SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 24, 2013

In The Paint: Beverly aims to defend title, build rivalries in holiday tourney

By Matt Jenkins
Staff writer

---- — In the Paint

Matt Jenkins

The Beverly and Masconomet boys basketball teams developed a decent rivalry in the Beverly Invitational over the past few years. Unfortunately, that holiday tournament meeting has come to end — but Scott Lewis and the Panthers hope a new local rivalry could begin this season.

Bishop Fenwick has taken over the empty spot left behind by Masconomet, which dropped out of the holiday tournament after playing in it for three years. Boston Latin and Bishop Fenwick will kick off this year’s tournament on Friday night, with Beverly and Chelsea meeting in the second game.

The Panthers have won two of their first three tournaments, including the first year, which was held at Chelsea High School while the Henry Cabot Lodge Fieldhouse was being redone.

“It’s been good, almost every game has been really close,” Lewis said. “It’s always fun to have the tournament and play some teams you might not normally play. It’s good for the kids.”

Boston Latin and Beverly have battled for the title in each of the last two seasons, with Boston Latin winning two years ago and Beverly taking last year’s meeting.

Lewis is glad his team has the opportunity to play games during the break, especially games that really mean something to his players. It’s not that Beverly doesn’t play hard every contest, but there is a little extra at stake in the Beverly Invitational.

“Last year, we knew that Boston Latin had beat us the year before in a game that we felt we let slip away. We fell apart in the fourth quarter,” Lewis said. “We came out strong last year and held them off. The kids remember and any time a trophy is involved, they’re up for it.”

A team like Beverly, which should be in good shape this season with a returning core of Jon Berchoff, Nick Cross and Jonangel Franco, can only benefit from playing a couple of high-intensity games early in the season. That’s all that Lewis can ask for.

“It’s great. If you don’t play during that (vacation) time, it’s probably 10 days without a game over the break,” Lewis said. “We like the competition. It’s meaningful games and a good experience for the kids.”

Joining the Beverly Invitational made perfect sense for Fenwick and first-year coach John Preziosa.

“We’re excited. Being a new coach i was trying to get us big game and good, competitive games,” Preziosa said. “That’s a nice facility and traditionally it’s been a really competitive Christmas tournament, so we were really happy to get in.”

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In addition to the Beverly Invitational, Marblehead and North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie will be participating in the Saugus Tournament later this week. Marblehead and Northeast Regional kick off that tournament on Friday night (5:30 p.m.) with North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie and Saugus playing immediately after.

Swampscott and Danvers will also be keeping busy in the Malden Catholic Tournament. Swampscott will play Arlington Catholic in the opening game Saturday afternoon (1 p.m.) while Danvers and Malden Catholic will play at 4 p.m.

Ipswich and Hamilton-Wenham are continuing their holiday tradition this year by competing in the Gloucester Tournament. Hamilton-Wenhm and Manchester Essex play first at 1 p.m. Sunday, followed by Ipswich and Gloucester, tentatively set for 2:30 p.m.

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Pingree will be heading south for its vacation, playing in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla. The Highlanders open against Mercyhurst Prep of Pennsylvania Friday and are scheduled to also play games on Saturday and Monday.

It’s a six-day trip of fun, basketball and relaxation (in no particular order) that Pingree coach Steve Gibbs feels this group of players has earned.

“I did this with the team six years ago and this weather is so delightful I picked the right year to go away,” Gibbs said. “I have a nucleus of seniors on the team and I did promise them a trip at some point. They spent a lot of time in the spring fundraising.”

Gibbs also believes the Highlanders will see a high level of competition, and it will be a good experience for some of the players on his team hoping to continue playing in college.

“I don’t think we’re playing the Miami Heat or Orlando Magic or Florida Gators, but believe it or not there will be 4,000 athletes there; not just boys basketball but girls, too,” Gibbs said. “This attracts schools from coast to coast. Besides the fact it’s good bonding and it’s also good in terms of them playing games and practicing during Christmas break.”

Pingree is off to a bit of a slow start, having dropped two of its first three games. But Gibbs is confident a team led by senior captains Johnnie Spears, Kyle Lentini and Connor Reardon will get back to its winning ways, and a trip during winter break will only help.

The Highlanders have an excellent lineup with solid depth. Sophomores Alonzo Jackson and Justin Assad are talented players who take a lot of heat off the seniors.

Several players on this team could be college players. Spears just committed to play football at Trinity College and Reardon made a verbal commitment to WPI recently.

“He’s a leader. He’s a person who’s always vocally leading the players and leading by example,” Gibbs said of Reardon. “He’s the first guy at practice patting the kids on the back, or helping out our freshmen. He reminds me of Tim Tebow; he’s a real winner.”

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In The Paint, a column on North Shore boys’ basketball, runs every Tuesday during the winter sports season in The Salem News. Contact staff writer Matt Jenkins at 978-338-2648, by e-mail at mjenkins@salemnews.com, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.