Just how successful was the spring high school sports season for Cape Ann teams? Collectively it was the best season in recent memory as not one, not two, but three teams turned in the best season in the history of their respective programs.
Local sports teams put up an incredible resume with team and individual accolades including four conference champs, five sectional semifinalists, four sectional finalists, three sectional champs, three state championship qualifiers and one state champion; the Manchester Essex baseball team. Individually, four players were named MVP of their respective leagues or conferences, while four coaches took home Coach of the Year honors.
The season was of course highlighted by three teams venturing all the way to the state championship game in Manchester Essex baseball, Gloucester softball and Manchester Essex girls lacrosse. And all three teams did it in very different and very impressive ways.
Gloucester softball's run to the state finals was particularly historic, as it was not only the best season in program history, it was the best season in Gloucester girls sports history. The Fishermen became the second girls sports team to win a sectional title, the first since the basketball team did it in 2005, and they became the first GHS girls team to ever play in a State Championship Game.
To go even further, the Gloucester softball team is just the third GHS program to ever play in a state final (not counting sports that do not have a state final such as cross country), joining the football and hockey programs.
By the time the Fishermen got started on their road to the state championship in the Division 2 North Quarterfinals, all the pretenders were already eliminated, meaning Gloucester would have to fight through legitimate contenders every step of the way.
The Fishermen had the most difficult road to the state title game, by far, and they passed every test with flying colors until running into a well oiled machine that is Hudson in the Division 2 State Championship Game, falling 4-1.
In the postseason, Gloucester's versatility was on full display as it proved that it could win playing its game and win when it was forced out of its comfort zone.
Gloucester's M.O. this season was relying on elite pitching from Sydney McKay, elite defense behind her, and manufacturing runs by using their speed to put pressure on the opposing defense.
A 1-0 win over Danvers in the sectional quarters, an 8-0 win over Whittier Tech in the sectional semis and a 3-2 win over Norton to capture the Eastern Mass. championship, Gloucester played that style to a T.
In the Division 2 North Finals against Triton, however, that style of play was not going to cut it against one of the state's most powerful offenses. So instead, the Fishermen showed that they can swing a hot bat too, battling Triton to a 6-6 tie through seven innings. And in extras, Gloucester went to its bread and butter and essentially bunted the Vikings to death to the tune of eight runs in an eventual 14-6 win.
Whether it's a low scoring grind or a slug fest, Gloucester could handle the test, and that's why the team was the best team in program history, and the best girls sports team in school history.
For the state Division 4 State Champion Hornets baseball team, they had to survive their two biggest tournament tests right away in the sectional quarterfinals and semifinals, which ended up in a 4-2 win over Lowell Catholic and 3-2 win over Snowden respectively. Both of those games could have gone either way and are the type of games that eventual champions have to survive, which Manchester Essex did with outstanding pitching and timely hitting.
From there, a 16-0 drubbing of Boston English came next in the Division 4 North Finals. An unfortunate circumstance that was beyond the Hornet's control. With the MIAA seeding tournament teams by record, the seeds can be pretty meaningless, and this year's Division 4 North bracket is a prime example of that as the four best teams in the section (Manchester Essex, Lowell Catholic, Snowden and Hamilton-Wenham) were all on the same side of the bracket.
In the state semifinals the Hornets beat St. John Paul II, 7-3, and then beat Tahanto, 5-2 to capture the state title. Manchester Essex was the better team in each of those games and came out the deserving winner.
Balance was the name of the game for head coach B.J. Weed's club. He had three pitchers to work with in seniors Harry Painter and Dylan Wilson and freshman Kellen Heney. Painter and Heney provided the one-two punch as starters, while Wilson was so clutch coming out of the bullpen in all but one of the team's five postseason games.
Combine that with a deep lineup and you have the best Manchester Essex baseball team of all time.
That brings us to Division 2 State Finalist Manchester Essex girls lacrosse, which showed off its tactical brilliance to venture to the final game of the season.
With a hot goalie, senior captain Bella Pomeroy, the Hornets defense was a force to be reckoned with and stymied some of the most high powered offenses in the state until they ran into a buzz saw that was Cohasset in the state finals.
That's not to say that Manchester Essex wasn't strong offensively, they were and could match a lot of those high powered offenses. But when the games got tight, the defense and Pomeroy took over.
Manchester Essex did an incredible job of maintaining possession and slowing down the pace late in games where it had a lead. It started in the sectional semifinals against Ipswich. The Tigers score a lot of goals, but when the Hornets took an 11-10 lead with around 10 minutes to play, they got possession and kept it away from the top seeded team in the section, holding onto that advantage until the final whistle blew.
They did it again in a 7-6 win over Newburyport in the sectional finals and again in an 11-10 win over Bromfield in the State Semifinals. Ten minutes is an eternity in the game of lacrosse. But against Manchester Essex, you better have the lead or they will torture you with possession.
That strategy was a big reason why they put together the greatest run in program history.
You want individual records? There were a few of those to go around too.
McKay set Gloucester's career wins mark, which now stands at 58 to go along with only 12 defeats. McKay was a model of consistency since she took over as the main starting pitcher as a sophomore in 2017, and she took the team to new heights this spring with that consistency, which also saw her win Northeastern Conference North MVP.
On the baseball diamond, Gloucester sophomore ace Zach Abbott tied a record that was set just last season. Abbott earned nine wins on the mound this spring, tying John John Mondello's single season program record. With two more years on the mound, Abbott looks like he's in the middle of an outstanding high school pitching career.
In league and conference play, local teams also thrived as Gloucester softball, Gloucester baseball, Manchester Essex baseball and Manchester Essex girls tennis all won conference championships.
On the tennis court, Olivia Mariotti was named Cape Ann League Player of the Year in leading the Hornets to the sectional finals against Weston. That sectional final was a de facto state title match as Weston went on to squeak by the Hornets, 3-2 with three matches being decided in three sets. They rolled to the title after that, winning every other match by a score of 5-0.
Let's not forget about the coaches either, as Cape Ann spring teams have some of the best leaders at the helm.
Gloucester softball coach John Nicastro, Gloucester baseball coach Rory Gentile, Manchester Essex baseball coach B.J. Weed and Gloucester track and field coach David Coleman were all deservingly named conference Coach of the Year.
There have been plenty of successful seasons for Cape Ann sports teams, but the spring of 2019 is one that will go down in history.