By Conor Walsh
---- — LYNNFIELD — More often than not, it’s easy for a coach to pinpoint the difference in a game, whether it be what pushed a team to victory or what held it back in defeat.
For Manchester Essex coach Bryan Shields, last night’s Division 4 North quarterfinal matchup between the No. 5 Hornets and No. 4 Lynnfield was not one of those games.
As the first-year coach stood on the Lynnfield High School court following his team’s 63-50 loss to the Pioneers — the third time the Hornets fell to Lynnfield this season — he struggled to find a cause for his team’s downfall.
Simply put, the Hornets were just outplayed. Led by senior Patrick Kearney (18 points, 10 rebounds) and freshman center Adam Buchanan (15 points, eight rebounds), the Pioneers exploded for 39 second-half points and always had an answer to any Manchester Essex push.
At the end of the day, that was enough to push the Pioneers forward in the state tournament and end the Hornets’ season.
“They just came out and played,” Shields said of Lynnfield. “I worked on strategy and we thought we matched up well against them. They made a lot of shots, you have to give them credits. They shot the ball well. They had some open looks but some stuff I thought we covered pretty well. Bottom line is they made shots and we struggled a little bit from the field.”
Leading by two points after a sound first half, the Hornets appeared to be in the driver’s seat heading into the second half.
With their 2-3 zone defense shutting down the Pioneers — with the exception of Kearney, who posted 14 of his 18 points in the first half — and their offense moving the ball effectively and finding open shots, the first 16 minutes went as well as the Hornets could have hoped.
The final 16 minutes were an entirely different story. As the Hornets keyed on Kearney, who’ll be in the running for the Cape Ann League Player of the Year, the gifted senior took what Manchester Essex gave him.
He drew defenders his way and found the open man.
And to the chagrin of Shields and the Hornets, those open men seemed like they couldn’t miss.
With Hornets’ center Sean Gutierrez in foul trouble, the Pioneers pumped the ball into Buchanan, whose short-range jumpers kept falling.
When the Hornets denied Buchanan the ball, though, there were other options to shoulder the weight. Senior Edward Moore drained two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to pace his 12-point performance, and fellow senior Conor Sullivan worked his inside-out game for 12 points of his own.
The Hornets didn’t go quietly, cutting the deficit to as few as three points in the second half thanks in large part to senior Max Nesbit’s five 3-pointers. Nesbit led the Hornets with 17 points.
The hole was simply too deep for the Hornets to expect to dig themselves out of. After being outscored 13-2 in a run that spanned the second and third quarters and then 12-0 midway through the fourth quarter, Manchester Essex couldn’t get itself back into the game.
“Like I said, they made a lot of shots,” Shields said. “I think Kearney is the key piece to their offense and I think early on we gave him too many looks, and I think we did a good job of shutting him down later in the game and the kids he kicked the ball to made the shots at the end. That’s what it’s all about.”
The loss ends what was, despite its ups-and-downs, a successful season for the Hornets in their first year under Shields. After struggling to start the year, losing their first three games, the Hornets found an identity.
Behind seniors Nesbit, Liam Aldrich (seven points last night) and Taylor Ketchum (10 points, eight rebounds), the Hornets made a splash in the CAL and made a push for the CAL Small crown.
The team that was in the way of that push, however, was the same team they drew in the tournament. And, like they had all season, the Pioneers proved to be just a step better than the Hornets again last night.
“My kids played hard. They worked their tails off every day, every game, every practice, but Lynnfield just had a better game than us today,” Shields said. “I started out coaching the kids that are seniors now when they were in eighth grade. I moved up with them to be the ninth grade coach their freshman year, then I was their JV coach their sophomore year and their varsity assistant last year. It was a great honor to be able to coach those kids all the way through. They’re a tough group of kids, they work hard and they’ll definitely always have a special place in my heart.”
agateHed:No. 4 Lynnfield 63, No. 5 Manchester Essex 50
agateText:at@zzAgate:agateText: Lynnfield High School
agateText:Manchester Essex@zzAgate:agateText:: Max Nesbit 6-0-17; Taylor Ketchum 4-0-10; Sean Gutierrez 4-0-8; Liam Aldrich 2-3-7; Petey Morton 1-0-3; Josh Christopher 1-0-3; Sam Kurpis 1-0-2.
agateText:Lynnfield@zzAgate:agateText:: Patrick Kearney 7-1-18; Adam Buchanan 7-1-15; Edward Moore 5-0-12; Conor Sullivan 5-2-12; Paul Pascuito 1-0-2; Traverse Briana 1-0-2; Brendan Sullivan 0-2-2.
agateText:Halftime@zzAgate:agateText:: Manchester Essex 26-24.
agateText:3-pointers@zzAgate:agateText:: M Nesbit 5, Ketchum 2, Morton, Christopher; L Kearney 3, Moore 2.
agateText:Records@zzAgate:agateText:: M 13-8; L 14-7.