By Conor Walsh
---- — ROCKPORT -- Jody Norton remembered Tucker Meredith from a year ago.
In the Rockport boys basketball team’s lone win last season, Meredith torched Norton’s North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie squad for a game-high 23 points.
This time around, Norton hoped, the Bulldogs would be able to contain him. And, for a time, they did. But in the midst of a third-quarter explosion by the Vikings when the two teams met at Rockport High last night, Norton’s hopes were dashed.
Meredith hit four consecutive 3-pointers midway through the third quarter to pace a 23-2 run that allowed Rockport to cruise to a 60-44 victory, their second-straight win to open the season.
“We were hoping to limit (Meredith) because he hurt us a lot last year,” Norton said. “Then he got going, he hit those four bombs, and things started to fall off from that point.”
“That’s all Nick Scatterday, Michael McCarthy and Shaun Aspesi getting met the ball. It’s them driving and kicking,” a humble Meredith added. He did, however, admit that “when my feet are set, I feel like I can hit almost anything.”
It sure seemed that way last night.
To look at the outcome of last night’s contest, though, one would be hard-pressed to believe it once appeared to be slipping away from the Vikings. Meredith and fellow co-captain Scatterday were stuck on the bench for much of the second quarter with foul trouble, and the Bulldogs hung right with Rockport.
The Vikings’ full-court defense was broken with ease throughout much of the first half, and with a relative lack of offensive identity, the game seemed to be slipping away from Rockport.
Were it not for the efforts of A.J. Balzarini, who finished with a game-high 20 points, the Vikings would have likely faced a bigger halftime deficit than the four-point hole they were looking at heading into the break.
But in the locker room, coach Tim St. Laurent found a way to adjust his defense, and the results were immediate.
The Vikings absolutely dominated the third quarter from start to finish. With an aggressive full-court trap, they were able to force the Bulldogs (0-4) into countless turnovers and had little trouble converting them.
Balzarini posted seven of the team’s first nine points in the third, and as the Rockport defense continued to wear down the Bulldogs, the turnovers kept coming and so did the points.
As the Bulldogs came unraveled, aiding the Vikings’ pressure with unforced turnovers, the Vikings kept pushing, and by the time Meredith knocked down his four 3-pointers, the game was all-but over, as the 23-2 quarter gave the Vikings a commanding 17-point lead.
“At halftime we went in, made the adjustments we had to make, and I have some very experienced players and good teams are able to make adjustments,” St. Laurent said. “We took the press off because of their break, but we made and adjustment and it allowed us to still get up and down and play the fast game we wanted to play.
“We want to get up and down and find our shooters in transition, and that’s what we were able to do. We played really good basketball (in the third quarter), really smart basketball. How many points did we hold them to in the third? Two? We made the adjustments and the kids just executed.”
Aspesi kicked in 14 points, 10 in the second half, and some serious defense from the shooting guard spot to help secure the lead for Rockport.
But now that the Vikings (2-0) have already doubled their win total from last season, the challenge is to build on it. And they won’t have much time to enjoy last night’s victory, as they’ll travel to Manchester Essex tonight (6:30) for a key Cape Ann League and Division 4 matchup.
“We prepared already a little bit for them,” St. Laurent said. “We’ve got a good scout on them already. We had someone at (the Hornets’ Tuesday loss to) Amesbury.”
“We’ve just got to rest up and do our thing tomorrow,” Meredith added. “We’ll be ready to go.”
Rockport 60, North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie 44
at Rockport High SchoolN: Y. Sanchez 6-0-12; Mendez 4-1-11; Alfred 3-0-6; White 2-0-5; J. Sanchez 1-2-4; Farese 2-0-4; T. Schaejde 1-0-2; C. Schaejbe 1-0-1.
R: Balzarini 7-3-20; Aspesi 6-2-14; Meredith 4-1-13; Kuykendall 2-3-7; Chalmers 1-02; Scatterday 1-0-2; Tanson 0-2-2.
Halftime: N 31-27.
3-pointers: R Meredith 4, Balzarini 3; N Mendez 2, White.
Records: R 2-0; N 0-4.