We have just passed the mid way point for the high school boys basketball season on Cape Ann and if the second half is anything like the first half, all three Cape Ann teams have several good games in store.
It’s been a roller coaster ride over the first half of the regular season as Gloucester, Rockport and Manchester Essex have sustained their fair share of ups and downs. Manchester Essex appears to be well on its way to another state tournament berth while Rockport and Gloucester have shown drastic improvements from a year ago.
Next month the MIAA state tournament pairings will be announced and Cape Ann could see multiple representatives in the boys basketball field.
All three teams have work to do over the second half of the year, here’s a look at what we have seen and will see from the teams on Cape Ann.
X-Factor: Sophomore point guard Jeff Oliveria
Big Win: 69-62 over Winthrop on December 18
Big Loss: 46-45 vs. Marblehead on January 4
Outlook: The Fishermen have already tripled their win total from a year ago and have rarely been outclassed the way they were last season. Gloucester, however, still has an extremely young squad and it has gone through growing pains over the first 12 games of the season as the team sports just four seniors.
Gloucester has held its own in Northeastern Conference Small play. Although they sport just a 1-7 NEC record, Gloucester has been in several close games that could have gone either way. If a few more baskets had fallen against Marblehead, Swampscott and Saugus, Gloucester could be hovering around the .500 mark.
Unfortunately for Gloucester the NEC Large has proven to be a tough and deep conference this winter and the team has struggled in NEC crossover games sporting an 0-3 mark and dropping all three games by double digits.
The highlights for Gloucester over the first half of the season came in wins over Triton (56-55) and Winthrop (69-62). In both of those games Gloucester made clutch baskets down the stretch to pull out wins.
Head coach Bill Cahill’s squad has been led by senior captain Jason Vizena, who is the team’s leading scorer for the second straight season. Senior guard Austin Davis has established himself as a legitimate scoring threat this season with his point per game totals hovering around nine per game.
Gloucester has also proven that its future looks bright. Sophomore point guard Jeff Oliveria has had a breakout season as the team’s floor general while junior Drew Shairs has been a double-double machine in the middle. Sophomores Devon Murray and Drew Muniz have also played regular minutes this season and have both showed plenty of upside.
The state tournament may be out of reach for the young Fishermen, but there are still several intriguing matchups for them down the stretch against Saugus, Marblehead, Swampscott and Winthrop a second time. All four games were close the first time around and all should show just how much Gloucester has improved a second time around.
X-Factor: Senior forward Tucker Meredith
Big Win: 78-69 over Manchester Essex on December 21
Big Loss: 48-45 vs. Hamilton-Wenham on January 9
Outlook: Rockport’s season can easily be split into two segments, it’s tremendous 4-0 start, and it’s five game losing skid that followed. Four of those five losses came with the Vikings missing five key contributors including four starters to suspension.
That four game winning streak to start the season featured big wins over Manchester Essex and Georgetown but the four game losing streak featured a couple of toss defeats at the hands of Hamilton-Wenham and Amesbury, teams Rockport probably would have beaten at 100%.
When the Vikings are playing at their best they are a sight to see with athletes all over the floor that can get after it on defense and shoot the rock.
The Vikings have been led by a trio of scorers in Shaun Aspesi, Tucker Meredith and Adam Balzarini, who have combined to hit a combined 40 three pointers and average a combined 43 points per game.
Rockport has also gotten strong contributions from Nick Scatterday, Conor Kuykendall and its entire bench.
Rockport has proven to be a handful to any team in the Cape Ann League both offensively and defensively and it has the talent to dig out of its current hole.
A 4-5 record may be disappointing to the Vikings given the way they started the season, but there is still plenty to like about this team. Unlike the Northeastern Conference, there is little to nothing separating the Cape Ann League large and small divisions and every game remaining on the Vikings schedule is winnable.
Even with a record below .500 at the moment, Rockport has the talent and experience to take down a couple CAL large opponents and take care of business in the small to make the state tournament.
Once in the postseason Rockport has the firepower to be a real player.
X-Factor: Senior point guard Liam Aldrich
Big Win: 54-38 over Newburyport on January 11
Big Loss: 55-53 vs. Amesbury on December 18
Outlook: It may have taken the Hornets a few games to find their identity, but now that they have the entire Cape Ann has been put on notice.
First year head coach Bryan Shields and company have gone 6-2 over their last eight games and have looked better with each passing game.
Ater an 0-3 start where the team was still having players settle into new roles, Manchester Essex has taken off with its high energy, fast paced approach.
The Hornets throw multiple full court press sets at opposing offenses, and when they have the ball they have plenty of scoring options to be reckoned with.
The biggest questions entering the season for the Hornets was how they were going to replace point guard Sean Nally and swing man Chris Bishop, who led the Hornets to the CAL Small title in 2012. Enter Liam Aldrich and Max Nesbit.
At the point Aldrich has been an outstanding distributor and gained a reputation for a deadly shot from behind the arc.
Nesbit, on the other hand, is a threat to both hit a long jumper or take the ball to the rim.
Senior Taylor Ketchum has also had a big year for Manchester Essex scoring inside and outside while junior Sean Gutierrez has provided interior toughness on both ends of the floor.
Manchester Essex will get into the tournament if it takes care of business and is currently playing better basketball than any team in the Cape Ann League, a win over Newburyport last Friday proved that.
Like Rockport, Manchester Essex can beat every team remaining on its schedule.
It may be tough to catch Lynnfield for the CAL Small title as the Hornets are three games behind the Pioneers, but they will be a team that nobody wants to draw in the Division 4 state tournament.
Cape Ann Scoring Leaders Name School PPG 1. Shaun Aspesi Rockport 19.0 2. Max Nesbit ME 14.9 3. Taylor Ketchum ME 12.6 4. Tucker Meredith Rockport 12.6 5. Liam Aldrich ME 12.2 6. Adam Balzarini Rockport 11.8 7. Jason Vizena Gloucester 10.8 8. Drew Shairs Gloucester 10.3 9. Austin Davis Gloucester 8.8 10. Sean Gutierrez ME 8.7