(Lynnfield) I swear it was the same group of North Reading Hornets playing the second half that played the first half.
You had to wonder, however, after the North Reading boys started the second half trailing by a point (23-22) and then just thrashed Lynnfield with a twenty-five point third quarter.
In that same big point-producing quarter the Hornets were able to limit the Pioneers (8-5) to only six points and won going away, 62-36, on Friday night in Cape Ann League action.
The win keeps the Hornets undefeated (13-0) and you have to wonder if anyone ahead in the CAL can keep them from a perfect regular season. Not likely, from what I saw in this game.
The attraction of this game was that on January 2nd these two teams had played a very tight, 44-41, match at North Reading. The Pioneers had the ball at the end of that game with a chance to tie it. So there was history to suggest that in a rematch played at Lynnfield, the NR streak might be stopped.
That thought was still in my head after a half. Undersized Lynnfield came out flying, and the taller, slower Hornets just couldn’t keep up for much of the first half.
North Reading had a run of five straight turnovers to start the second quarter while Lynnfield ran six straight points (two layups by Connor Sullivan and another by Adam Buchanan) near the end of that quarter. The Pioneer point-streak put them up 23-18 with 1:23 left and led to a noisy Hornet timeout.
The visitors responded with all four points after that (John Mastascusa layup and a Tommy Hogan layup off a turnover) to trail, 23-22, at halftime.
I’m guessing that the noisy NR timeout extended into the locker room at halftime. The Hornets came out just before halftime ended and took no warm-ups.
The second half started with 6-4 John Mastascusa (20 points) jamming home a rebound and Pat Kearney answering with two free throws. So after a minute Lynnfield still had a one-point lead and another tight finish looked likely.
After that? You almost had to be there to even fathom the way North Reading went off and Lynnfield went under from there on. The simple math is that NR outscored Lynnfield, 38-11, the rest of the way.
2 ½ minutes after Lynnfield had the one-point lead, North Reading ran off eleven straight points and Coach Scott MacKenzie had burned two timeouts trying to find some way to stop what was happening. The Pioneers were down, 35-25.
The difference? The Hornets took much better care of the ball. The Pioneers gambled defensively all over the court and when that tactic didn’t work the visitors had layups. Mike O’Brien had five in the run, while John Mastascusa had four, and Tommy Hogan two.
Conor Sullivan (15 points) finally hit a shot for Lynnfield to end their drought but only temporarily. The next 2 ½ minutes saw NR put another run together (ten points) to vault ahead, 45-27, with 1:25 to go in the third quarter. Mike O’Brien, Tommy Hogan, John Mastascusa, and Evan Wade registered points during this second big collection of unanswered points.
The rest of the game was played but not to determine the winner or loser. There are rules that say you have to! The Division Three Hornets, with a twenty-five point third quarter, had wrapped this one up early. There was plenty of reserve action in the final quarter.
One of the things that killed Lynnfield in the second half was getting caught in close on their offensive end. Over and over again, an NR player would get a rebound and send teammates off on fastbreaks. In the first half, the Pioneers made enough shots so that they had time to get into some sort of defensive position. Not in the second half.
This was my first look at John Mastascusa. I was impressed. John lives in North Reading but until this year had been at Malden Catholic. He was good enough in the Catholic Conference to earn All-Star honors after last season. Suddenly in his senior year he decided to play in his hometown with teammates he was on travel teams with starting in fourth grade.
The usual pattern is that when a public school player becomes good enough they transfer to a private school but not in this case.
John can play above the rim, he had four dunks, but he was generally the point guard for North Reading. His willingness to give up the ball to teammates was noticeable. However, when he wanted to get to the rim he could. His highlight dunk was a flying put-down of someone else’s missed shot. That was early in the third quarter.
I liked the hustle of Division Four Lynnfield. In their excellent first half they forced turnovers and ran every chance they could. No question it was a frustrating evening for Pat Kearney who was defended into a four-point game.
Both teams play next Tuesday. North Reading hosts Ipswich while Lynnfield will be at Newburyport.
I chatted with Hornet coach Joe Casey before the game about Division Three. He told me, “there’s Danvers and then there’s everyone else!”
North Reading was 7-13 last season. Now they’re heading into territory that Coach Casey said, “they’d never come close to during his years of coaching at North Reading.”
Freshman Adam Buchanan added ten points for Lynnfield. I would guess that he had at least that many rebounds.
Mike O’Brien (13 points) and Tommy Hogan (10 points) ended up in double figures for the Hornets.
Lynnfield is in first place in the CAL Small Division but have now lost three straight games.
North Reading has been averaging close to sixty points per game and giving up forty points. Their shot blockers do not allow many in-close shots when opponents have to run half-court offenses.
I thought that there was a pretty good-sized Cape Ann League crowd on hand.
(All of the pictures above and below enlarge considerably and get into sharper focus if you click on them.)