GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 21, 2013

Sizing up Cape Ann's state tournament teams

On HS Sports
Nick Curcuru

---- — Now that the winter high school sports regular season has officially come to an end it’s time to look forward to the state tournament.

Four teams will be representing Cape Ann this tournament season in Gloucester girls basketball, Rockport hockey and Manchester Essex boys and girls basketball. Some will have a tough road, some are serious contenders, all are battle tested. Pairings will be announced for boys and girls basketball on Friday with the hockey pairings coming out on Saturday. Here’s a look at how the local tournament teams stack up as we approach the postseason.

Gloucester girls basketball (10-10)@text1:: At .500 Gloucester enters the Division 2 North state tournament as a serious underdog. The Fishermen, however, enter the tournament with one thing in their favor; the fact that they have been in postseason mode for the last couple of weeks.

At 6-10, Gloucester needed to run the table over the final four games of the regular season just to make it to the tournament. Brandon Lewis’ squad did just that avenging earlier season losses to Swampscott and Danvers while sweeping the season series with Marblehead and Manchester Essex.

Gloucester has played with the necessary desperation for two weeks now, its life has been on the line for the last four games and as a result the team turned in some of its best basketball of the season.

While they are surely battle tested, the Fishermen will likely draw an extremely talented and high seeded team on the road in the first round of the tournament, and there are some very good teams at the top of Division 2 North.

Gloucester may be an underdog this postseason, but it is also a team that nobody is going to want to square off with in the early rounds. Sure the Fishermen have had their share of ups and downs this season and their style of play is not always easy on the eyes.

But Gloucester has a knack of drawing teams into its style of play and making every game a grind, and if there’s one thing Gloucester is good at it’s grinding out wins.

In order to advance Gloucester is going to have to turn in its best offensive effort to go along with its usual stingy defense.

Rockport hockey (8-7-2):@text1: Like Gloucester girls basketball, Rockport is also likely to have to fight its way through a top seed early if it wants to advance with a record hovering around .500 (last night’s season finale against Medfield did not conclude until after the Gloucester Times went to press). But this is also a team that high seeds will be hoping to avoid early given Rockport’s past state tournament experience and success.

This season marks the fifth straight state tournament appearance for a Vikings team that returns every player but one from a team that made it all the way to the Division 3 North semifinals last season.

To put it simply Rockport knows what it takes to win this time of year and will surely be a tough out no matter who it draws in the opening round of the tournament.

The Vikings also enter the t@text1:ournament battle tested with a beefed up out of conference schedule. Derek Papalegis’ squad was unbeaten in Commonwealth Athletic Conference play and has played seven state tournament bound teams in the regular season but sported a 1-4-2 record against those teams.

Rockport has certainly been inconsistent this season, especially in out of conference play, but with experience on its side the team has what it takes to pull off an early upset.

Manchester Essex boys basketball (13-7):@text1: After starting the season 0-3 the Hornets are rolling finishing off the regular with a 13-4 record. Playing in the Cape Ann League, Manchester Essex has also played a who’s who of Division 3 contenders and even a couple Division 2 tournament teams. Head coach Bryan Sheilds’ squad will not see anything in the tournament that it h@text1:asn’t already seen before.

The Hornets bring speed and experience having made it to the Division 4 North semifinals each of the last two seasons. With 13 wins Manchester Essex will probably lock up one of the top five seeds and with very few Division 4 North tournament qualifiers, it could get a bye straight to the quarterfinals which means a favorable draw is a near impossibility.

With its senior leadership combined with its past postseason success Manchester Essex is a contender in Division 4 North, especially considering the fact that there is no overwhelming favorite in the section like St. Mary’s was last season. It definitely won’t be easy, but if the Hornets string a few strong performances together they could be playing for a sectional title in the coming weeks.

Manchester Essex girls basketball (7-13)@text1:: The Hornets always enter the Division 4 North state tournament as a low seed, but they also enter the tournament as one of the most dangerous teams in the section.

Taking a few lumps in the Cape Ann League over the course of the regular season usually pays dividends for Manchester Essex this time of year, as the team once again appears to be in the mix for a sectional title. The Hornets have been known to chop down high seeded teams early in the state tournament and they will have to do it again this year.

Last season a 5-15 Manchester Essex squad took No. 1 seed Pope John to the wire dropping a close decision in the first round of the tournament. This season an improved Hornets squad is looking to make some noise.

Like the boys squad, Lauren Dubois’ team will not see anything it hasn’t seen before in the tournament and that bodes well for its chances to make a deep run. With a balanced offensive attack and stellar play on the defensive end the Hornets have what it takes to beat anybody in the section, they just have to go out and execute.