By Conor Walsh
---- — With the area paralyzed by “Winter Storm Nemo” — we’re naming snowstorms now apparently? — and all local sporting events cancelled for the weekend, it seems as good a time as any to take a step back and take a look at the state tournament resumes of your local hockey and basketball teams.
Three local teams have already punched their tickets: the Manchester Essex boys and girls basketball teams and the Rockport hockey team.
The Hornets girls were the first local team to qualify, securing their playoff berth early in the season with two Division 4 wins — which, by virtue of the MIAA’s Sullivan Rule, earns them a ticket to the Division 4 North tournament regardless of overall record.
The Hornets boys and the Vikings hockey squad both officially qualified for their respective tournaments Thursday night. Manchester Essex rode its hot shooting to a rout over Rockport, putting it at 10-7 and guaranteeing a regular season record of .500 or above.
And while the Vikings have yet to guarantee a winning record, their tie with Shawsheen Tech on Wednesday night put them at 6-0-1 in the lowly Commonwealth Athletic Conference. With just one conference game remaining for the Vikings and the rest of the CAC and Rockport holding a two-point lead over second-place Shawsheen and a seven-point lead over third-place Nashoba, they can finish, at worst, in a tie for first place.
With the top-two teams from each conference automatically qualifying for postseason play, Rockport’s in.
While no team on Cape Ann has been eliminated from tournament contention yet, there are several teams facing a steep uphill battle to qualify.
HANGING ON BY A THREAD:
Rockport boys basketball, Rockport girls basketball, Gloucester boys basketball, Gloucester girls basketball and Gloucester hockey.
With the regular season winding down, these five teams are still technically alive for the postseason.
In each case, though, it’s going to take some serious work.
It seems the most likely candidates to make a late-season push are the Rockport boys and Gloucester girls basketball teams.
After a crushing, buzzer-beating loss to Ipswich on Tuesday night and an ugly loss to Manchester Essex on Thursday, Rockport’s now got its back against the wall.
Sitting at 7-9 with two games remaining, there’s no margin for error for the Vikings. They’ll need to beat league-leading Lynnfield and Amesbury, which sits in third place in the Cape Ann League Small, next week to get in.
But Rockport’s proven to be resilient all season, and with a veteran squad, they’re not likely to go down without a fight.
The same can be said for the Fishermen girls team, who entered Thursday’s game against Swampscott at 6-10 and came out and absolutely dominated.
They’ve been up-and-down all season, but when they’ve been right, the Fishermen have proven to be able to hang with much of the NEC. And with a favorable schedule down the stretch, against two teams (Manchester Essex and Marblehead) that they’ve already beaten and a season finale against a beatable Danvers team, it’s within the realm of possibility that the Fishermen might sneak in after all.
For the remaining three teams, the outlook is bleaker. The Gloucester hockey team may have some leeway left, sitting at 6-8-1 with five games left, but that flexibility is limited.
As a result of their tie, the Fishermen must, at worst, go 3-1-1 over the last quarter of their season. And while there are beatable teams in Saugus, Peabody and Melrose left during that stretch, the final two teams — Beverly and Triton — each throttled Gloucester earlier in the season.
Should they beat Saugus, Peabody and Melrose, the Fishermen would still need to steal a point from Beverly or Triton to extend their season. No easy task.
Similarly, the Gloucester boys basketball team is barely hanging on. At 7-12 overall, the Fishermen have guaranteed a sub-.500 season. They could, however, still sneak into the tournament with a second-place finish in the NEC South. However, they sit three games behind second-place Saugus with three games to play, and with one of those games coming against undefeated Danvers, it would take a miracle for Gloucester to find its way in.
And, finally, we have the Rockport girls basketball team. In their first season playing an independent schedule, the Vikings have enjoyed more success than in recent seasons.
But with two games remaining, the Vikings are two games below .500. Moreover, their final two games come against opponents — Cathedral and Notre Dame Academy — that have already beaten them this season.
It’s a chance, but a slim one.
There you have it, folks. There’s a lot riding on the final weeks of the regular season for your local squads, and late-season surges are among the most exciting events in high school sports.
Let’s hope we get to see one.