Not only was Monday’s 54-42 win at home over Newburyport a big win in a season seemingly filled with them, it may have been one of the biggest wins in the history of the Manchester Essex boys’ basketball program.
“It was a big win against a very good Newburyport team,” says Hornets coach Tim St. Laurent. “Both teams were undefeated in the Cape Ann League coming into last night.
He adds: “I’ve never had this many text messages on my phone after a win.”
After winning this particular clash of undefeated titans, it is impossible to ignore the season that the Hornets are having in 2023-24. Manchester Essex is 15-0 overall after beating a much larger school inside its own division on Feb. 5, and is also undefeated in the CAL so far. Newburyport has only lost to one team this season, and that’s Manchester Essex. Another CAL stalwart, Georgetown (scheduled to come to town to play the Hornets on Feb. 8) has lost to only two teams previously this season: Newburyport, and, yes, Manchester Essex.
The Hornets opened the season with a rout over postseason nemesis Cathedral, essentially declaring how things were going to go down for the squad this winter, and then beat another big school in Peabody a few games later. Since then, they have been moving through their schedule with the ferocity of a freight train going at high speed, pushing through any barriers that have stood in their way. The next stop on the trip after the rematch with Georgetown is another playoff-caliber test against Burke (which is 11-3 and undefeated in the Boston City League South) on the road on Feb. 12.
“We just had Newburyport, we have Georgetown on Thursday night at home and we go into Burke on Monday,” explains St. Laurent. “That’s three very tournament-like games all in a row where they should be four-quarter games. All tournament games are four-quarter games, not blowouts. It gets us going at the right time, so I’m really excited.”
The engine that has kept this train on the winning track is defense, something that the Hornets need to rely on as they finish up the final quarter of the season against foes of this caliber.
“It’s always defense with us,” says St. Laurent. “That propels everything. We figure out what teams are doing to try to slow us down in the first quarter, set our comfort levels and then we tighten the screws. That’s what we’ve done in every one of our wins.”
In the Newburyport win, that meant switching up the usual strategy to account for what the Clippers can throw at a team on offense.
“We mixed it up a little bit where normally Zach Hurd and Milo Zeltzer are coming in for each other, but Newburyport is so good that we had them both on the floor at the same time,” explains St. Laurent. “It’s a lineup we’re not used to having, but to beat a powerhouse like Newburyport, you need two star defenders.”
At the other end of the court, the Newburyport defense was forced to deal with all-everything seniors Cade Furse – who scored 24 points in total, with 11 coming in the crucial final quarter – and big man Eddie Chareas (13 points, five in the fourth quarter).
“We were up by eight with three minutes left in the game, and Cade came up to me as he was heating up and says, ‘Don’t worry, we got this,’” says St. Laurent. “That’s one thing that I was smiling about one day after a game like that, hearing that from a four-year varsity starter.”
Point guard Preston Potter was instrumental in conducting the offense and making steal after steal, while sophomores Jake Zschau and John Chareas both hit clutch threes to provide a boost when it was needed.
“Our kids were really confident going into the game,” explains St. Laurent. “We believed we were going to win the game. When adversity hit in the first quarter, Newburyport was up by a handful of baskets, but they believed in themselves and took care of the ball. We played great defense and Cade turned it on in the second half for us.”
Also in the Hornets Nest:
Manchester Essex Girls basketball lost their only game of the week to Cape Ann League Large powerhouse Pentucket 58-20. The Hornets struggled to contain the offensive firepower of the Panthers and could not get their own offense flowing.
Harper Brooks led the Hornets with 6 points. Mechi O’Neil, Tess Carpenter, and Emerald Jakes each had 3 points. Phileine de Widt and Ella Arntsen each added two and Mackay Brooks one in the contest.
The Hornets are 10-4 overall and 7-3 in the Cape Ann League. This week the Hornets will take on Newburyport, Swampscott, and Georgetown.