---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Pentucket girls basketball team at times makes it seem out of the realm of possibility that it will lose another game this season.
Last night was one of those nights.
The Sachems (18-1) dominated a perennial state-tournament qualifier in Newburyport, 60-29, at Newburyport High on Senior Night. Pentucket led 24-7 after the first quarter, 40-17 at halftime and 51-20 after three quarters.
The defending state champion Sachems combined an unrelenting, full-court-press defense with a balanced scoring attack to post their 16th double-digit victory of the season. Making Pentucket’s victory all the more impressive was the fact that Newburyport (10-7) came into the game riding a five-game winning streak.
Pentucket left it nearly impossible to pinpoint a weakness by the end of regulation. The Sachems connected on nine 3-pointers, and all five starters scored in double-figures.
“They like to bring their ‘A’ game against us every single time,” Newburyport coach Gregg Dollas said. “We didn’t bring our ‘A’ game at all. At times we showed guts, but others, we let them bring everything to us. We didn’t have any counterpunch. They had dribble-drives, drop-offs, lay-ups and 3-pointers. They’re a well-coached team.”
Perhaps the Clippers should take it as a compliment that Pentucket habitually brings its ‘A’ game against them. The Sachems have logged a record of 152-19 over John McNamara’s seven seasons as coach, but one of those losses came against Newburyport during the 2010-11 season. The Sachems have gone 6-0 against Newburyport since, with all six victories coming by double-digits.
“I think they know that if we bring our ‘A’ game, we can run with anybody,” Dollas said of Pentucket. “But we didn’t ratchet it up at all in this game. It showed, obviously.”
The Sachems have a way of frustrating opposing teams. They are a very difficult team to defend due to the depth on the roster. Last night, starters Coley Viselli (10 points, 5 steals), Alex Moore (11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), McKenna Kilian (10 points, 5 rebounds), Kelsi McNamara (12 points, 4 assists) and Tess Nogueira (10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks) all scored in double-figures by the end of the third quarter.
Not only is Pentucket versatile in terms of its ability to deploy multiple scorers, but each individual starter is versatile in her own right. Kelsi McNamara, Viselli and Moore all took turns running point guard last night, and each player hit at least two 3-pointers. Viselli and Kilian did most of their work in the paint, although both players are capable of stepping back and hitting a jump shot.
Pentucket’s one loss of the season came against Notre Dame of Hingham Jan. 26. The Sachems started a new winning streak immediately after the loss, running off four straight heading into last night’s game. However, the Sachems were pushed to overtime in one of the victories against Masconomet. Coach McNamara felt the team was starting to show fatigue as it approached the home stretch of the regular season. The recent blizzard gave the team a chance to recharge the batteries.
“They had three days off because of the snow, and they got away from me,” McNamara said. “They had a good time, and it rejuvenated them. It’s a long season, and we’ve been grinding out wins. They were able to shut it down over the weekend, and we came back (Monday) with a really hard practice. They were ready.”
Pentucket has won 38 of its last 40 games, dating back to its 3-3 start last season. That team closed out the season with wins in 20 of its last 21 games and the program’s first Division 3 title in school history.
It’s tough to imagine any Division 3 team matching up with another loaded Pentucket squad in this year’s tournament.
“I wish I could say (the balanced scoring) is by design, but I think we just have good players who make the extra pass,” McNamara said. “If someone is open, she’ll give up a shot to get a better shot. The kids do that on their own. They have a high basketball IQ, and they take care of the ball. Newburyport’s been playing well, so that’s a great win for us.”