Tournament time is quickly approaching for Massachusetts high school basketball teams, and this includes the North Reading Hornets. However, from recent results and upcoming match-ups, it appears that the boys in green and gold will have a much different path than the girls when it comes to what will happen in March.
The 2010-2011 North Reading boys’ basketball season has been a mixed bag so far, and one could say that the last week was a microcosm of that inconsistency, with a strong win against Amesbury at home and a difficult loss to Georgetown on the road.
There’s no denying that this North Reading squad has talent, but time is running out on whether the Hornets can consistently bring that talent to bear and earn a playoff spot this winter, particularly when it comes to offensive production from their leading players like Kyle Lentini and Nicholas Rosano.
“We’ve got stretches of playing very good basketball followed by stretches of a lot of inconsistency,” said North Reading boys’ head coach Joe Casey. “Our main issue has been when things have gone bad offensively for us, that’s when we have stalled. That happened at Georgetown. We really struggled to score, while we just destroyed Amesbury, where we were up 21-0 by the end of the first quarter and 42-7 by halftime.”
In order for North Reading to reach postseason play, Casey projects the team will have to get up to 10 wins (the Hornets currently are 5-5, with 10 games to play), or they will need to finish second in the Cape Ann Middle Division, which Newburyport currently holds by half a game over North Reading.
On the other side of the coin, the North Reading girls’ basketball team has become perhaps one of the best in the state, or at least the North Shore, and now the rubber meets the road to see whether they are they are truly the genuine article.
Like the boys, the girls also crushed Amesbury earlier this week, largely due to an in-game improvement in communication.
"We were having some problems with communication in the first half, and we were able to end the first half up by 10 points, but we were giving up some easy baskets through miscommunications on defense," said North Reading girls' head coach Karla Sullivan. "But we were able to turn that around, and I think that's what allowed us to pull away in the second half."
Unlike the boys, the girls were able to parlay their victory against the Indians into another resounding victory against Lowell Catholic a few days later.
Sullivan has long stressed defense as one of the keys to success for her squad, but in the end perhaps one of keys to victory has been another thing she’s preached to her team: the 40-point rule.
Indeed, looking back at their record so far, the Hornets have won every game where they scored more than 40 points, with the exception of their opening night loss to Ipswich. Each opponent that has scored fewer than 40 points has lost to the Hornets this year, except for Marian, which scored 42 during the Marian Mustang Classic, and Hamilton-Wenham, which barely lost in a 44-43 defeat to North Reading in late December.
As it stands now, the Hornets are 7-2 and control their own destiny when it comes to winning the Cape Ann League Middle Division title.
The week ahead
The week ahead will test the mettle of both teams as they take their first foray this year into the Cape Ann Large Division, populated by schools with much larger enrollments than they have faced so far. Both the girls and boys will face a challenge Friday night against Wilmington, followed by games on Tuesday against Middle Division adversary Newburyport and closing out the week the following Thursday against traditional statewide powerhouse North Andover.
On the boys’ side, the week ahead also marks a transition from the first half of the year, which saw the team go on the road for the majority of its games, to a second-half schedule that will see more home games as well as closer road trips.
Since there is still time left, Casey doesn’t see these next three games as “make-or-break” situations for his squad, although he projects that their contest against Newburyport could be crucial, given the fact that it could determine which team finishes second in the division, thus securing a spot for the tournament.
On the girls' side, confidence is high, since facing schools in the Large Division will have a comparable feel to their recent game against Lowell Catholic.
However, if the Hornets hope for success, they will need to keep their lines of communication open, just as they did in the second half of the Amesbury game, Sullivan said.
"We've been talking at practice about all this talk about communicating and how we'll have to put that into practice the next couple of weeks," said Sullivan. "Because if we have breakdowns of communication on defense, these teams are going to score points."