With all of the four area high school boys basketball teams out of their respective Middlesex League title chases, each of them are now going all out just to get into the tournament.
Last week, it looked like Winchester had the best shot, as it had a winning overall record (6-5) and a cold (4-8) Reading team coming into WHS Gym for its next game.
But a lot can change in a week. The Rockets completed a season-series sweep of the Sachems, which ignited a three-game winning streak.
Winchester lost a heartbreaker in overtime, Tuesday night in Melrose, and with Belmont on the docket for Friday, the Sachems suddenly find themselves in a hole with seven pretty tough games still to play.
With the three-game win streak, the Rockets are now 7-8 and seemingly in a lot better shape than they were last week. Reading still has challenges ahead, but it is now in position to make a move.
The Rockets have four of their last five games at home, where they are currently 4-1, and they have a good chance to extend their streak to four when they host the struggling Woburn Tanners, Friday (5:15 p.m.) at Hawkes Field House.
The win over the Sachems was followed by an easy victory at Stoneham, Tuesday night, and then a home victory against Malden Catholic where Reading won by 22, a little over a week after losing to the Lancers on the road by 16.
“We played well at Winchester and then we got to come home,” said Reading coach Paul Morrissey. “Going on the road midseason is not easy and we were also dealing with illness and injuries.”
With the injuries healing, and the sickness passing, the Rockets are feeling better, and with their 3-point shooting improving of late, Reading could be the team to watch in ML Liberty down the stretch.
Owen Mulvey has been a revelation during the tough stretch. The 6-1 forward has now come off the bench to hit 28 treys on the season, including 15 in a three-game stretch that ended Wednes-day when he was face guarded by Malden Catholic in the rematch, after hitting six times in the first game.
Two other 3-point threats are Taylor Marchant, who has made 18, and co-captain Matt Sannella with 17.
Sannella, who appears finally healthy after an All-Scholastic football season, has averaged 14.5 points per game over the last six, boosting his season average to 11.7 after a slow start to the campaign. Marchant, a junior, is at 8.3 points per game.
“We’ll be good as long as our guards continue to hit their shots,” said Morrissey. “When we hit our threes we are able to set up our defense. They have been doing it well lately and we hope it continues.”
Reading also has a strong forward contingent of big bodies led by Javon Nortelus (6-1), Danny Bekkenhuis (6-2), Pat Conroy (6-2) and Matt Pepi (6-3). Colin DuRoss (6-1), until he recently twisted an ankle, was also providing good front-court minutes off the bench.
Reading’s defense has also played well of late, holding four of its last six opponents under 50 points. The Rockets are 3-1 when doing that. The recent return to the coaching staff of Carl McFadden has also coincided with the improved defense.
“We are finally home and getting healthy,” said Morrissey. “Our depth is where we want it to be.”
First up is a Tanner team that has to win out to make the tournament. While that is highly unlikely, especially with its best player Ryan Ludwig sidelined with a hand injury, Woburn will likely go down swinging. The Tanners with Ludwig won a grinding 36-34 decision in Woburn in the first meeting.
“You have been covering the Middlesex League a long time and you know every night is going to be a fight,” said Morrissey to this reporter during the interview. “But I like where we are right now.”
(Editor's note: The Rockets won their fourth straight defeating Woburn, 47-36, on Friday to even their record at 8-8.)
Reading now has four games to play down the stretch which begins against Watertown (Tuesday/home) then at Belmont (Friday) before finishing with home games against and ML Liberty rivals Lexington and Arlington the final week of the season. The Rocket must go at least 2-2.
The nightcap Friday at Hawkes Field House will see a battle for second place in ML Liberty between the Woburn and Reading girls. The Tanners are three games back of Belmont, the Lady Rockets two, and as long as the Lady Marauders remain perfect, second place is the best these two teams can expect to end up.
Reading won the first meeting in a quality game at Torrice Gym and Woburn will be out for revenge, tonight (7 p.m.). The Tanners have decided to embrace the idea that they are a defensive team, so containing Haley Lightbody will be a top priority. Lightbody had 32 in the first game but Woburn coach Steve Sullivan thinks his team could cut that total in half simply by taking better care of the basketball. The Tanners will also have to overcome inconsistency at the offensive end. Right now, Reading has more scoring options…
After failing to come through in overtime the other night against Melrose after a great second-half comeback, can the Sachems get their mojo back before it is too late? Playing Belmont tonight is not likely to help, but Winchester still has two more losses to give if they lose to the Marauders tonight.
The Sachems got a huge effort from Michael Tavilla, Tuesday night (32 points, five 3-pointers), and Winchester sure could use a hot player on offense down the stretch to go along with Joe McCarron who is averaging a team best 18.1…
Right when it looked like the Burlington boys’ season might be cooked, the Red Devils come up with a big win over Arlington, Tuesday night, to get them back in the tournament discussion. Burlington (7-8) should extend its win streak to three tonight against Stoneham before the Devils try to go toe-to-toe with Belmont next Tuesday. It looks like it will come down to the final week of the season for Burlington as well.
(Mark Nadeau’s “Around the Rim” column appears during the high school basketball season.)