By Dan Guttenplan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Newburyport girls basketball team took the floor last evening for the first time in five seasons without 1,000-point scorer Beth Castantini and four-year varsity teammate Molly Rowe.
The Clippers unveiled a promising core of players to replace the 2012 graduates in a 39-23 season-opening victory over Amesbury at Newburyport High.
Junior forward Lilly Donovan emerged as the most likely player to replace Castantini’s scoring. The captain collected 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Junior center Mary Pettigrew appears improved after a breakout sophomore season; she manned the paint to the tune of 11 points and three rebounds.
“It looked like the first night out,” Newburyport coach Gregg Dollas said. “We had a great first half. We played well defensively, and the offense was moving. In the second half, everything got stuck in (point guard Aly Leahy’s) hands.”
Perhaps sensing his team would struggle offensively in the half court, Dollas called on the Clippers to apply full-court pressure at the start of the second quarter with his team leading 12-6. The Clippers forced turnover after turnover, limiting the Indians to a total of two points in the entire quarter.
The Clippers took a 20-8 lead into halftime, and the score was never closer than 12 points in the second half.
“We couldn’t score,” Amesbury coach Chris Perry said. “We played some good defense, but we need to find some scoring. We can’t throw the ball away. We have to focus. We’ll see what happens.”
Seven different Amesbury players scored at least one basket, but no player had more than six points. Sarah Abraham led the way for the Indians with six, while Morgan Reid added four.
Newburyport is coming off a fairly successful season, which was highlighted with Castantini’s 1,000th career point. The Clippers went 14-8 before falling to eventual state champion Pentucket in the state tournament.
Castantini is now playing basketball at UMass Dartmouth, and Rowe just finished her freshman field hockey season with Bentley University. The departure of those two players makes this somewhat of a rebuilding season for Newburyport.
“Opening night is great as long as we don’t open with Pentucket,” Dollas said after last night’s game.
Dollas may take a page out of Pentucket coach John McNamara’s book this season by implementing more of a full-court press defensive strategy.
“I’ll do whatever I have to do,” Dollas said. “I’d like to press more. We did that at times. That’s our goal. We have some speed here and there, but we have to stay out of foul trouble.”
All 11 players on Newburyport’s roster saw playing time last night. Dollas expects to shorten his bench as the season progresses.
“I think everyone on this team has a chance to get on this court,” Dollas said. “That will be the toughest thing for me — finding that rotation while keeping chemistry. I think some of my rotations messed up our chemistry in this game. I’ll have to coach a little better to help them through that stuff.”
Newburyport 39, Amesbury 23
at Newburyport High
A — 6 2 10 5 — 23
N — 12 8 10 9 — 39
A: Sarah Abraham 3-0-6; Megan Reid 2-0-4; Julia Schlich 1-1-3; Cloutier McKenzie 1-1-3; Emily Martin 1-1-3; Janine Fatal 1-0-2; Amanda Martin 1-0-2; Totals 10-3-23.
N: Lilly Donovan 7-2-16; Mary Pettigrew 5-1-11; Emily Pettigrew 2-0-4; Aly Leahy 1-2-4; Casey Barlow 1-0-2; Morgan Johnston 1-0-2; Totals 17-5-39.
Rebounding leaders: N — Donovan 8; A — E. Martin 6.
Assist leaders: N — Donovan 4; A — Fatal 4.
Records: N — 1-0; A — 0-2.