Just as the first snows arrived on the Island yesterday, other signs of winter were in evidence around the Island this past week.
In addition to Christmas sales and plastic lawn Santas, the young athletes of the Vineyard could be found practicing their jumpers and perfecting their slap shots, as the high school sports scene moved from the autumnal fields of soccer and football inside to the cozy confines of ice rinks and basketball courts.
The winter high school sports season started with a bang this week as the boys’ basketball team sweated out a tight overtime win in their season opener. The girls’ basketball team staged a nearly successful comeback at home, erasing a 13-point early deficit to climb within a basket in the final minutes.
Both the boys’ basketball and hockey teams are expected to build on last year’s strong seasons when they both qualified for the state tournament. The girls’ basketball and girls’ hockey teams are looking to turn around disappointing seasons from last year.
Junior forward Mark Reppert made the second of two free throws with less then a second left on the clock in overtime on Tuesday to give the Vineyarders at 65-64 win in their season opener against Sandwich.
The Vineyarders led by five points at the half and as much as 12 in the final quarter before the Blue Knights caught fire. They tied the game with 1.7 seconds left when Connor Green hit one of two free throws, forcing the game into overtime.
The Blue Knights took a four-point lead in extra frame, but now it was the Vineyarders’ chance to rally, tying the game at 64-64.
Reppert was fouled in the paint after pulling down a rebound and went to the line with less than a fraction of a second on the clock chance to give his team the win. Reppert missed the first free throw but sank the second, sealing the win for the Vineyarders.
Nick Viera led the Vineyarders with 17 points, while Reppert and forward Bubba Brown each had double-doubles — Reppert finished with 12 points and 10 boards while Brown notched 10 points and 10 boards.
Coach Mike Joyce said the game was a good character-builder for the team.
“We did a good job of defending that lead when we had it. But we made some mistakes defensively in the fourth quarter, but then showed a lot of heart in [overtime] rallying back to win the game,” the coach said.
The coach noted that this year’s team has an even mix of veterans and new players. There are seven players returning from last year’s team, including Viera, Brown, Nico Cuba, Brant Silvia, Jwann Johnson, Jeff Osborn, and Matt Lucier.
Those veterans will mix with a talented corps of juniors Jess Swaringen, Reppert, Cody Brewer, Nick Gross, Alex Poole. Pat Hart is the one sophomore on the roster.
Coach Joyce said his team will use a run-and-gun offense again this year, pushing the ball up court whenever possible while pressing the opponents on defense. The coach said this was a talented team with a lot of potential.
“We have some strong guard play and a lot of depth. If we can come together and work to eliminate our mistakes, and if some of the new players start to understand their roles quickly, we could have a strong season,” he said.
The girls’ basketball team staged a late rally against Sandwich at home on Tuesday after falling behind by 13 points early, but in the end could not contain the Blue Knight’s standout Ellery Gould and her 24 points. Although they clawed back to within two points with less than a minute to play, the Vineyarders lost their home opener by a final score of 50-46.
The Vineyarders started slow, allowing the Blue Knights to build a 15-2 lead to open the game. But the team chipped away in the second quarter, cutting the lead to 28-21 at the half. The Vineyarders shot much better in the second half, and pulled to within two points at 48-46 after forward Kia Minor slashed through traffic and hitting a runner while drawing foul. But with a chance to pull within one point at the foul line, Minor had to leave the game to have her leg bandaged and watch as another player missed the foul shot.
The Vineyarders tried to foul the Blue Knights on their next possession, but their guards played a fervent game of keep-away and a foul wasn’t called until there were only 14 seconds on the clock. Unfortunately, the players fouled Gould, who recently celebrated crossing the 1,000-point mark for her career and who is also a strong shooter at the free throw line
Gould missed the first free throw — one of her few misses all day — but got her own rebound before drawing another foul. She made good on her second chance at the line and knocked down both shots to seal the win for the Blue Knights by a final of 50-46.
It was a frustrating game for the Vineyarders who turned the ball over 16 times and lost forward Erin Morris to injury in the second half. Minor led the Vineyarders with 14 points, while Julie Perry had 10 points. Gould led the Blue Knights with 14 points.
The Vineyarders next play on the road against Wareham on Friday, Dec. 21 and Abington on Saturday, Dec. 22. Their next home is against Wayland on Saturday, Dec. 28 at noon.
Saturday’s game at home against Whitman-Hanson was a mixed bag for the boys’ hockey team, as the team rallied for two goals late for a tie but failed to secure a win against a team they were heavily favored to defeat.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the team because they showed a lot of guts coming back [to tie the score],” coach Matt Mincone said. “But this is a game we could have, and probably should have won. Maybe it was first-game jitters, but this is a veteran team . . . I wouldn’t have expected that from them.”
Senior goaltender Alex Minnehan — a standout on last year’s team which went to the second round of the state tournament — had an uncharacteristically shaky game in net, allowing four goals through the second period to give the Panthers a 4-2 lead.
Coach Mincone brought in junior Mike Capen to spell the normally reliable Minnehan in the second period and Capen responded, allowing only one more goal for the rest of the game. Co-captain Matt Flynn scored in the second to make it 4-3; but the Panthers scored to make it 5-3 going into the third period.
Jason Schwab scored midway through the final period, assisted by junior Scott Cleary to make it 5-4. Colin Hurd then scored on a Cleary assist with less than two minutes to tie the game at 5-5, which wound up being the final score. Because it was a regular season game, there was no overtime.
Co-captains Joel Rebello and Darren Gazaille also scored goals in the tie.
Coach Mincone said he has high hopes for this team, which returns almost all the players from last year’s squad and features an even balance of senior leaders and talented juniors and sophomores. But after watching his team skate to a tie on Saturday, he worries some of his players may become complacent with such a stacked roster.
“I think some of these players know this is a talented team, and they sort of expect the puck to go in the net on its own,” the coach said. “I hope this team doesn’t forget to do the little things, fighting for the puck in the corner, battling for possession deep in [the opponents’] zone. This is a talented team, but not talented enough where they can sit and wait for things to happen.”
The Vineyarders next play at home tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 15 against Quincy at 6 p.m. at the Martha’s Vineyard Arena.