Rockport hockey's 6-2 defeat at the hands of Bedford Thursday night in the Division 3 North Semi Finals meant that all Cape Ann high school sports teams have been knocked out of their respective state tournaments. Although no Cape Ann basketball or hockey team will be fighting for a state championship this week, that does not mean that they did not give us plenty to talk about this postseason.
Raising the bar
Ever since head coach Derek Papalegis took over the program during the 2008-2009 season the Rockport hockey program has steadily raised the bar in terms of performance. This season the Vikings raised that bar to yet another level with the longest tournament run in school history reaching the Division 3 North Semi Finals where they ran into a buzz saw that was Bedford, a team that, in my opinion, is more than talented enough to give most Division 2 tournament teams a run for its money.
From 2011-2012 the Vikings went from a good team to a legitimate Division 3 contender by shoring up some if its shortcomings such as undisciplined play.
The 2012 season was highlighted by a 2-0 win over Marblehead in the Division 3 North Quarter Finals on March 4. It was an interesting contest in more than one way. Rockport, a program on the rise, had run into two of the best Marblehead teams in program history on its way up and the results were not ideal as those superior Magicians squads won by a combined score of 17-1 in two postseason meetings.
But this year Rockport proved just how far it has come in just two seasons playing a gritty and disciplined game en route to the win. The win was vintage Rockport this season, non stop effort on every shift, strong goaltending and opportunistic offense. While scoring chances were about even for both sides, Rockport, as it usually does, made the most of its chances for the win.
Next season Rockport is looking to take it to the next level as they lose just a single senior from this seasons already strong team.
The 2012 state tournaments also gave us two of the best games we have seen this school year, regardless of sport. The Gloucester girls basketball team's Division 2 North Quarter Final matchup with Wilmington and the Manchester Essex boys basketball team's Division 4 North Quarter Final game with Snowden will not soon be forgotten.
The Division 2 North Quarter Final matchup between No. 6 Gloucester and No. 3 Wilmington was thought to be an even matchup. But it didn't look that way early on as Wilmington had its way with Gloucester hitting shots from the outside, playing superb defense and controlling the glass en route to a 40-20 lead in the middle of the third quarter.
Those who have seen the Gloucester girls play this season, however, knew they weren't going out like that. What transpired over the final 12 minutes of the game was an improbable and incredible comeback bid from Gloucester. To their credit the Fishermen dug down deep and made a game of it putting a huge scare into Wilmington finishing the game on a 27-10 run.
Gloucester had a tough time shooting the basketball in the first half but they were not discouraged and continue to stay aggressive and eventually the shots did fall. On the other end of the court Gloucester also began to find its groove shutting down the perimeter while at the same time handling Wilmington's tough post players.
In the end Wilmington came up with just enough defensive stops and key rebounds to escape with a 50-47 win.
Manchester Essex's Division 4 North Quarter Final clash with Snowden was a completely different game, but had the same excitement. There was no furious comeback bid in this one because neither team could find a comfortable advantage.
The game was like a heavyweight fight as Manchester Essex punched, and Snowden counter punched for the entire 32 minutes of play.
For the entire first half it was Snowden holding a slim lead for the majority of play but no team led by more then four points. In the second half Manchester Essex took a two point lead and never let it slip away despite several spirited attempts from Snowden.
The Hornets took a game high nine point lead with under three minutes to play but it was quickly erased by Snowden who cut the lead to two points and had a chance to tie on two occasions.
At the final horn it was Manchester Essex that did just enough down the stretch, sinking several clutch free throws, to survive with a 62-60 win.
The teams may have fallen just short of the ultimate goal, but it was surely an exciting ride as the spring season will be hard pressed to match that drama that the winter postseason delivered.