By Tim Lima
---- — WEST NEWBURY – Winning streaks, the Cape Ann League championship and team pride were on the line last night as Masconomet faced off against Pentucket for the second time this season.
A combined 25-3, the Sachems and Chieftains both entered Monday’s contest in possession of a tournament bid, certain that their seasons will extend beyond 20 games – though the contest was anything but void of opportunity. While Pentucket’s run of 11 straight victories came to a sudden halt last night, Masconomet remains unbeaten and in control of the league championship after earning a 39-38 win in what was undoubtedly the CAL’s game of the year.
It was the second time the two teams had met on the hardwood – though Pentucket is far from the team that took the court on Dec. 27. The Sachems had their doors blown off by 26 points in the contest that proved to be a major turning point in their season.
Sitting at just 1-3 in their first four, Pentucket began a run of eleven straight games leading up to their contest against a Masconomet team that was not only beating their opponents, but embarrassing them.
“We knew that this team would be ready for us,” Masco head coach Bob Romeo said. “We have been following their scores and knew that they hadn’t lost since we played them in the Christmas tournament.
“If you look at what they have been doing, every game they have gotten better and better and better, especially on the defensive side of the ball. We told our kids this would be a low scoring battle but we were fortunate enough to get enough points in that third quarter to get us a lead that we were able to hold on to.”
In their previous 13 victories, Romeo’s team’s lowest margin of victory was eight points. Though managing to keep their streak alive, Masco head coach Bob Romeo knew that the contest was far from decisive as most of the game was spent trying to break through the Sachems relentless defense.
“We lost the game on the offensive end,” Pentucket head coach John McNamara said. “We did a decent job containing them. We held them to 39 points. You will win most games if you hold your opponent to 39 points.”
Adding to the accomplishment of restricting the Chieftains to just 39 points is Masco’s depth offensively.
While it wasn’t the offensive night that McNamara had hoped for, Pentucket’s McKenna Kilian and Kelsi McNamara managed to find offensive success regularly.
“Kelsi and McKenna were really killing us all night,” Romeo said.
McNamara would finish the game with 17 points, including a critical three-pointer with 1:11 left in the game to erase a seven-point Masco lead and tie the game.
“Great players make great plays and Kelsi is a great player,” Romeo continued. “That step-back three at the end of the game is her move and something we saw coming. When she received the inbound pass, I turned to my bench and said, ‘this game is tied.’”
While it was the McNamara show late, it was the Kilian show for much of the first half. The only Sachem to record a point in nearly the game’s first eight minutes, Kilian provided her team with an upbeat tempo that became contagious.
“McKenna played well and battled the whole game,” McNamara said. “She is getting better and better and when she settles down she understands how good she is as a basketball player.”
Kilian would finish the night with 17 points and eight rebounds.
While fighting tooth-and-nail with an undefeated team that just over a month ago was able to beat you by 26 points may be a moral victory for some teams, it is not for a team led by former state champion and title-game regular McNamara.
“There are no moral victories,” McNamara said. “We lost, and that’s disappointing but we need to figure out how to get better to get ready for the state tournament.”
For Masconomet, it was ball-control that proved critical in the game’s most pivotal moments. Out-rebounding the Sachems 20-10 offensively allowed the Chieftains extra possessions and second chance opportunities. Both Masco’s Megan Letvinchuk and Stephanie Mini would have 13 rebounds in the contest.
While Masco was able to remain unbeaten, it is something that Romeo largely overlooks. In fact, while it is a feat that he would enjoy, it is one that he has grown weary of.
“I don’t think it’s important to finish undefeated,” he said. “I think it’s important to be playing really good basketball going into the tournament. Some people would tell you it’s a curse to go into the tournament undefeated. We just want to be playing good ball because if you’re playing good basketball, you will win.”