PHOTO BY BOB ROCHE
St. John’s Brian Barrett from Peabody runs away from the Belmont defense down the sideline.
By HAROLD RIVERA
DANVERS– After wins in its previous two matches, the St. John’s Prep rugby team rolled into Thursday afternoon’s game against Belmont on a high note. Thanks to a trio of locals, the good times continue for the Eagles.
Omar Guerrero of Marblehead, Harrison Hosker of Nahant and Brian Barrett of Peabody each scored tries for the Eagles en route to a 19-10 win over Belmont at Brother Linus Athletic Complex. The win puts the Prep at 3-1 on the season.
“We knew Belmont is a really well-coached team,” Prep coach Seelan Manickam said. “They usually rely on their speed and they did again today. They have a tough defense and they’re a tough opponent, all the time, for us.”
The Marauders took a 5-0 lead six minutes into the game when Joe Viale, Belmont’s scrum-half, scored the game’s first try. The ensuing kick was no good, but Belmont’s early lead gave the Marauders the start they were looking for.
“I’m proud of the way our guys played and carried themselves,” Belmont coach Greg Bruce said. “We knew that coming up here, it’s always an aggressive and competitive game. We were prepared for that, we just didn’t capitalize on some opportunities.”
That was the only lead Belmont would see in Thursday’s match, as St. John’s took over on Guerrero’s try in the 25th minute. Connor Robinson’s kick was good, giving the Eagles a 7-5 advantage. The score stayed at 7-5 at the halfway mark.
“We’re a team that sometimes, fresh out of the gate, especially offensively, we’re not attacking as strongly as I’d like us to,” Manickam said. “That’s something we’ll work on. Once our guys get going, we have a certain system we play. Once we get settled into our system, that’s when we take over.”
Six minutes into the second half, the Eagles found some breathing room. Hosker’s try, followed by Robinson’s kick, made it a nine-point Prep lead at 14-5.
Belmont stepped up and held it’s ground defensively, but the Eagles bumped their lead to 19-5 when Barrett, the Prep’s eight-man, took a quick tap-and-go and turned it into a try in the 70th minute of play.
“Brian’s one of the best players in the state right now,” Manickam said. “That was a good heads up play by him. He was very much aware of the situation and where the try-line was. That’s what you look for from your captains and your seniors, he delivered.”
Things got interesting when Sam Harris found the try-zone for the Marauders in the 78th minute, but Belmont missed the ensuing kick and the Eagles staved off the late rally to hold on for the win, 19-10.
“Credit to St. John’s Prep, they were able to put us under a lot of pressure,” Bruce said. “We missed a lot of our set pieces, our lineouts and our scrums. We fell off a bunch of our tackles. Those were the things that hurt us today.”
Belmont falls to 3-2 after the loss, but Bruce and his team walked away feeling proud after a late effort made it a close game again.
“We were pretty disheartened after a physical game like that,” Bruce said. “The last 10 minutes, our substitutes came on and they were really able to bring a lot of energy into the game. If you’re going to lose, to finish like that, that’s the way you want to do it.”
After dropping the season-opener to BC High, the Eagles have won three in a row and are right where they want to be.
“We’ve put ourselves in the driver’s seat moving forward,” Manickam said. “Not taking the rest of our opponents lightly, we’ll be tested against Xaverian and Lincoln-Sudbury for sure.”
The Eagles have already secured a playoff spot and are looking to earn the highest seed possible in their upcoming games. Manickam, in his third season at the helm of the Eagles, said the goal is to earn a home game in the team’s first playoff game.
The Prep’s strong season, Manickam noted, wouldn’t have been possible without the help of his coaching staff.
“My coaching staff is second to none,” Manickam said. “Part of this is the fact that we have coaches that really know what they’re doing. They bring a unique perspective to the boys on the team. Hats off to them. They bring knowledge to the players and really know how to connect to them.”