High School Basketball

ACCOMPLISHED!

Mustangs make history with 1st district title in 26 years, but not done yet

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 2/5/21

Two sequences defined the Taylor boys basketball team winning its first district championship since 1995, and just the fourth overall in program history.

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High School Basketball

ACCOMPLISHED!

Mustangs make history with 1st district title in 26 years, but not done yet

Posted

Two sequences defined the Taylor boys basketball team winning its first district championship since 1995, and just the fourth overall in program history.

Early during the second quarter of the Mustangs’ demonstrative 69-39 district finale win over Seven Lakes at home on Friday, Feb. 5, senior guard Jake Arnold drilled back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers. After his third triple, Arnold then delivered a skip pass to senior Michael Cummings for another 3 on the Mustangs’ next possession.

An eight-point first quarter Taylor lead turned into a 20-point lead in a matter of minutes.

“It was really big,” Arnold said. “Those 3s, and the way it happened, really set a tone for the rest of the game. I think it made the other team lose a little bit of hope. Playing in these types of games, you never want to give the other team hope.”

The other exemplary moment came in the fourth quarter when Taylor had a 25-point lead. The Mustangs forced three consecutive turnovers early in the period, the last takeaway particularly memorable with senior forward Anthony Pelzer diving on the floor, his arms and legs scrambling in pursuit of another possession.

“That’s our team,” coach Matthew Brayton said. “You’re up 20-something points, and we’ve got guys diving on the floor for loose balls. Watching that just melts my heart as a coach because you preach that all the time. That’s who we are. We play until the very end.”

For Taylor, however, it’s just starting.

The Mustangs (15-5, 9-3 District 19-6A) are district champions for the first time in 26 years, and they left no doubt. The winner of the game would win district as each team entered 8-3 in 19-6A. But Taylor had a significant advantage in experience, with three senior starters boasting at least two seasons of varsity experience and Seven Lakes starting just one senior, and it showed.

“That experience was big,” Pelzer said. “Whenever they got down, they got rattled, whereas we were able to keep our cool and then keep that lead.”

These Taylor seniors won a district title as freshmen. Coming into this season, making history was their goal. Nothing more, nothing less.

They’re off to a fine start.

“What people don’t see is the work this team puts in,” said Arnold, who scored a game-high 25 points to go with six rebounds and four assists. “Everything is taken seriously. We take film sessions very serious. It’s the little things that add up, and it really paid off.”

Seven Lakes was without head coach Shannon Heston, who was absent due to COVID-19 protocols.

“Coach Heston is one of my really good friends,” Brayton said. “Him and I worked together under Coach (Dan) Miller at Seven Lakes. I feel for him that he couldn’t be here because of COVID. That hurt me for him. I respect him so much.”

The game started off fast and furious.

Taylor jumped out to a quick start, and Seven Lakes countered to make the deficit just eight. Sophomore guard Braedon Bigott scored all eight of Seven Lakes’ points in the first quarter.

But Taylor’s rabid spree of hot perimeter shooting to begin the second quarter proved backbreaking. Arnold drilled three straight 3s, and then, against a trap from the right wing, threw a crisp crosscourt pass to Cummings for another 3.

“Once we hit a few of those, we were so loose,” Brayton said. “The bench was into it. I know we’re at a seating capacity, but the crowd was into it. That just blew it open. It was the difference in the game, that second quarter.”

Seven Lakes never recovered. Freshman guard A.J. Bates (12 points, seven rebounds) had impressive moments in the second half, but the Spartans never threatened again.

Taylor had three players in double figures, led by Arnold, sophomore center Elijah Melchiorre (13 points, six rebounds) and Pelzer (10 points, five rebounds). Junior Troy Harris, playing just his third varsity game since being moved up from the junior varsity recently, was strong off the bench with six points and six rebounds.

“It’s their hunger,” Brayton raved about his team. “I’m not sure I’ve coached a team that plays as hard as these guys. They knew what was at stake, they knew how long it had been, they knew it’s been only three district champions over 40 years in this program. Their leadership took us a long way.”

It was a road worth traveling.

“This is what we’ve been dreaming about since week one,” senior guard Luke St. Julien said. “All the hard work, all the practices, (strength and conditioning) camp. We came in and did it. Great coaching, great teammates, great chemistry. Every game in our district is a battle and you’ve got to bring your best. We did that, and we’re district champs.”

The next goal? Making it out of the area round of the playoffs for the first time in program history.

“We’re going to enjoy this,” Brayton said. “We’ll come back together and talk about what we’re going to do, but they’ll be ready. There’s nothing I have to do. They want it. Their goal to start the season was to make history, and this is a big step. They’re ready and they’re driven.”

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