuff going on this year, so they deserved it.”
At the start of the fourth, Milford had built a 34-28 lead behind nine of Kate Irwin’s team-high 12 points, but good ball movement against the Hawks’ zone got the ball to Jordan Wade (nine points) and the senior guard knocked down her third three of the game to cut the lead to just three.
After MacKenzie Handrahan scored her only basket of the game on a rebound putback, Emma Liskov answered with a layup that made it 36-33. Raquia Pate (eight points, 10 rebounds) scored on another offensive rebound to once again bring Taunton back within one.
“I thought we did a good job right from the beginning,” said Harrigan. “I thought we boxed out really well; offensively we’re just a little stagnant and we really weren’t getting the ball movement.”
After an Irwin free throw, Gibson twice was fouled taking the ball to the basket and each time made three of four free throws to tie the game at 38-38 with 2:15 remaining. It was the first time the game had been tied since the opening quarter. On Taunton’s next possession, freshman Lily Patneaude scored on a runner to give Taunton the lead and then Gibson scored on a layup to extend it to four points.
Harrigan said, “We were hoping to get one run. We were hoping it would come early, but luckily we were able to get it late in the game.”
Irwin raced up the floor to score on a layup and cut it back to two and the Hawks managed to create a turnover on the sideline, but Jill Burley missed both free throws after the steal and Taunton claimed the rebound. Milford was only 3-10 from the line in the fourth and also missed several chances close to the rim.
“We couldn’t put the ball in the hoop and we couldn’t rebound,” said Milford coach T.J. Dolliver, “so it was kind of a combination of all of it. If you can’t make easy ones, can’t make free throws, then you have to rely on tough shots and that’s not the way you want to go.”
Patneaude made a free throw for the Tigers to make it 43-40, but missed the second. The ball bounced free and Hanrahan again chased down the rebound to save the possession. Maggie Sullivan was fouled and made a free throw to essentially ice the game up four in the final seconds.
“It’s just tough to watch because sometimes we just don’t have any fight,” Dolliver remarked. “We need to get angry sometimes and actually battle, but it’s something we need to work on as a team and I need to work on as a coach and try to figure out a solution.”
Milford took a 20-17 lead into halftime. Irwin and Gill Valanzola each scored five points in the opening half, while Pate led the Tigers with six and Gibson had four.
In the third quarter, the Hawks went on a run and jumped out to their largest lead of the game at 26-17. Irwin was proving difficult to stop for the Tigers, especially when she got into transition. Junior forward Nicole Dahlgren also provided an offensive spark with six of her 10 points coming in the third. Senior Jill Powers also chipped in with three.
The Tigers battled back to stay in the game heading to the fourth. Abby Kingman hit a jumper just as it looked like Milford may pull away. Gibson scored four points in the quarter, Hannah Moniz (five points) hit a perimeter shot and Wade knocked down a big three that cut the lead back down to two points.
Powers answered with a bucket on the other end and the Hawks went into the fourth with a five-point lead. It could have been another game in which the Tigers came close but Taunton showed resiliency to close it out and get its first win of the season.
Harrigan commented, “We’ve been close in a couple, but they’ve got to continue to work hard. We know what we have. We’ve got some senior leadership and then we’re very young and we’re going to continue to improve as the season wears on.”
Taunton (1-9, 1-7) will try to start a winning streak on Friday when it hosts North Attleboro. Milford (4-7, 1-7) will look to bounce back when it travels to Davenport leader Oliver Ames.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.