By Conor Walsh
---- — MANCHESTER — Entering last night’s matchup with Masconomet, Manchester Essex boys basketball coach Bryan Shields knew the Chieftains’ size would present the Hornets with problems.
To help combat that, he plugged 6-foot-2 senior forward Dylan Estes into the starting lineup to help take pressure off the Hornets’ other post players in Sean Gutierrez and Taylor Ketchum.
But while Estes gave the Hornets some added muscle and grittiness in the paint, Masco’s size ultimately proved too much. The Chieftains dominated the Hornets on the glass for large stretches of the game and held off a late Manchester Essex push, spoiling a 24-point performance from the Hornets’ Max Nesbit in securing a 59-55 win.
“Masco has some good size and they run their sets well,” Manchester Essex coach Bryan Shields said. “I don’t think we shot the ball as well as we’re capable of. It’s been a couple of games now where we haven’t really shot the ball as well as I know we can, but their size made a lot of our shots difficult.”
It didn’t help that Gutierrez, the Hornets’ strongest post presence, was in foul trouble for much of the night. With Gutierrez going back and forth to the bench throughout the second half, Masco forwards Alberto Arenaza (12 points, seven rebounds) and Zach Turcotte (six points, six rebounds) were able to take over the game. While their numbers weren’t overwhelming, their presence commanded double teams and allowed for perimeter players to flood the paint, where they grabbed rebounds and extended possessions.
Despite that, though, the Hornets simply wouldn’t go away the whole night. Whenever it seemed the Chieftains would put them away — most notably during a 12-0 Masco run in the second quarter — Manchester Essex found a response.
To overcome that Masco push, Ketchum rattled off eight-straight points for Manchester Essex in an 8-1 run to cut Masco’s lead halftime lead to just 29-27.
And when the Chieftains again looked to push the lead in the third quarter, it was Ketchum’s turn to bring the Hornets back, as he scored 11 of his 13 points in a run between the midway points of the third and fourth quarters.
In the end, though, Masco (7-6) had just enough in the tank to hold off the Hornets’ incessant push for the equalizer. While the Hornets (7-6) battled back throughout the game, they never led again after surrendering the lead midway through the second quarter.
“We obviously would have liked to have kept Gutierrez in the game down the stretch,” Shields said. “He’s a great player and he plays with such intensity and fire, but Dylan Estes did a good coming in and eating up his minutes. Dylan’s a great player and we know he can do some great things for us, so we just try to look at our matchups and plan accordingly.
“I thought we executed our defense well. Our man-to-man stuff was good, we did a good job helping out, so overall, I’m happy.”
The Manchester Essex defense was solid throughout the night, forcing Masco deep into the shot clock and causing 20 turnovers. Unfortunately for the Hornets, Masco’s defense was just as effective.
Manchester Essex turned the ball over 17 times, and while Nesbit and Ketchum got their points, Masco’s length was able to prevent the Hornets’ secondary scorers — Liam Aldrich (two points), Josh Christopher (three points) and Gutierrez (three points) — from getting into a rhythm.
The Hornets have just one more crossover game in their Cape Ann League schedule after last night, traveling to Hamilton-Wenham on Tuesday.
From there, the Hornets will hope to build from their games against the CAL Large and push for a CAL Small title.
“We’ve just got to keep playing hard,” Shields said. “We’ve got one more game, Hamilton-Wenham, to get through the Large part of our schedule, then we’re back to the small teams. We’re playing good basketball, we’ve just got to keep making shots and keep working hard on defense and keep getting better.”