GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 25, 2013

Spring tournaments will feature plenty of local contenders

On HS Sports
Conor Walsh

---- — Well, folks, it's tourney time again.

And with that, as always, comes the uncertainty of another postseason. There are plenty of local teams that have established themselves atop their brackets with others sitting in the middle of the pack and even two squads that will battle it out this weekend in a final push for a postseason berth.

But as we've learned, regular season success and seeding often don't translate well to the postseason. It's just all about getting in.

Once there, anything can happen.

Let's start with the top dogs, all three of which hailing from Manchester Essex.

Manchester Essex Girls Lacrosse (14-2, No. 4 seed in Div. 2 North)

The Hornets had a monster year but flew somewhat under the radar on the statewide scale. Despite their nearly blemish-free resume, the Hornets are still ranked just No. 9 in Division 2 by the Boston Herald.

That shouldn't matter much to them, though. Manchester Essex has proven to be a tough out all season, losing only to Masconomet (No. 4 seed, Div. 1 North) and Marblehead (No. 2 seed, Div. 2 North) during the regular season while throttling plenty of good teams along the way.

The Hornets open up what they hope will be a long tournament run Tuesday, hosting Shawsheen, before a potential rematch of last year's Div. 2 North quarterfinals. Then, the Hornets dropped a tight, 13-11 decision to Cape Ann League rival Ipswich. This year, the Hornets have already beaten the No. 5 seeded Tigers, and a win over Ipswich could very well propel them very deep in the tournament.

Manchester Essex Girls Tennis (17-0)

This one shouldn't surprise anybody. Through the years, the Hornets have established themselves as a perennial powerhouse, routinely competing for state titles and taking home the hardware in 2011. This season was no exception.

The Hornets welcomed the return of senior Brittany Collens, one of the state's top players who's set for a Division 1 scholarship to New Mexico State in the fall. She and Michelle Fuca -- last year's No. 1 singles player -- have paced the Hornets' dominant season, as Collens and Fuca are each unbeaten in the top two singles spots, respectively.

There's no breaks in the team's lineup, and the depth of talent the Hornets sport should make them as good a bet as anyone to take home the hardware this spring.

Manchester Essex Boys Tennis (15-0)

Not to be outdone by their female counterparts, the Hornets boys also enjoyed a terrific spring.

Led by Mike Fuca and Calvin Lamothe at the top two singles spots, the Hornets steamrolled through the Cape Ann League and a tough non-league slate that included NEC power Marblehead.

They haven't tripped up yet, and it looks like it'll take something special to knock them down in the tournament this time around.

Now, let's take a look at the next group of local teams who will be continuing their season. While this group may not be on many people's radar across the state, there's plenty of talent there.

As we've seen time and time again, sometimes all it takes is for a team to get hot.

Gloucester Baseball (11-8, season finale vs. Hamilton-Wenham Monday)

The Fishermen came into the spring with high expectations, a ton of senior leadership and huge amounts of talent.

All things considered, a 12-8 or 11-9 campaign probably isn't as good as coach Joe Orlando and the Fishermen were looking for.

That won't make them any less dangerous in Division 2 North, though. Gloucester's been through the gauntlet this season in a very strong and deep NEC, and they've seen some of the state's best pitchers in the process -- including Lynn English's Ben Bowden and Beverly's Cam Rogers.

Gloucester's got plenty of live arms at its disposal with lefty Jason Vizena leading the way on the mound, and they've proven capable of scoring bunches of runs in a hurry.

The Fishermen's bats have gone quiet over the past 10 days or so, but don't expect that to last.

And if they can get going on all cylinders come tourney time, it's a guarantee that no team in the bracket would be excited at the prospect of taking on the Fishermen regardless of their seed.

Gloucester Girls Tennis (10-6)

The Fishermen girls surprised some people this season. After working towards building depth in the program over the past couple of years, that finally appears to have paid off, as the Fishermen have relied on their entire lineup to get to where they are at this point.

Now that depth will really be put to the test in the tournament. Regardless of how this season ends, though, the Fishermen have really revitalized their program and will only get better as a result of this year's experience.

Finally, we've got two teams that might punch their ticket via a unique rule local sports fans have grown accustomed to: the Sullivan Rule.

For teams that play largely against opponents of their own division, the benchmark for tournament qualification is a .500 record. But for teams that largely play above their division, like the Rockport and Manchester Essex baseball teams, the qualification process depends only on their record against fellow Division 4 opponents.

This makes this weekend's Memorial Bank Tournament hugely important for both squads, who sit on the playoff fringe entering the season's final weekend.

Rockport Baseball (5-11)

The Vikings just never really put it all together during the regular season, struggling to string together runs despite a pretty solid lineup.

That can all be wiped away this weekend, though. The Vikings open the tournament Saturday with Somerville in a game that holds no real significance in terms of postseason implications.

Sunday's game, though, will pit them against either Manchester Essex or Pope John depending on how Saturday's games shake out. Both the Hornets and the Tigers are Div. 4 teams, and Rockport's currently 2-2 in their division. Win Sunday, they're in. Lose? They're out.

Manchester Essex baseball (2-14)

While the Vikings control their own destiny, the Hornets will need some help this weekend.

Luckily for them, one of their two wins on the year came against Div. 4 powerhouse Georgetown in a huge upset. With that win, the Hornets are 1-3 against Div. 4 opponents.

They'll have to beat Pope John on Saturday regardless. What can't happen for the Hornets, though, is a Rockport loss Saturday. In order to get to 3-3 in division games, the Hornets would need to beat Pope John then knock off Rockport in the tournament title game, as a game against Somerville would hold no meaning.

All things considered, the Hornets need some help. Stranger things have happened, though, and all they've got to do is get into the tournament and go from there.