MANCHESTER— The Manchester Essex basketball team is quite happy that it will not have to deal with Snowden again this season.
In two regular season matchups, narrow Hornets wins, Snowden gave the team all it could handle. Friday's Division 4 North Quarterfinal clash at Manchester Essex High School was no different. The Hornets and Cougars fought tooth and nail for the entire 32 minutes of play but in the end it was Manchester Essex that made just a few more plays en route to a 62-60 win.
With the win Manchester Essex moves to 19-2 on the year and will move on to the Division 4 North Semifinals where they will take on St. Mary's (date, time TBA), the team that knocked them out of the tournament last year, in the same round.
Manchester Essex picked up the win despite the fact that the team was playing without their top player, Cape Ann League MVP, and team leading scorer Chris Bishop. School officials confirmed that Bishop was suspended after violating the MIAA's alcohol policy; Bishop will miss the remainder of the tournament as the suspension runs two weeks and there are less than two weeks to play in the season.
"This was a great win for us, a huge character builder," Hornets head coach Duane Sigsbury said. "We did it without the MVP of the league. Snowden is a great team but everybody stepped up for us. Our starters were outstanding and Liam Aldrich was awesome off the bench. He is the shortest kid on the team but he's a tremendous basketball player who works incredibly hard to be a great player despite his height."
Without its leading scorer, Manchester Essex was forced to spread the ball around as four players scored in double figures with Joe Burgess' 17 points leading the way. Sean Nally had 15 points, Max Nesbit 14 and Casey Weld 10. Taylor Ketchum, who started in Bishop's absence, also had a great game with tough inside defense and 10 rebounds.
While the Hornets spread the ball around, the Cougars were led by their lone senior Paul Maurice, who had an outstanding game with 29 points and 13 rebounds including several big fourth quarter buckets to keep the game close.
"Paul is our only senior and this was it for him, he wasn't going to let us go out without putting up a fight," Snowden head coach Megan Waterbury said. "Both teams really wanted this game, it was a fight to the finish and a great job all around."
Heading into the fourth quarter the Hornets were clinging to a 42-41 lead when they made a strong run to get some breathing room. With 6:30 to play in the game Nesbit (seven fourth quarter points) gave the Hornets their biggest lead at the time in 46-41. Just a minute later a Burgess three pointer extended that lead to seven and eventually to nine points at 54-45.
Snowden, however, was not going down quietly as Maurice rattled off seven straight points to cut the lead to 59-57 with 1:04 on the clock. But Manchester Essex was a little too tough as Burgess knocked down three clutch free throws in the final minute to preserve the win. Snowden, who led at the half, did not take the lead in the fourth quarter.
"We held them off," Sigsbury said. "It was back and forth all night but in the fourth quarter we made a couple plays to get the win, that's all it comes down to in these games."
Just as it was in the fourth quarter, the first three quarters were also back and forth with neither team gaining a significant edge. Through one half Snowden was clinging to a 30-28 lead in a half where there were four ties, four lead changes and neither team took a lead bigger than four points.
Manchester Essex now turns its attention to St. Mary's, which may be an even tougher test.
"I said from the start of the tournament that the four best teams in the section, us, Snowden, St. Mary's and Winthrop, were all on the same side of the bracket," Sigsbury said. "Now it's down to two of the best and we are happy to be apart of it. We are right where we want to be right now and we are going to show up ready to play against St. Mary's.
Manchester Essex 62 Snowden 60
at Manchester Essex High School, Manchester
S: Paul Maurice 10-7-29, Kareem Murrell 4-1-9, Francis Depina 2-3-7, Javaugh Kittrell 2-1-6, Jaquan Smith 3-0-7, Derron Strom 1-0-2.
ME: Sean Nally 7-0-15, Casey Weld 4-2-10, Max Nesbit 6-1-14, Taylor Ketchum 1-2-4, Liam Aldrich 1-0-2, Joe Burgess 6-3-17.
3-Pointers: S, Maurice 2, Kittrell, Smith; ME, Nally, Nesbit, Burgess 2.
Halftime: Snowden 30-28
Records: S, 10-10; ME, 19-2