By Nick Curcuru
---- — MANCHESTER— The Manchester Essex boys basketball team has found its identity.
After limping through the first three games of the season with an 0-3 record something clicked for the Hornets. Head coach Bryan Shields’ squad began to figure out just who it was as a basketball team and players started to get used to their new roles.
Fast forward four games and the Hornets are riding high with a 4-3 record thanks to a 76-67 win over Georgetown Monday night at Manchester Essex High School.
“We’ve found some things that we can own both defensively and offensively,” Shields said. “Things that we couldn’t do early on in the season we’ve gotten better at, we’ve found our identity.”
The Hornets identity is simple, relentless pressure on the defensive end and picture perfect ball movement on offense.
That identity and the team’s improvements were on full display against Georgetown Monday. Defensively the Hornets mixed in two different full court press schemes to throw the Royals off guard. On the offensive end the Hornets showed off three offensive weapons in senior captains Max Nesbit, Liam Aldrich and Taylor Ketchum, who had 27, 20 and 17 points respectively.
It was Nesbit that got the team going early with 11 first quarter points. In the second the Royals gave Nesbit a little extra attention and it was Aldrich that stepped up his offensive game with 11 points of his own in the second frame. In the third it was Ketchum’s turn as the senior captain had eight of his 17 points in the third quarter.
“(Georgetown) tried to key in on our players on the offensive end but we have so many good ones that one will step up if another is covered,” Aldrich said. “On the defensive end our full court press was a key component. We go to a 2-2-1 to slow the ball and then we switch to a man-to-man trap to create some turnovers and extend our lead.”
“That’s the way we have to play, distributing the ball and spreading the points around,” Shields said. “It’s great that we have three seniors who are confident shooting the ball.”
The Hornets also showed off their resiliency and mental toughness Monday against a game Royals team that went into the game desperately needing a win.
The Hornets built their lead up to 17 points in the first half, only to see Georgetown finish the half on a 12-3 run to cut the lead to eight at the break. Manchester Essex responded in the second half building that lead back up to double digits after the Royals got as close as four points.
In the fourth quarter Georgetown cut the lead to six and threatened to get more but he Hornets hung strong and weathered the storm. Leading by seven with under four minutes to play Nesbit sunk a three pointer and Sean Gutierrez finished off a three point play to bring that lead back up to 13 points at 69-56 with three minutes to go essentially sealing the win for the Hornets.
“We’ve been put in those situations before so we know that when they’re making a run we have to battle back,” Aldrich said.
Shields echoed his sentiment.
“I was really glad to see that when we struggled a bit for a two minute stretch here and there we were able to bounce back and take control,” Shields said. “Four or five games ago that might have gone the other way. We know good teams will make runs and we have to respond to them.”
The Hornets four game winning streak has them sky high with confidence at the moment. With two straight Cape Ann League wins under its belt, Manchester Essex has also played itself back into the CAL Small race.
“We’re definitely in a groove right now,” Aldrich said. “I’m excited to keep it going.”