DANVERS — The high school basketball season may be five months away but not for the girls who are spending their summer nights tuning up at Plains Park in Danvers in the North Shore Girls Summer Basketball League.
For Lynnfield, the summer has been a bittersweet experience as the Pioneers are still mourning the loss of their former head coach, Jim Perry, who died unexpectedly in early June.
“We are very young, but you can see that a lot of these girls have a lot of heart when it comes to basketball,” said 2018 Lynnfield High graduate Mackenzie O’Neill, who’s serving as a volunteer coach. “With so many eighth-graders, we’ve been doing surprisingly well and actually won our first four or five games before losing our first game last week. You can see they love the game. They want to play for each other and for coach Perry. I think we’ve surprised people being this competitive.”
O’Neill said she’s confident that Lynnfield has what it takes to get back to being a tournament team.
“They may be young and they are still getting used to playing together, especially when it comes to communication, but they are stepping up,” said O’Neill, who’ll play soccer at St. Anselm this fall. “They have the chemistry and the younger girls are not afraid to step up and take shots when they’re open. They’re usually too scared at that age, but they play with confidence and will take that shot and drive to the basket, so that’s a big reason to be confident about what this team will do.”
The Pioneers took on Peabody last week, in a game in which Lynnfield suited only five players but still managed to compete. Peabody pulled away in the waning seconds to steal a 43-32 win.
Lynnfield freshman Kate MacDonald drained a buzzer-beater from mid-court to pull the Pioneers to within four points, 17-13, at halftime. The Tanners still led by one, 40-39, with 50 seconds to play, but MacDonald (game-high 21 points) showed nerves of steel, making three of four free throws to put the Pioneers on top, 42-40.
With 11 seconds left, Peabody captain Catherine Manning (15 points) broke free of her defender on an inbounds play. Teammate Brooke Hodas hit Manning in stride, who laid the ball to tie the game, then calmly swished the and-one to seal a Tanners win.
Manning said Peabody’s showing improvement every game.
“We’re rusty, especially in terms of communication, but that’s the purpose of summer league, to work on improving what needs to get better,” Manning said. “We’ve had great attendance and are getting better every game.”
Fellow captain Kristina Rossignoll agreed.
“We need continue to work hard every game to stay focused,” Rossignoll said. “This season we have more returning players than ever and lost only three girls from last year’s team. Almost everyone here has varsity experience, so that’s huge.”
Bishop Fenwick’s doubling up again this summer, playing North Shore and also in the Andover league. The Crusaders, the 2018 Division 3 North champions, have had a large turnout of players, so large that coach Adam DeBaggis is rotating two split squads.
“The JV plays Tuesdays and the varsity plays Thursdays,” said DeBaggis. “I’ve been very pleased with the non-starters and the way some of the younger players have stepped up. It’s been a long time since we had this many returning players, 10 in all. We’ve won some close games and I really like that and we’ve also had some nice surprises, like last (week) when we beat Lawrence without any of the captains, so I’m very pleased especially after losing Jaxson (Nadeau) for the summer with an injury.”
Fenwick has one regular season game remaining in the North Shore league, while Peabody and Lynnfield each have two contests remaining before they all shift gears to the double-elimination playoffs which begin July 26.