By Mac Cerullo
---- — WEST NEWBURY — This year’s Pentucket boys basketball season was defined by peaks and valleys, and nearly as impressive as the Sachems’ propensity to dig themselves into deep holes this season was their ability to climb back out of them.
After starting the year 3-1, Pentucket lost four straight games to drop to 3-5. The Sachems would right the ship over the following weeks, improving to 6-6 following a big 62-56 win over Manchester Essex. But after losing four of their next five, Pentucket looked to be dead and buried.
Stuck at 7-10, Pentucket needed to win each of its last three games to qualify for the postseason. Head coach Ed Hickey said the stakes were clear to everyone, and it was just going to be a matter of whether or not the “good” Pentucket team would show up or the “bad” one.
“The kids knew that our backs were against the wall,” Hickey said. “I guess the focus was on each game to get better.”
While it wasn’t always pretty, the Sachems ultimately got the job done. In a rematch of a game Pentucket won by 22 just four days earlier, Pentucket beat Triton in a much closer 35-34 battle.
The following Friday, Pentucket edged out Newburyport — a team that was also fighting for its tournament life — by a score of 36-21, and finally, the Sachems beat Saugus on the road 65-62 to claim a hard-earned spot in the postseason.
Unfortunately, a long postseason run wasn’t in the cards for Pentucket. The Sachems lost their first round matchup to Bedford 64-61 in a barnburner that wound up coming down to the last shot.
“We had an early lead, we got off to a really good start,” Hickey said. “They closed the lead a bit toward halftime, and then in the second half they started a run and took the lead. We fought back and at the end of the game we had a chance to hit a three with 3 seconds left, but unfortunately they got a piece of it and we wound up losing.”
Hickey praised his team for its resilience, noting that it’s not easy to keep your focus once you’ve fallen into such a deep hole. He added that a number of kids stepped up toward the end, including several who hadn’t contributed much before their numbers were called.
“One of the good things about this team is that we had a lot of kids who could contribute,” Hickey said. “We had different guys step up. Some games it was a question of finding the right combination of kids who could play well.”
That experience could prove crucial to a team that’s losing four starters to graduation, including leading scorers Adam Chory and Ryan Kuchar. Now entering his third year as Pentucket coach, Hickey will return a core group of seniors who have played for him since their sophomore year, and after climbing back from the brink to make the tournament this year, he hopes next season will go a little more smoothly.
“We still have some question marks and some things we have to improve upon, but we have to set some goals,” Hickey said. “We were ecstatic to make the tournament, and now I’d like to take that a step further.”
Pentucket Boys Basketball
Final Record: 10-11
Tournament: Lost to Bedford 64-61 in first round
Season Highlight: Won last three games to qualify for postseason