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Hoop Glance: What Teams Need to Do to Make Tourney

January 21, 2019
Oakmont senior Leah Pelkey drives past Quabbin senior Emma Lockwood in Friday's game in Ashburnham. With an 11-0 start to the season, Oakmont has already locked up a spot in the district tournament. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JEFF PORTER Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

As the high school sports winter season rolls onward, some teams have already played more than half their games, and others are approaching the halfway mark.

And so, with just about a month remaining in the season, here’s a look at what our local hardwood teams need to do in order to qualify for postseason play. (We’ll do hockey next weekend.)

BOYS’

Already in: None

Almost there: Nashoba (7-5)

Three more wins is all the Chieftains need to qualify for the first time under new coach Bryan Riley. Nashoba’s played some teams really tough over the past couple of weeks, only to come out on the short end. They are in the growing pains part of the schedule, but I think the last few games will be key: at Fitchburg (Feb. 7), hosting Shepherd Hill (Feb. 12), hosting Marlboro (Feb. 15). Wins in those three would be enough -- and that’s when you want to play your best ball.

Has some work to do: Leominster (5-5), St. Bernard’s (5-5), Monty Tech (5-7), Oakmont (5-7), Notre Dame (5-7)

Leominster recently ended a four-game losing skid after a rather solid start, and with games against Fitchburg and Notre Dame this week, it’s indeed possible the Sons of K.C. Grutchfield will be back on the positive side of the ledger. But they could be back at .500 next week with games against Shrewsbury and Algonquin. In all, Leominster needs six wins out of 11. If the Devils win the games they can win and then steal one, they are in.

The Bernardians, of course, have the 70 percent rule at their disposal as they are in Division 3, but they can hang with pretty much anyone; three of their five losses have had gaps. They do have a tough schedule remaining, though, including five teams in playoff contention. The Blue and Gold have proven it can beat D2 teams (Nashoba and Burncoat) and gave St. Peter-Marian fits on Friday. Seven of their nine remaining are against Division 3 or Division 4 competition. It’ll be tough, but as we always say: anything worth achieving should be tough.

The new year has not been kind to the Bulldogs, and with nine left, Monty Tech needs six of them to go its way. It’ll be tough.

The Spartans have won three in a row, have seven left, and are tied for second in Mid-Wach C (2-2) with Quabbin and Gardner -- which just happen to be Oakmont’s next two opponents this week. Quabbin’s young, and Gardner is still in the mix, but hold that thought. The Spartans will have difficulty with Hudson, but their February is looking rosy with two against Lunenburg and one apiece against North Middlesex and Littleton. Oakmont needs five wins to qualify via the 50 percent rule, and wins this week against its Mid-Wach C should see it in great position to qualify.

I have a bit of a soft spot for this Notre Dame team, seeing as two of my young, semi-distant cousins (Ryan and William Hammond) play for it. Notre Dame has a bit of an uphill climb, though, but with a young team, it’s manageable. Of their remaining eight, three are against teams they’ve beaten, and a few are against teams that barely beat the Blue and Gray. Their Worcester County Athletic Conference schedule is winnable, but it may not be enough this year -- but again, this team is maturing. Next year, though...

In a tough spot: Gardner (4-8), Sizer (4-7)

Gardner has eight left, with a game at Peabody -- a team the Wildcats lost to on Jan. 2 -- set for Monday night. Three losses will eliminate the Black and Orange. Suffice it to say, the Wildcats have a severe uphill climb.

Same with Sizer: Four more losses and the White Tigers are out.

On the verge of elimination: Fitchburg (2-9), Lunenburg (2-9), South Lancaster (1-7)

It’s been a tough winter for both Burgs. Both enter this week with identical 2-9 records. One more loss, and they are both eliminated. Fitchburg hosts Leominster Tuesday as we’ve said, and Lunenburg hosts Littleton Friday.

If SLA loses three more of its last 11, its run at the playoffs is over.

Eliminated: North Middlesex, Ayer Shirley, Trivium

GIRLS’

Already in: Nashoba (11-0), Oakmont (11-0)

The Chieftains and Spartans have already secured postseason spots. Nashoba is doing it as a young team with only three seniors and three juniors, so that’s a train that keeps a-rolling. Oakmont is senior-laden, and if there’s any year for Jeff O’Neill’s team to make a solid run in Central Mass. Division 3, it is this year. But look at the D3 competition: Sutton, the team which knocked Oakmont out in the semis a year ago, is 11-1 down in the DVC; Millbury is 11-0 in the SWCL C. Tyngsboro is 7-3. Quarterfinalists Northbridge and Leicester are about to clinch spots, too.

Another thing about Oakmont: the Spartans end the season with tilts against Tantasqua and Leominster -- two Division 1 programs. I don’t see Sutton doing that, I don’t see Tyngsboro doing that, I don’t see Millbury doing that, I don’t see Leicester doing that (three really easy wins on the remaining schedule). Northbridge, though, is doing that by scheduling the Blue Devils for next Monday -- but the difference is Oakmont plays those D1 teams as postseason tuneups, while the Rams end with Uxbridge and Hopedale.

Almost there: Monty Tech (8-2), Lunenburg (6-4), Ayer Shirley (6-3)

The Bulldogs are coming off a close 72-70 loss to Blackstone Valley Tech on Friday, and with two more wins MT will see its ticket punched; Monty Tech plays AMSA (7-4) Tuesday and Main South (1-9) on Friday, so if the Purple and Gold take care of its business Tuesday, then there should be a party on the city line at about 8 p.m. Friday.

The next couple of weeks aren’t exactly easy for the Blue Knights. After Friday’s loss to resurgent Hudson, Lunenburg plays at Millbury on Tuesday, at Littleton (3-7) Friday, home to Clinton (8-4) next Tuesday, home to Oakmont the following Friday, and home to Tyngsboro the following Wednesday. Stealing two of those five would really help Lunenburg down the stretch: the Knights need 10 wins to qualify, and getting two wins over these next two weeks means two wins in the last four instead of winning out to get in. Even one win would help, but that would mean three wins in the last four. Do-able, certainly with the last four (North Middlesex, Bromfield, Oakmont, Maynard) but that would put Frank Greene’s gals under the cosh.

The Panthers of Pete Page -- and may I say this team has my vote for District E Sportsmanship -- are 6-3 and need just three wins to qualify via the 50 percent rule, but also remember that they are 4-0 in Mid-Wach E. With their upcoming schedule, it is extremely conceivable that they’ll punch their ticket by the end of the month.

Has some work to do: St. Bernard’s 4-5, Leominster 4-5, South Lancaster (3-5)

Kate DelleChiaie’s team has been up and down so far, but to be fair, look at the schedule the Bernardians play: they play some pretty darn tough competition over there on Tar Hill! Six wins out of the last 11 games is indeed possible, and if the Bernies can get on a roll approaching February, then I’d hate to be Doherty, Sutton, or Littleton, that’s for sure. That tough competition would certainly come in handy for the Blue and Gold down the stretch.

Like the boys, the Blue Devils had a solid 3-0 start to the campaign, but have gone 1-5 since. Leominster can restore balance at Fitchburg on Tuesday, before taking on the second half. There are a couple of winnable games remaining; three, maybe four -- but they would need five should they beat the Red Raiders this week. I’m not saying that the playoffs are out of their reach, but given their schedule, it’s going to be a difficult challenge to accomplish.

The Crusaders of South Lancaster Academy appear out of it, but they maintain second place in the WCAC (3-1; North Brookfield are 4-0 in the league). Outside of their seven-point win over St. Mary’s on the road, none of their games have been close. If the Crusaders can keep pace in the WCAC -- and I think they should, given the lack of talent in the lower half -- they’ll claim a playoff berth via the second-place rule.

On the verge of elimination: Fitchburg (1-9), North Middlesex (3-8), Sizer (3-7), Trivium (2-6), Gardner (1-8)

A loss to Leominster would eliminate the Red Raiders. The Patriots, while 3-8 overall, are 3-7 in tournament-eligible games (Fontbonne is exempt); three losses would eliminate them, but that may take some time. Two more losses would eliminate Gardner.

We’ll refresh in three weeks.

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