| The Enterprise
ROCKLAND — The Rockland High boys basketball team was on upset alert on Monday before the Bulldogs even tipped off against East Bridgewater in the first round of the South Shore League Cup.
Top-seeded Middleboro had been upset by No. 8 Carver earlier in the day. Rockland had gone three weeks without playing a game and only returned to practice on Friday.
None of that seemed to matter early. The Bulldogs cruised to a 31-14 lead at halftime and that ballooned to 22 points (40-18) late in the third quarter. The Vikings battled back to twice trim that deficit to nine (46-37 and 48-39) in the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs held on for a 56-42 win.
Third-seeded Rockland (6-0) travels to second-seeded Abington at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the semifinals.
“I warned the kids after Carver beat Middleboro today,” said Rockland coach Fred Damon. “(I said), ’Hey, at this time of the year nobody’s got anything to lose. We’re rusty, they’re rusty. Don’t let them come out and take it to you.’ They came out and took us to the end.”
Rockland senior captain Patrick Moriarty starred in the win, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
The Vikings ended the third quarter on a 10-0 run. EB junior Michael Benyue (8 points) ended the quarter with a coast-to-coast drive that he finished with a layup after beating Rockland’s press. EB stretched the run to 19-6 in the fourth quarter to trim a 40-18 deficit to 46-37 when Benyue hit a 3-pointer with five minutes remaining.
Rockland senior Derek Williams (10 points, 8 rebounds) answered when he scored in the paint off a spin move. A pair of free throws from senior Shane Graham (6 points) cut it back to nine, but Williams had a putback on his own miss to make it 50-39. EB never cut it back to single digits.
“It’s been a challenge and these guys stepped through adversity all year long,” said first-year EB coach Andrew MacDonald, who noted his team was put on a COVID pause three times this season. “They did it again today. They never stopped fighting. Maybe we’re not the best team around, but these guys give it all they’ve got every single day and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Vikings had no scorers reach double-digit point totals. Senior Mike McBirney had a team-high 9 points and Max Egan added 6.
The Vikings matched Rockland’s defensive intensity and physicality. The fourth quarter featured 22 free throw attempts.
“EB is not a good matchup for us because they’re just like us,” said Damon. “We like to do that; most teams don’t like to do that.”
“I thought we fought hard for all 32 minutes, especially against a really good team like Rockland,” said MacDonald. “When you come into Rockland you know it’s going to be tough, it’s going to be physical and I thought our guys responded pretty well for having two weeks off.”
Hunter Wardwell, a senior captain, tallied 9 points, 10 rebounds and 4 steals for Rockland. The senior combination of Wardwell, Williams and Moriarty scored 43 of the Bulldogs’ 56 points. Junior Tremaine Perryman added 6 off the bench.
“Any time that these kids can get back together and play is a good thing for them,” said Damon. “They’re a good group of kids, they enjoy each other and I think the thing we missed was being at practice together.”
Despite a less-than-ideal first year at the helm, MacDonald, who coached EB’s girls team last year, looks to have the Vikings headed in the right direction.
“It’s great experience for everyone,” said MacDonald. “I know our seniors didn’t get that many games this year, so to get to play in a tournament or a playoff game for them is huge and then for our younger guys to see that type of intensity and that type of atmosphere is great.
“Hopefully we can get there in the future and we’re going to work hard to do it.”
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