NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 27, 2013

The known, unknown of basketball's early season

By Tim Lima
Staff writer

---- — Nearly a month into the high school basketball season, we have been both reassured and surprised with what we have seen. We have seen teams over-perform, and under-perform. We have seen young teams grow and experienced teams regress. The following is a list of what we know so far and what is yet to be determined.

Newburyport programs excelling early

The boys varsity team is coming off a tough loss to Saugus, who excelled from three-point land, hitting 11 shots from downtown and delivering a 14-point win. That seems to be the only blemish coming from the Newburyport hardwood thus far, as the boys and girls varsity squads have combined for a 5-1 record.

On the boys side, the Clippers have seen promising signs from their starters. Senior Dillon Guthro has utilized the size he has put on over the summer, fighting for and winning most loose rebounds. Although losing their first game and falling to 2-1 against Saugus, Guthro recorded a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. The Clippers also have impressive youth contributing to the team. Add Dan Baribeault to that list; he’s a sophomore who has the ability to excel offensively. Against Hamilton-Wenham, Baribeault racked up 22 points and is worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses.

On the girls side, head coach Greg Dollas has his girls off to an undefeated 3-0 start heading into the Holiday Tournament they host. As the games have progressed, so have the margins of victory for the Clippers. They opened the season with a 9-point win, followed by a 12-point victory and a 21-point blowout to get to 3-0. Emily Pettigrew has excelled at nearly every facet of the game thus far, recording 52 points and 22 rebounds through three games as a sophomore. The Clippers have the benefit of improving youth and consistent veterans. Senior captain Mary Pettigrew has had statistically a quiet season thus far, but has steadily improved her assist numbers over her career — something that should continue to grow through this season. Senior captain Aly Leahy is the epitome of consistency in points, assists, steals and rebounds. Youth, experience, consistency and winning basketball. Not much is expected to change headed into January.

Pentucket’s inconsistent beginning

The Pentucket girls have begun their season 1-2. Yes, you read that correctly. If the Sachems are not used to one thing as a program, it’s losing. In the seven full seasons that head coach John McNamara has been with Pentucket, he lost 20 games while winning 158. That being said, he hasn’t experienced much losing. The rocky beginning is something that he anticipated, though, as a team largely in its growing stage fights inexperience. Before the season began, McNamara stated that he was concerned with his team’s youth — but that he was encouraged by his group’s willingness to learn and desire to improve. Pentucket doesn’t have losing seasons and neither does its coach — expect an improved record in the coming weeks.

The Pentucket boys just recently suffered their first loss to Hamilton-Wenham, falling to 2-1 on the young year. That loss raised more questions than it did provide answers about this team still trying to determine its identity. When things go right for the Sachems, they really go right. When they go wrong, though, they really go wrong. For example, against Hamilton-Wenham, the Sachems begin the second half on a high note. They began on a 9-2 run, before allowing the Generals to regain momentum with a 10-3 run to close out the quarter. Pentucket has proved that it has the ability to win the close games — but has not yet showed that it can climb out of holes. Hamilton-Wenham controlled the game from the get-go, never losing ground. Head coach Ed Hickey claimed after the game that he felt his team may have been “on Christmas break a little early.” Hamilton-Wenham would score the most points they had all year (56), and the Sachems would score their fewest (39). Pentucket has the ability to win the Kinney Division for they have great depth — something that could allow them to keep players fresh as the season progresses. When and if everything clicks, they may very well make noise as the season progresses. It should be interesting to see what direction the Sachems head in 2014.

Triton looks to improve

Three games in, we can’t say that the Vikings have under-performed. It has been clear that the girls and boys are both fighting to turn around their respective programs. The girls are fighting an uphill battle doing so, as a down program in years past (2-14 last year) is looking for growth with a new head coach. Charlie Noonan has taken over the reins on the program and is optimistic for the future. Heading into the season, he was proud of his team’s attitude, saying they had great enthusiasm and energy. His only concern was how quickly his team could become accustomed to the new system he was instituting — something that takes time with any team or any program. In terms of this year, the overall win-loss record should be replaced with moral victories: small growth and progression throughout the season to develop their youth. If Noonan can keep his team focused on growth and excited for improvement, the Vikings should take steps in the right direction as the season progresses.

The offense and defense have both improved, and their win-loss record has as a result. After their first win of the season, Triton junior guard Cam Armand said that “their hard work had finally paid off.” The monkey is off their back for this season, as the Vikings now look to 2014. Last year’s record wasn’t terrible, as they finished 9-11. This year, while the Vikings are capable of making a run and earning a respectable record, improving for next year should be something that is kept in mind. Triton is losing just two players this year to graduation: Bradley Whitman and Lawrence Cuddy. The players who remain, though, should propel Triton to excellence in the 2014-15 campaign. Next year’s senior class could be lethal if improvements are made this season. The 6-foot-4 center Ellsworth Rogers tops that list — not many teams can match his size or strength down low, especially once Newburyport’s Guthro graduates this year. Also on the list of seniors next year are Kevin Clark, Cam Armand, Jack Germinara, Nick Venora and Corey Parsons, all of whom are playing high minutes and contributing. Look out in 2015 for the Vikings.

Amesbury: Boys step on, girls step back

Perhaps the biggest question mark this season came from Amesbury High School. Who would these teams be? Amesbury boys looked to continue with different leadership, as Tom Comeau replaced Thom Connors as the head coach. Without one minor — yet major — slip in the road, the Indians would be 3-0 and atop the Baker Division but instead find themselves 2-1 and trailing two teams. One of those teams is Manchester Essex, who looks to be the odds-on favorite to run away with the division. The Indians fell to them by 55 points, being restricted to just 22 points, a number that is nearly one-third of their second-lowest point total of the season. The good news? Amesbury looked to respond well, beating Lynnfield just two days later. Amesbury will see Manchester Essex again in early February in a matchup that will tell us how far Amesbury has come.

The girls were also a question mark, but haven’t met the expectations given to them after last year’s team reached the tournament with a 10-11 record. This year, the Indians have begun with an 0-3 record with two losses coming by just 5 points. Head coach Chris Perry has the experience needed and the prior success to help the Indians rebound to another tournament bid. He is coaching his 24th season as Amesbury’s head coach and has accumulated a 258-194 record. A concern he had with his team was the ability to score — something that seems to be hurting them early in this season’s campaign. In the first two weeks, Amesbury scored just 33 and 31 points, but scored 54 in a losing effort to Lynnfield. If the scoring begins to improve, so too should the record.

Upcoming Basketball Games: Girls: Newburyport at Triton today, 7 p.m.; Pentucket at Masconomet, today, 7 p.m.; Amesbury at Dedham, Sunday, 5 p.m. Boys: Triton at Newburyport, today, 7 p.m.; Pentucket at Lowell Catholic Tournament, tomorrow, 7 p.m.; Swampscott at Amesbury, today, TBA.