By Nick Curcuru
---- — ROCKPORT-- The maintenance department at Rockport High School may have its hands full changing lightbulbs in the school’s gym this morning. That’s because the Manchester Essex boys basketball team shot the lights out at Rockport High Thursday night to the tune of an 89-67 win.
In a well played game from both sides, the Hornets had their best shooting performance of the season draining 14 shots from behind the three point arc and shot an eye popping 53% (29-55) from the field.
That shooting performance propelled Manchester Essex (10-7) to a state tournament berth.
“We haven’t shot the ball like that all year,” Hornets head coach Bryan Shields said. “I knew we had it but this is the first time we really saw it and it was great.”
While the Hornets were elated with their shooting performance, it was a tough loss for the Vikings. Tim St. Laurent’s squad played a strong game getting the Hornets into second half foul trouble keeping them out of the lane while four players scored in double figures (Conor Kuykendall 16, Tucker Meredith 12, Adam Balzarini 11, Shaun Aspesi 10), but Rockport was helpless watching the Hornets knock down shot after shot.
With the loss Rockport (7-9) has its back up against the wall needing to win its final two games of the season (at Lynnfield Tuesday, vs. Amesbury Thursday) to qualify for the state tournament.
“It’s tough to search for words to say to the kids after a game like tonight,” St. Laurent said. “They executed and I loved the way they fought all game, you just have to give credit Manchester Essex, they hit everything tonight, it just stinks that we were on the other end of a performance like that.”
No matter what the Vikings did on the defensive end, Manchester Essex had an answer. The Hornets were able to beat Rockport’s vaunted full court press and work for open looks when the Vikings over committed. In the half court Shields squad moved the ball masterfully against the Vikings zone and set perfect screens to get shooters open looks from beyond the arc.
Senior captains Max Nesbit and Liam Aldrich powered the offense as Nesbit had 32 points on five three pointers while Aldrich had 31 points on eight three pointers.
“We move the ball well and manipulated their zone well with some of our sets,” Shields said. “We were able to get those looks and we converted. (Nesbit and Aldrich) both played great both offensively and defensively and they showed just how good they can be tonight.”
Early on the contest looked like a battle that was going to come down to the last minute as both teams came out with a sense of urgency which led to a lightning quick pace.
Aldrich got going early with three three-pointers in the frame while Kuykendall’s work inside saw the two teams knotted at 20 after a first quarter that saw four ties and six lead changes.
Manchester Essex made its move in the second quarter thanks to 15 points in the frame from Nesbit and stellar play on the defensive end to open up a 42-30 lead at the break.
Rockport looked to be coming back in the third after back-to-back three point plays from Nick Scatterday and Andrew Waynrynen cut the Hornets lead to eight. But Manchester Essex continued to hit shots at will as back-to-back threes from Aldrich got the lead right back up to 14 points.
“We were looking good and I thought it was the start of a comeback,” St. Laurent said. “But every time we got momentum they hit a big shot.”
The Hornets continued their clutch shooting in a fast faced fourth quarter and opened up their lead which led to a 22 point win.
With three games to play Manchester Essex has accomplished its goal of a state tournament berth, but Shields says the team isn’t resting on its laurels.
“It’s nice to get into the tournament but you can never breathe a sigh of relief,” Shields said. “We have three games left and we want three wins to improve our seeding.”
Rockport, on the other hand, has officially entered desperation mode needing to win out against two tough opponents in Lynnfield and Amesbury to get into the postseason. St. Laurent, however, is confident in the abilities of his veteran team.
“We’ve been up against it before with a long losing streak and we showed that we can regroup, execute and play good team basketball,” St. Laurent said. “I have a tough, smart group of kids that know the game of basketball, we can do it.”
Manchester Essex 89,
agateText:at Rockport High School, Rockport
agateText:ME: Max Nesbit 11-5-32, Liam Aldrich 11-1-31, Petey Morton 3-3-10, Sean Gutierrez 3-0-6, Taylor Ketchum 2-1-5, Dylan Estes 1-2-4, Josh Christopher 0-1-1.
agateText:R: Conor Kuykendall 7-2-16, Tucker Meredith 3-6-12, Adam Balzarini 4-3-11, Shaun Aspesi 3-3-10, Nick Scatterday 3-1-8, Andrew Waynrynen 2-2-6, Mike McCarthy 2-0-4.
agateText:3-Pointers: ME, Aldrich 8, Nesbit 5, Morton; R, Aspesi, Scatterday.
agateText:Halftime: ME 42-30
agateText:Records: ME, 10-7; Rockport 7-9.