Boys_BBall_Danvers

ME Hornet #3, Luke Smith, executes a stop and pop against Danvers rivals on the 16th, Senior Night, on the way to a 50-30 romp at home

It’s already been a season worth celebrating, and the Manchester Essex boys basketball team isn’t done just yet.

The Hornets finished the regular season with a 16-4 overall record, and tied with Georgetown for a Cape Ann League-best 13-2 record, good enough for a share of the league title and a top-15 ranking in the state in Div. 4.

“It’s been a fantastic season,” says Manchester Essex coach Tim St. Laurent.

There is also the potential for things to get even better in the near future. The Hornets should hear by the end of this week how they are seeded in the Div. 4 tournament, where they will end up playing and who their opponent will be. It is fairly likely they get to host at least one postseason game due to their record and the season they’ve had near the end of next week, which should seem like night and day one year after playing under COVID guidelines that left bleacher seats empty and made a mess of the traditional schedule.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I didn’t realize how much we would miss the fans and how much they play a role in the game,” explains St. Laurent. “It’s been good to play in front of parents and the student section at home and away, it’s just been awesome.”

The postseason is different from in year’s past in that it’s more of a traditional bracket. Previously, teams would play in their region, and the regional champions would face off in the last few games of the winter season. Now, it’s the top 32 teams in Div. 4 regardless of where they hail from in Massachusetts, making for a tournament bracket a little more similar to the NCAA basketball format.

“We could be playing a team out west one game, or playing locally,” says St. Laurent. “We’ll hear on Friday, but we should have at least one home game.”

Home or away, the Hornets should pose quite a challenge to the rest of Div. 4 once the tourney begins in earnest. Manchester Essex began the season with a 5-1 record, and then received a boost from the return from injury of one of their best players in AJ Pallazola.

“AJ missed the first six games, and when he came back, he was an electric piece we added to the lineup,” explains St. Laurent. “He made a good basketball team great. We learned so much as a team without him, and how to play good basketball, and when he came back, he added so much athleticism.”

The Hornets welcomed their teammate back with open arms, and Pallazola contributed with 10 points and six assists a game. He was just one weapon the team relied on this season, a group that includes sophomore guard Cade Furse – who is averaging 18 points a game and is one of the team’s top shooters – and Brennan Twombley, who has been a force in the frontcourt for Manchester Essex.

“Brennan Twombley has been a versatile big man, playing well for us on both ends of the court,” says St. Laurent. “He covers the best offensive threat on the other team, and he is a creative offensive player.”

Patrick Cronin and Sam Athanas have also provided scoring punch for the Hornets. Senior Vaughn O’Leary has been a revelation, stepping in after an injury to sophomore center Eddie Chareas took him out of the lineup.

“There’s been a lot of speed bumps, but this is a versatile group and they really stuck together as a team,” says St. Laurent. “It’s been an awesome team to coach.”

For now, the Hornets will play the waiting game to see who they have up first in the postseason.

“We will take a few days off and let the kids rest up and hang out with their families, then we scrimmage Austin Prep,” St. Laurent says of his team’s prep for the tournament. “We’re excited to do that, and wait for the seeding to come out.”

Jason Brisbois has covered Cape Ann sports and features for more than 15 years. He would be happy to hear from you with comments or questions at jason@thecricket.com