By Matt Jenkins
---- — TOPSFIELD — Every boys basketball team that plays Masconomet from now until the end of the season will be focused on slowing down junior guard Jake Rudolph.
Rudolph, who has been on a scoring tear the second half of the season, was held in check by Hamilton-Wenham for most of the game last night, but the Generals were still having a hard time finding separation.
The Generals didn’t make their move until they scored 13 straight points over a four-minute stretch in the final quarter. That spurt was enough for them to hold off Rudolph and the Chieftains, 56-48.
Hamilton-Wenham (14-2) locked up the outright Cape Ann League title with the win.
“They gave us all we could handle. This was a good win for us on their court; they’re always tough at home and I thought both teams played well,” Hamilton-Wenham coach Doug Hoak said. “Rudolph scared us all night; we spent a lot of time preparing for him. We had a couple special things in (the game plan) where we were going to double him in certain parts of the court, but we didn’t have to do that as much because the kids did a nice job defending.”
Hamilton-Wenham held Rudolph, who came into the contest averaging nearly 25 points per game, to just four points in the first half. Rudolph began heating up in the third quarter, but the Generals never let him get too much space.
Rudolph finished with 17 hard-earned points.
“I think obviously Jake didn’t have his best game. He forced a little,” Masco (8-7) coach Frank Shea said. “What happened was we were waiting for him to hit his stride, which he didn’t. You gotta credit their defense; they were tough on him all night.”
On the other side of the court, Hamilton-Wenham’s offensive balance was tough on Masco throughout the contest.
Henry Eagar and Jimmy Campbell gave Masco trouble going to the hoop and freshman point guard Marcus Zegarowski hurt the Chieftains from outside.
Eagar slashed his way to a game-high 22 points while Zegarowski scored 17 in just his fifth game this season. Campbell chipped in with 13.
The Generals are a team in transition thanks to Zegarowski, who missed the start of the year with a broken thumb. Now that he’s healthy, Hamilton-Wenham is only beginning to hit its stride.
“He gives us a new dimension. We’re redefining ourselves right now because we can play a different way than we could before,” Hoak said. “It’s taken a little adjustment. It’s not as smooth a transition as you might think because we had a good chemistry going and then we took three pieces and put three new ones in. The kids have done a good job adjusting. Obviously, Marcus is a talented kid and he gives us a lot more options offensively than we had before.”
Zegarowski handled the ball well for Hamilton-Wenham, even when Masco extended its defense. He also made big shots, including a deep 3-pointer with a hand in his face and the shot clock winding down in the fourth quarter. That three gave the Generals a 50-41 lead with 2:13 to go.
“That was the first time we were really down late in the game and we came up and hit big shots,” Eagar said. “Marcus hit a big three, Jimmy had a big shot and I had a big one, so it was good. That fourth quarter we just locked them down, made the focus on Rudolph. Obviously, if we can stop him we think we’re going to win.”
Eagar was equally tough on Masco, with his long strides through the lane, his left-handed finishes and his perpetual motor.
“Eagar was a problem all night, even though we were trying to jam his left,” Shea said. “We didn’t do a good job and he snuck behind the defense a couple times. But it’s pick your poison with them; they have four or five guys who can score.”
Masco was looking for other players to score with Rudolph being held down, and senior forward Ryan Spaulding answered the call. Spaulding scored 15 points for Masco, including 10 in the first half as the Chieftains carried a 27-23 lead into the locker room.
Hamilton-Wenham is playing for postseason seeding the rest of the way, while Masco is still looking to qualify.
“If this game was played in December, we would have been blown out. I’m happy we stood up and fought hard. We’ve come a long way, but a game like this should only make us better,” said Shea. “In the CAL, everybody’s in a rat race. We’re not good enough to play poorly and win. We have to play with this type of effort, a little more smarts and hopefully we’ll grab two more.”