It was another outstanding winter on the court for our local high school boys basketball teams, with three of the five Cape Ann League squads making the tournament, two reaching the sectional semifinals and Newburyport winning its second straight league title. Here’s a look at how each team fared this year and how well they are set up going forward.
Newburyport: Champion Clippers set to sustain success
What happens to a program when its greatest player of the last 50 years graduates after leading his team to its first league title in 13 years? Normally you’d expect it to take a big step back, but for Newburyport basketball, life after Casey McLaren turned out to not be so bad.
Led by All-CAL standouts Parker McLaren and Jacob Robertson — the consensus top two players in the league — Newburyport rolled through the CAL to follow up last year’s shared title with Pentucket with a second straight championship, this one in decisive outright fashion. The Clippers finished 16-6, 15-1 in CAL play, and reached the Division 3 North quarterfinals before losing to a defending sectional finalist Weston team boasting a possible future Division 1 player.
Parker McLaren’s accomplishments this winter have been well documented, and it goes without saying that by turning in one of the most prolific and efficient seasons in program history, he’s earned his own place on the pantheon of Newburyport basketball greats.
Yet like his brother before him, Newburyport looks set to keep rolling just fine even after he’s gone.
Robertson is an elite shooter and will be among the favorites to win CAL Player of the Year as a senior next winter, and he’ll be among four returning starters who should all take the leap next winter as well. Junior Trevor Ward is a top-notch athlete and the definition of a glue guy, and sophomores Jack Fehlner and Max Gagnon beat out older and more established peers to make their presence felt as impact guys ahead of schedule.
Fellow sophomore Ronan Brown will be a favorite to slide into the starting lineup as well, and with only McLaren and Ryan Archie set to graduate, Newburyport will remain arguably the deepest team in the league, with eight additional returning players set to return and compete for a chance for more playing time going forward.
Amesbury: Historic run for unheralded Indians
Nobody outside of the Amesbury boys basketball program saw this coming, but in retrospect it should have been obvious that this group had the potential to accomplish something great.
Last winter, Amesbury saw significant roster upheaval and managed to finish one game out of the tournament at 9-10 anyway. The Indians were active throughout the offseason, building towards what they believed could be a big season, and the work paid off this winter with the program’s best season in nearly 20 years.
Led by Jaden Keliher, Amesbury finished the year 17-5 and made its deepest state tournament run since 2002. The Indians won the Rowinski Holiday Tournament, upsetting three-time defending champion Newburyport in the finals, and finished one game back of Hamilton-Wenham to narrowly miss winning the program’s first CAL Baker title since going back-to-back in 2002 and 2003. The Indians earned the No. 2 seed in the Division 3 North tournament and won an exciting home game against North Reading in the quarterfinals before eventually falling to defending sectional finalist Weston in a thrilling Division 3 North semifinal battle.
While Keliher and fellow All-CAL senior Jimmy Gjikopulli will be graduating, the Indians have plenty to work with coming back. Junior forward Kyle Donovan was one of the top big men in the league, sophomore Cam Keliher is a lights out shooter who should take over for his brother as the team’s top scorer next year, and fellow sophomore Rocco Kokinacis proved a valuable piece who will be counted on next year.
Georgetown: Bright future for Royals’ Splash Bros.
Even when Georgetown started the season 0-5, there was always a sense that the team was much better than its record suggested. The Royals could shoot 3-pointers better than any team in recent memory, and you knew that if they got hot, they were capable of beating any team they faced.
Unsurprisingly, Georgetown eventually got things on track, fighting their way back into the state tournament and making it all the way to the Division 4 North semifinals before finishing 12-11.
The difference-maker was sophomore Harrison Lien, a Central Catholic transfer who gutted through a preseason back injury to elevate the Royals into contention. Lien led Georgetown in scoring, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals while topping 20 points a team-best five times to earn All-CAL honors.
Lien was joined by fellow sophomore Jack Lucido, a former Daily News Coming Attractions pick who has emerged as a three-sport standout and as one of the area’s top shooters, as well as by junior Justin Murphy. Lucido knocked down 63 3-pointers and topped 20 points three times, while Murphy scored 30 points twice and emerged as perhaps the region’s most automatic free throw shooter.
All three will be back next year, giving Georgetown one of the CAL’s top returning backcourts and a chance to seriously contend for the CAL Baker title.
Triton: Bad fortune sinks promising season
Triton should have made the state tournament. The Vikings were talented enough and proved they were capable of competing with the best teams in the area. But too often the Vikings were playing without their best players on the court, and in the end those injuries proved insurmountable.
Of Triton’s ideal starting five, only senior forward Mason Ferrick played all 20 games for the Vikings. Starting guard T.J. Overbaugh missed extended time at the beginning of the season, and around the midway point fellow backcourt-mate Kyle Odoy was lost for the season after aggravating the shoulder injury that his plagued him throughout his high school career.
Even still, Triton was still on a tournament pace until forwards Michael Farago and Quintin McHale both went down with leg injuries. Without either of their starting bigs, Triton could no longer compete in the paint the way they were accustomed, and the team wound up losing five out of six down the stretch to fall out of tournament contention.
Triton was able to finish the season on a high note, beating Wilmington 81-67 in the season finale to finish the year one game short of the tournament at 9-11. Though six seniors will be moving on, Triton will return Odoy, McHale and top 3-point threat Dylan Wilkinson, giving the Vikings a solid base to work towards future contention next year.
Pentucket: Etter injury too much to overcome
By all accounts Pentucket basketball was on its way to another terrific season. The defending CAL Kinney co-champions started the season 5-1, picked up a thrilling overtime win over Masconomet and were looking like a top contender to challenge Newburyport at the top of the standings once again.
But then, in that Masconomet game, All-CAL forward Jake Etter went down with a knee injury. Initially thought to be a sprain, it was hoped that Etter would be back in a week or two. Instead, it turned out to be a torn ACL, and with Etter gone the Sachems weren’t the same.
Pentucket wound up losing 13 of their last 14 games, including 12 straight, to fall out of the league title picture and eventually out of state tournament contention entirely, ultimately finishing 6-14. With seven seniors set to graduate, including all of the team’s original starting lineup, the Sachems will have a much different look next winter. The good news is there will be plenty of opportunity for new players to step up and make their mark going forward.
Governor’s: Newburyport standouts leading Govs
While Governor’s Academy can often feature top players from far and wide, this year’s team was led primary by local stars. Newburyport’s Will Batchelder was the team’s top scorer and looks set to lead Govs for the foreseeable future. The third-year sophomore averaged 15.7 points per game in his first year in the ISL, topping 20 points in nine games while knocking down 62 3-pointers. He is also now at 964 career points, including his totals from St. John’s Prep, and should easily top 1,000 within the first few games of next season.
Joining Batchelder is Drew Sachs, whose family recently moved to Newburyport and who also emerged as a prolific threat from behind the arc. Sachs averaged 11.1 points per game, led the team with 65 3-pointers, and scored a team-high 13 points in his team’s first round loss to Brooks in the New England Prep B tournament. Byfield’s Peyton O’Leary also returned from injury midseason to average 7.3 points per game, and all three should be back to lead Governor’s next year as well.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amesbury 17-5 Rowinski Tourney champs, D3 North semis
Georgetown 12-11 D4 North semis
Newburyport 16-6 CAL Kinney champs, D3 North quarters
Pentucket 6-14 IAABO 95 Tourney runner-ups
Triton 9-11 Rowinski Tourney third-place