NEWBURYPORT — It’s only natural for Newburyport girls basketball coach Gregg Dollas to let his mind wander.
Dollas’ team is riding a five-game winning streak while playing its best basketball of the season, and the Clippers’ next two opponents include teams that defeated them earlier this season. Dollas surely wants to settle the score with these opponents, especially after his team’s last victory came against a Hamilton-Wenham team that beat his Clippers in December.
But then Dollas looks at the schedule, and remembers tonight’s game is against defending state-champion Pentucket, owners of a 17-1 record. The Sachems eliminated the Clippers (10-6), along with five others teams, from state tournament play last season.
“I’ve realized I can’t worry about Pentucket all year,” Dollas said. “I’ll drive myself crazy. I only think about Pentucket a day or two before we play them.”
The short-term focus appears to have paid dividends for Newburyport over the last two weeks. The Clippers have not lost since they were 5-6 Jan. 21, when they were on the outside looking in at a state-tournament berth. Dollas settled his troops in hopes of making another late-season push, which has become a Newburyport staple in his three seasons as coach.
“The girls have settled down a little bit,” Dollas said. “We came out of the shoot a little too fast for ourselves. We weren’t focused on the little things as much as we have been lately. Also, we had a tough schedule.”
Newburyport started with losses in five of its first eight games, although each loss came against a tournament-qualifying team. Ipswich (14-2) posted two victories over Newburyport, and Pentucket (17-1), Hamilton-Wenham (11-5) and Masconomet (12-4) each bested the Clippers once. Until the Clippers beat Hamilton-Wenham Thursday night, they had yet to record a victory against a team with a winning record.
“There’s no one person dominating out there; it’s more of a collective effort,” Dollas said. “The ball’s moving to a variety of different people, and we have a few girls who can step up and lead the team in scoring on a given night. Some of it is me. I’ve gotten better with the rotation of the girls coming in and out. Things are different from last year.”
Last year, the Clippers, who finished 14-8, were led by 1,000-point scorer Beth Castantini and Molly Rowe, who combined for 70 to 80 percent of the team’s offense, according to Dollas. This year, Aly Leahy, Lea Tomasz, Mary Pettigrew, Emily Pettigrew and Lilly Donovan have taken turns playing the lead role.
“I don’t want to say it’s been more of a challenge for me,” Dollas said, “but it’s been fun. I can throw a matchup out there against a certain team depending on what they have out there. It’s more of a coaching moment in terms of a rotation. It’s been fun watching different kids grow this year.”
Dollas does have one win against Pentucket to his record in his three years at Newburyport. Overall, his teams are 1-7 against the Sachems, a mark that actually matches up well against other Cape Ann League coaches during the same time period.
“My mindset going into a Pentucket game is don’t turn the ball over,” Dollas said. “Make a good pass. Spread the court. Keep it simple. They’re so disciplined and so strong, we can’t afford any type of lapses.”
Amesbury girls are tourney bound
The Amesbury girls basketball team recently clinched its first state tournament berth since 2006.
The Indians (8-9) secured one of the top two spots in CAL Division 2 last week with victories over Manchester Essex and Lynnfield. They face off with Georgetown tonight before finishing with Nazareth Academy Monday. The Indians could potentially finish 10-9, the team’s first winning record in seven seasons.
“We’ve won a couple more this year, the kids are working hard,” said Amesbury coach Chris Perry. “It’s still kind of a young group. But the last couple of weeks, they’ve improved.”
Emily Martin has led the Indians in scoring this season with an average of 10.6 points per game. Courtney Borkowski and Amanda Martin have also keyed the recent run of success, which includes three wins in the last five games. Perry also credited Emily Williams, a midseason call-up from the junior varsity, for the team’s improved play.
“We’re just banging away,” Perry said. “The Achilles’ heel has been scoring points, but some kids are starting to pick it up.”