By Matt Jenkins
---- — HAMILTON — James Foye rarely got an inch of room to shoot, and lanes to the basket that Henry Eagar usually takes advantage of closed faster than fingers around a loose 100 dollar bill.
The Hamilton-Wenham boys basketball duo burned Masconomet in an early-season meeting — and Chieftains coach Frank Shea didn’t want to see that happen again.
Masconomet played tough, physical defense and pulled away from the Generals for a 52-38 win in a battle of two of the hottest teams in the Cape Ann League.
“(Foye and Eagar) had 41 the first time we played them, and we wanted to see if we could hold them to 25,” Shea said of last night’s matchup. “We told our kids, ‘You have to be locked on these kids. If they give it up, don’t let them get it back.’ We kind of gave them some easy looks in the first game, and (if you do that) Foye and Eagar will knock it down.”
Foye had to work extremely hard for his 16 points, 11 of which came in the second half. Eagar, meanwhile, was held scoreless in the first half and finished without a field goal. He had only three points.
Sophomore forward Nikos Lara picked up some of the scoring slack for Hamilton-Wenham, chipping in with 11 points.
Masconomet had three players reach double figures with Kevin Martin and Jalen Aho each scoring 12 and Chris Schleer dropping 11. But this victory was all about defense for the Chieftains (9-7), who have won seven of their last eight.
“It was a physical game and you gotta give Masco credit,” Hamilton-Wenham (8-7) coach Doug Hoak said. “They came and played a hard, physical game, and we couldn’t make anything early on. That’s as low a score as we’ve had since the beginning of the season.”
Masconomet held Hamilton-Wenham scoreless for nearly four minutes and only allowed 12 points in the first half.
“I blasted them a little bit (at halftime), even though Hamilton-Wenham only had 12,” Shea said. “Probably six of the 12 points were either on rebounds we didn’t get or loose balls we didn’t get. But no question, defense was what got us the lead in the first half.”
The Generals made a decent push in the third quarter, outscoring the Chieftains 13-8. Then, in the fourth quarter, Foye buried a three-pointer and followed with an old-fashioned three-point play to cut Masconomet’s lead to six, 37-31, with 4:59 to go.
Schleer knocked down a triple for Masconomet to push the lead back to nine, and the Generals couldn’t get any closer. “A momentum killer,” said Hoak.
Closing the game the way they did was satisfying for Masco.
“It was extremely important for us,” Shea said. “It’s funny because we’ve gone through this several times. We play really hard with confidence, (but) when it comes to midway through the third quarter or start of the fourth, it’s not that we take a deep breath, but we get a little comfortable in what we’re doing and that leads to some mental breakdowns. That’s been the story all year.”
Both Masconomet and Hamilton-Wenham need only one win to qualify for the postseason, but now the road seems a little easier for the Chieftains because they have four chances to record that single victory. Hamilton-Wenham has only three remaining, with games against Newburyport, North Reading and Pentucket.
“We’re still a work in progress and there’s still a ways to go. It showed up tonight,” Hoak said. “We’ve got a tough stretch to finish.”