In their second year in the league, the Martha’s Vineyard boys’ basketball team this week earned a share of the Eastern Athletic Conference regular season championship, with a thrilling and hard-fought 59-55 win against foe Bishop Stang on Tuesday before the largest home crowd of the season.
The team will share the conference title with cochampions Bishop Feehan.
The win came in the last game of the season, giving the team a final record of 15-3 overall and 6-2 in the conference. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament starts later this month.
The Vineyard team, which had its best season ever under head coach Mike Joyce, is expected to be a high seed and to earn at least one home playoff game in the tournament. Coach Joyce this week was understandably overjoyed.
“We’ve only gotten stronger over the season. We had a little hiccup in the middle of the season [with back to back losses], but we bounced back this week in a big way. We are playing as well now as we have all season . . . there are still times when our shots don’t fall, but we always keep this great intensity and play strong defense,” he said.
The boys won three games this week, also beating Coyle Cassidy in Taunton on Friday 69-52 and New Bedford Tech on the road on Saturday 69-63.
In the Coyle Cassidy match, four players ended the game in double figures, led by Steve Handy and Randall Jette with 14 points each.
In the game against New Bedford Saturday, five players ended in double digits. Coach Joyce said he was impressed with his team’s stamina and intensity.
“We got home on the 9:45 p.m. boat on Friday, and we got home on the 9:45 p.m. boat on Saturday. Not an easy thing to do, but they kept their energy level up,” he said.
Tuesday’s game at home was the biggest challenge of the week, as Bishop Stang jumped to an early 17-9 lead and led 30-24 at the half. But the Vineyarders came out on fire in the second half, using a swarming full-court press to force turnovers and quickly score three consecutive baskets to even the score.
They didn’t take their first lead until the fourth quarter, when Jette stole the ball and drove the length of the court for an uncontested layup to give the Vineyard a 47-46 lead. On their next possession Handy knocked down a three-pointer, and they never looked back, although things got chippy in the closing minutes when Stang repeatedly fouled to try to extend the game.
Handy led the Vineyarders with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Jette scored 14 to go with six steals and nine boards. The tournament brackets will be announced next Friday.
State tournament hopes came to an end on Saturday with a 6-4 loss at Coyle Cassidy. With the loss, the Vineyarders dropped to 5-10-1; they will miss the post season for only the second time in the last seven years.
Coach Matt Mincone is understandably frustrated. “We lost our way somewhere in the season. We played well for periods, but we seem to have a big problem making the transition from offense to defense . . . if the [other team] scored a breakaway goal, things always seemed to fall apart,” he said.
He said his team played well in the first seven minutes against Coyle Cassidy on Saturday, but had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. The Vineyard then made two errors in the neutral zone that led to a pair of goals by Coyle. They were trailing 3-0 after the first period and 6-1 after the second.
But as has been the pattern this year, they came alive in the third period when the game was already out of reach but managed to chip away for a final score of 6-4. “When the pressure comes off we seem to respond . . . I saw that in the pre-season as well. But it was too little, too late,” the coach said.
“But there is still some hockey to play,” he added, referring to the Fairleigh Dickinson tournament at home this weekend.
The girls ran into one of the state’s top scorers in Coyle Cassidy’s Brenna Gonsalves last Friday at home, losing a hard-fought battle to their conference rival 47-42. They also lost to powerhouse Bishop Stang on the road Tuesday 86-33.
The pair of losses dropped the team record to 7-10 overall and 2-6 in the conference. They now must win their final three games to qualify for the state tournament; two of them will be this weekend when they host the Island Invitational.
The team plays Sabis International Charter School Sunday at 6:30 p.m., and will play again on Monday against a still-unknown opponent, start time to be announced.