By Conor Walsh
---- — ROCKPORT -- Last night’s boys basketball matchup between Rockport and Lynnfield, with each team entering the game undefeated in the Cape Ann League, had the potential to be a good one.
While there’s a lot of basketball to be played, the winner would put itself in the driver’s seat in the CAL Small.
Unfortunately for coach Tim St. Laurent and the Vikings, though, the game was cheapened before it even began. Rockport was without five players, four starters and a key reserve, due to what St. Laurent termed a “violation of school policy.”
With Tucker Meredith, Rockport’s lone remaining starter, joined by fellow senior Caleb Tanson, sophomore Mike McCarthy and freshmen Andrew Waynrynen and Ryan Curtis to open the game against a tough Lynnfield squad, the final result wasn’t hard to predict.
The Pioneers (5-2) rode the play of Patrick Kearney (game-high 17 points) and Conor Sullivan (11 points) to jump out to a 28-point halftime lead and cruised from there, taking sole possession of first place in the CAL Small with a 67-36 win.
“I want to say that the kids who came in and stepped in worked their tails off,” St. Laurent said. “They were in a tough situation and I couldn’t be any prouder of how they worked. I think this is going to make us stronger.”
St. Laurent didn’t elaborate on the nature of the five suspensions, but did say that last night was the first game of a four-game suspension for each of the five players.
St. Laurent did, however, note that he learned of the violation on New Year’s Day, and the four-game suspensions are consistent with the MIAA’s mandated suspensions of 25% of a season for violations of its Chemical Health Policy. For teams competing in 16-19 regular season games (Rockport will play 18 this season), that works out to be four games.
Rockport Police broke up a New Year’s Eve party and 29 teens face charges of alcohol possession, the Times could not confirm that the athletes suspensions were tied to the party.
The players can continue to practice with the team while serving their suspension, and the remaining three games of their suspensions will come against Amesbury (3-2), Hamilton-Wenham (1-4) and North Reading (5-0).
“The five players have a four-game suspension, three more games after tonight,” St. Laurent said. “In terms of how we are with and without them, I don’t want to have a comment on that. We’re going to get through these three games and come back and pick up where we left off. I’ve got a Hamilon-Wenham team and an Amesbury team next week that I think we can come out and beat.”
As for last night’s game, it would be hard to fault Rockport’s effort. Meredith (16 points) didn’t leave the court until the game’s final three minutes. The same could be said for McCarthy, a scrappy sophomore point guard who put together his best performance of the season last night and rattled off all 10 of his points during a dominant personal stretch in the third quarter. And despite a significant size disadvantage, Curtis pulled down nine rebounds at center.
“Mike McCarthy is an unbelievable sophomore point guard and I think one day he’s going to be one of the best players on the North Shore,” St. Laurent said. “The kids worked hard. Tucker did what he could, he put a lot on his shoulders. Curtis played hard.”
But up against a strong Lynnfield squad that moves the ball well around the perimeter and has two sharpshooters in Kearney and Sullivan, there just wasn’t much that Rockport could do.
With their roster depleted, the Vikings were forced to tone down their aggressiveness on defense to stay out of foul trouble. And once Lynnfield identified Meredith and McCarthy as the centerpieces of Rockport’s offense last night, their attack was quickly stifled.
Things could be worse for Rockport, though. While there’s no good time to lose five players, the fact that the Vikings will still have 10 games to be played once they return is a definite plus.
And with their return coinciding with the Vikings’ most difficult stretch of the season -- they’ll play Newburyport and Triton, among the brass of the CAL North, in the first two games following the suspensions -- they’ll have to get back on track right away.
In the meantime, Rockport’s just going to be looking for some wins over the next week to avoid turning a 4-0 start into a 4-4 record.
“Basketball’s a 32-minute game and we’ve got to work to play for 32 minutes,” St. Laurent said. “I thought we had a lot of good minutes mixed in today, but we need a complete 32-minute game to win and that’s what we’re going to look to do.”