The switch to a new tournament format seems to have really struck a chord with the Manchester Essex spring sports teams.
This season, the MIAA switched from a more regionally-focused tourney bracket to a new formula to determine brackets that included strength of schedule in addition to a few other tweaked factors – think along the lines of NCAA Basketball’s “March Madness” format.
It may not be “March Madness,” so can we call it “June Jubilee?” Two Manchester Essex teams – girls’ tennis and the baseball team – were scheduled at the start of the week to play in the Final Four in their respective sports in the Div. 4 tournament. A fourth, the girls lacrosse team, had an Elite Eight matchup scheduled against Mount Greylock on Wednesday.
Even the local teams who saw their seasons end recently have plenty to be proud of. The boys’ tennis team made it to the Elite Eight before falling to Cohasset this past Monday, while the boys lacrosse team was knocked out of the tourney last weekend thanks to a loss to Wahconah Regional. Even so, the lacrosse team was a squad that boasted the CAL Coach of the Year in Jon Siderewicz, earned a first-round bye and beat Abington to make it to the Round of 16.
Indeed, there seems to be a bit of magic in the air when it comes to local teams this spring. These squads are hitting their stride at the right time and coming up big during crucial moments.
Girls Lacrosse Lives Up to Top Billing
The ME girls’ lacrosse team earned the top seed in the Div. 4 tournament, and has played like it so far. The Hornets put in dominant efforts in wins over Stoneham (a 13-2 win) on June 9 and Nipmuc (13-0) on June 11. Up next is Mount Greylock on June 15 in the Elite Eight.
“I think we will really meet some aggressive players in this round,” says Gorton. “I know they have a strong goalie and some very strong lacrosse players spread throughout the field. I am excited to see our girls rise to the occasion and battle through the whole game.”
While the scores have been lopsided so far, girls’ lacrosse coach Nan Gorton insists her team isn’t simply on cruise control during the playoffs.
“Unbelievable effort to keep the level of play high,” explains Gorton. “That can be really tough when you are controlling the game in the way that we did. Sometimes when that happens, there is a tendency to lower the standard of play. We did not do that. And to Nipmuc’s credit, they worked hard the entire game, pressuring us to make mistakes, that we just didn’t make. It was a day to really focus on keeping it clean and simple, running the offensive plays and having a steady defense”
Against Nipmuc, Mechi O’Neil and Emma Fitzgerald led the Hornets in scoring with three goals each, Hadley Levendusky and Elsa Wood had a pair of goals each and Lucy O’Flynn, Meyer Gist and Sylvie McCavanagh all scored as well. Wrede Charlton and Charlotte Crocker were impressive on defense, dominating ground balls while Brigid Carovillano earned the shutout in goal.
It was a similar effort against Stoneham, with Amelia Donnellan and Wrede anchoring the defense, Carovillano remaining stout in net and goals coming from Levendusky, O'Neil, O’Flynn, McCavanagh, Ella Chafe, Emma Fitzgerald, Paige Garlitz and Maggie Light.
“The secret to our success is that with every mistake and loss of focus, we reflect and learn,” explains Gorton. “I am proud of this team for their resiliency and their ability to re-set and work hard to finish the season strong.”
Lessons Learned, Progress Earned for ME Girls Tennis
The ME girls’ tennis team was slated to take on second-seed Wareham on June 15 in the Final Four, a daunting challenge but one this young group seems to be up to after showing rapid maturation and development over the course of the regular and postseasons.
“It is not an easy task,” explains girls tennis coach Ed Conway. “A lot of the teams we’re playing now are senior heavy, and we’re a young team. This is still a learning experience for many of us because we are playing more experienced teams. That said, we’ve been playing so consistently and so well that we’re not really afraid to play anybody. This team is going to show up no matter what, they don’t care.”
The consistent formula so far: Lean on the talent and experience pooled into the doubles teams to earn two points and pull out the victory at third singles with another gutsy performance from Vanessa Gregory.
“Vanessa throws her heart and soul out there every time we put her out there,” says Conway. “Really, she’s quite a good tennis player and it is all about the team with her, it’s not about her. We are lucky to have her, and to have them all.”
On June 11, Gregory provided the winning point with a 6-4, 7-6, 7-5 effort at third singles, while the doubles pairings of Parker Brooks/Gracie Susko (6-2, 6-2) and Grayson and Sienna Crocker (6-1, 6-2) also won, giving the Hornets a 3-2 win in the Round of 8 against Lynnfield. On June 8 against Bourne, the doubles teams were stellar once again while Gregory again provided the winning point. Emory Weber-Provost and Sophie Zalosh put in strong efforts against the opposition’s two best players against Lynnfield, while Emily Parkins stepped and performed well in Zalosh’s place against Bourne with the veteran player out due to COVID.
“We persevere,” says Conway. “Other teams matches are over very quickly, but ours are not. This group Is not afraid to play. I’m very pleased with this team, they are hard-working and that excitement goes beyond the team to the parents, students and friends who show up and are excited for our matches. I think it adds points to our team.”
O’Leary Sends ME Baseball to Final four
Thanks to an incredible performance from senior lefty Vaughn O’Leary on June 12, the Manchester Essex baseball team defeated Leicester 11-0 and moved on to face ninth-seeded Abington in the Final Four of the MIAA Div. 4 tournament.
O’Leary had 16 strikeouts and didn’t allow a run for the fifth-seeded Hornets, even helping his own cause with an RBI single in the first inning.
“Vaughn has been our number one go-to guy all year,” says ME baseball coach BJ Weed. “Every time we give him the ball, you know you have a chance. He’s been dominant all year, a true leader for us.”
The Hornets played just as well at the plate in this one, something that they’ve done all postseason -- Manchester Essex beat Monomoy by a 9-6 score in the Round of 32, then defeated Monument Mountain by an 11-10 score in the Sweet Sixteen, followed up by an 11-run outburst against Leicester. O’Leary had a pair of hits and three RBIs, Colin Coyne had three RBIs, AJ Pallazola continued to be a catalyst from the leadoff spot and Mike D’oreo and Zak Parot also contributed to the offensive explosion that won the game for the Hornets.
“Our offense has been there all three games in the playoffs,” explains Weed. “We’re not striking out much and we are putting pressure on teams so they are bound to make errors on defense. These guys are locked in; the Junkyard Dogs I call them. They’re relentless.”
It was an approach that helped the Hornets storm back from a 6-1 deficit against Monument Mountain. D’oreo, Parot, Pallazola and Henry Otterbein were aggressive and efficient at the plate, helping the team to come back and advance.
“Our guys never quit, they chopped away at it the whole game,” says Weed. “The result was a collection of what our team is, a bunch of players who do their best from the first to the last pitch. You’ve got to play seven innings against us.”
Wait ‘Till Next Year: ME Boys Tennis, Boys Lax Look Ahead
It’s over now, but it was a memorable run for the ME boys tennis team.
“This is one of my all-time favorite teams, all the way up and down the lineup,” says coach Rob Bilsbury. “They loved going to practice every day, they practiced hard and when you’re a match shy of the Final Four in the state tournament, that’s something to be really proud of.”
The Hornets beat Southbridge by a score of 5-0 to begin the tournament, then took care of Bromfield, 4-1, in the Round of 16 on June 10. A 4-1 loss to Cohasset on June 13 ended the tennis team’s season, but there was plenty to be proud of during the postseason.
With number one singles player John Pope not available to play in the loss to Cohasset, Bilsbury was forced to juggle the lineup. Still, the Hornets made a game of it.
Number one singles player John Pope continued his stellar spring, winning 6-0, 6-0, while freshman phenom Jack Cummins also won by a score of 6-0, 6-0. Roemer deWidt won at third singles, 6-0, 6-0, while the first doubles team of Owen Bappe and Remson Demio (6-2, 6-4) and the second doubles pairing of Nick Macfarland and Charlie Virden (6-1, 6-0) only had slightly more trouble dispatching the opposition.
Freshman sensation Jack Cummins took on Cohasset’s top player and acquitted himself nicely moving up from second singles, battling back after losing the first set, while Roemer deWidt played through some pain at second doubles. Nick Macfarland faced steep competition at third singles, while the doubles players Owen Bappe, Remson Demio and Charlie Virden all played well in the loss.
“Jack might have played his best tennis of the season,” Bilsbury says of Cummins. “He was amazing.”
The ascension of Cummins is fortunate, as he will be expected to anchor the 2023 team with 14 seniors graduating from this squad. These seniors faced some lean years – with the cloud of COVID hovering over everything the last two years, they played a truncated season in 2021 and missed out on playing tennis altogether in the spring of 2020. The way they responded this season should provide some memories that will last a lifetime.
“This is a good group that’s been through it all,” says Bilsbury. “It’s special when something like this happens. I’m also excited about the future; we have a freshman at first singles who was giving upperclassmen all they could handle. We have some solid, younger players who are ready to hit hard over the summer.”
The boys lacrosse team made it to the Round of 16, but was knocked out by Wahconah Regional – a three-seed - on June 11. ME boys lacrosse won four of its last six games to qualify for the postseason, and the 19th-seeded Hornets beat Abington by a 14-9 score on June 8 to advance to play Wahconah.
The Hornets relied on their defense to find success, allowing only seven goals a game during the regular season. The defense takes a bit of a hit with the loss of senior defender Andrew Amigo to graduation, but should return versatile scorers like Declan Kirk, Quinn Brady, Henry Thurlow, Mac Edgarton and Ben Difluri next season.