If you want to get an idea of how dramatically the Tewksbury High girls basketball team has improved over the last six weeks, just roll your calendar back to December 16th, when the Redmen, mired in an 0-6 start, lost a turnover-plagued, 48-40 decision to Dracut High on their own home court.
On Friday night, that very same group of TMHS girls stormed into Dracut's house and slapped the unsuspecting Middies around in their own gym, taking a 54-34 victory. It was Tewksbury's fifth win in its last seven games.
"We're playing way better, overall, as a team," head coach Mark Bradley said after Friday night's game. "The confidence is just getting better and better and better and that's nice to see. It was a total team effort tonight. It was a huge win for us."
Six different Redmen scored at least seven points, and eight players scored at least two points against Dracut, as the team that was hurting for numbers in December has now built some solid depth in January and February. Senior guard Katie Doherty scored 10 points and became the fifth different player to lead Tewksbury in scoring in at least one game this year. Senior guard Sheri Liggiero, freshman forward Shannon Smith and sophomore guard Sara Semenza added eight points each, while sophomore center Chelsee Porcaro and junior guard Nicole Chaet both threw in seven. Junior forward Caitlyn Morris (four points) and sophomore forward Shannon Semenza (two points) rounded out the scoring.
"It was a real balanced attack," Bradley said. "I think everyone's feeling more confident right now. We're making that extra pass that's getting us some good open looks."
Tewksbury held Dracut to single digits in each of the first three quarters, leading 26-15 at halftime and 44-24 at the end of the third period.
"We're playing real good defense," Bradley said. "(Assistant coach) Mike Hayes does real a real good job with our defense. We keep teams guessing, we don't let them get comfortable in one thing...That's sorta helped us turn things around and got us some confidence on offense."
Bradley credits the emergence of Smith, the freshman center/forward, and the senior leadership of Liggiero as two of the key factors in Tewksbury's turnaround.
"The key has been, with Shannon Smith being able to develop a little bit faster, now we're putting Nicole (Chaet) back to the three (guard/forward swing position), where we pictured her from the get-go. So now (Chaet) can play inside or outside and it's a better fit for her.
"And Sheri 's just got that senior mentality right now that says 'I'm not gonna be denied, this is my last hurrah,'" Bradley added. "She's not going to play basketball in college and she knows that. But she's athletic and she's got a lot of drive in her, sort of like Michelle Gavin had last year."
The recent hot streak has improved Tewksbury's record to 5-8 on the season, and it's clear to even the casual observer that Tewksbuy's shooting percentages have improved dramatically.
"The way we started, our shooting percentages only had one direction to go, and that was up," Bradley said. "The frustrating thing is that even though the shots weren't falling, I think we were in some of those games early on. Now that the shots are falling, I'd like to go back and play a few of those teams and see what would have happened."
At 5-6 overall in the Merrimack Valley Conference and 5-2 against MVC Division 2 teams, the Redmen now find themselves right in the thick of the Division 2 title race. Chelmsford and Dracut are also in the hunt, and TMHS has split a pair of games with each of those schools. Tewksbury has three league games left against Division 2 teams they have already beaten, and a cross-over game against Division 1 Methuen on Feb. 17, which could be the deciding factor.
"There's still a long way to go, but if we can run the table against the small schools and beat Methuen at home on senior night, we've got a shot (at winning the league title)," Bradley said.
Friday's win also brought the MIAA state tournament back into the conversation around Tewksbury High, as well. The win over Dracut gave Tewksbury a 2-3 record against Division 2 and 3 competition, and the Redmen need to finish at least .500 against Division 2 and 3 teams to qualify for the state tournament under the Sullivan Rule.
Monday night's game at Division 3 Bedford High (14-2 in the Dual County League) will impact Tewksbury's state tournament chances, as will a Feb. 14 game at Notre Dame Academy, and two games against Division 2 opponents at the St. Mary's Tournament later this month.
"That picture is still a little bit cloudy right now," Bradley said. "But seven wins got us in last year, so we'll see."
HOCKEY TEAM TIES BOSTON LATIN, 3-3
Junior forward Derek Petti scored his team-leading 18th and 19th goals of the season in the second period to give the Tewksbury High hockey team a 3-2 lead, but Merrimack Valley Conference/Dual County League rival Boston Latin got the equalizer in the third period and the two teams settled for a 3-3 tie Saturday night at Northeastern University's Matthews Arena in Boston.
Senior defenseman PJ Mugford scored his sixth goal of the season to give TMHS a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the game, but Latin tied it at 1-1 with six minutes to play in the first period.
Petti scored his first goal of the night four minutes into the second period. With his team playing a man down, Petti stole the puck at center ice and skated in alone to beat the Boston Latin goalie. Latin tied the scored at 2-2 two minutes later, but Petti responded with his second goal of the night within a minute. Freshman forward Ryan Petti teamed up with his older brother on a 2-on-1 break-in, and the elder Petti steered it home.
Boston Latin outshot the Redmen, 35-16 in the game. TMHS freshman goaltender Kyle Paquette made 32 saves.
"Paquette played great," said Tewksbury coach Derek Petti. "He kept us in it. We played well in the second period but I thought they out-played us and out-shot us in the first and third."
Tewksbury is now 9-3-4 overall on the season, and 3-0-4 in MVC/DCL action. The Redmen had jumped out to an 8-1-1 start but have just one victory in their last six games, going 1-2-3 over that stretch. The two losses have come at the hands of two of the strongest Division 1 teams in the state, Westford Academy (ranked 4th) and Central Catholic (ranked 5th), but the ties (against MVC/DCL opponents Lincoln-Sudbury, Boston Latin and Methuen) have knocked the Redmen out of first place in the MVC/DCL Division 2 standings.
"We're playing the toughest part of our schedule, but it's still frustrating," Doherty said. "Now, where our destiny was in our hands, it's playing out into everybody else's hands. We need somebody else to beat or tie Boston Latin and Lincoln-Sudbury now."
The Redmen have a short break in their schedule before hosting Concord-Carlisle Saturday night.
TRACK TEAMS SHOW WELL AT FRESHMAN-SOPHOMORE MEET
Sophomore hurdler Eddie Matovu continued to emerge as one of the Merrimack Valley Conference's top young performers, taking first place in the 50-yard high hurdles as Tewksbury High competed in the Klimas & McGuirk Freshman/Sophomore meet Saturday at Methuen High School.
Matovu, who has won the hurdles in four out of the five dual meets he's ran in so far this season, matched a personal best 6.8 seconds in topping the league's freshmen and sophomores on Saturday.
Sophomore Steve DeFrancesco took first place in the shot put with a personal best toss of 43-feet, 9-inches and sophomore Dom Rosado finished tied for second in the high jump at 5-feet, 4-inches.