By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Worcester – The climb is the steepest of the steep for any winter sports team that remains winless once the calendar turns the page into the new year. The odds of qualifying for district post-season play without at least one win under the belt grow long.
Such was the situation faced by the Shrewsbury High boys’ varsity basketball team when they took to the court to face Worcester’s Doherty High in the 12th Annual Laska Yuletide Invitational tournament at Assumption College on Dec. 29. The Colonials entered the contest at 0-4 needing a win in the worst way.
Everything broke in the right direction for the Colonials and head coach Adrian Machado as the team did all the right things to cart off a well-executed 65-59 victory over the Highlanders that will be a confidence-builder heading into 2016.
“This was a big win for our guys,” said Machado who is assisted by Gerry Nowasaki, Jose Cruz Sr., Rob Ashton, Paul Durkee and Jose Cruz, Jr. “Our guys have been committed since day one. We’ve had some tough luck. I’m not making excuses, it’s just that we haven’t been healthy and that’s hurt us.
“These guys today stepped up and showed us the grit and toughness they had in them. When healthy, we will be a team to be reckoned with. Our goal is still in front of us and that’s to win a district championship.”
“We just had to get everyone involved,” added senior co-captain Steve Vayda who led all scorers with 20 points which included four 3-pointers. “At practice, we went through a new thing and scratched everything because we were 0-4 and we came out and got the ‘W’ today. It was great.”
Vayda, who admitted that he felt strong in warmups, opened with an impressive first quarter performance that featured a pair from beyond the arc to lead the Colonials to an 18-14 advantage. Shrewsbury maintained its lead into the half staying on top, 34-29.
Doherty emerged from the locker room with new found vigor but the Colonials defense proved too much. Nate McGregor (13 points), Jack Taitel (13 points), Dillon Zona (8 points) teamed with Vayda to hammer home key buckets to preserve the win.
“I’m really excited for the potential that this team has,” said junior co-captain Connor McAulay on his outlook of the team going forward. “We have a lot of talent on this team. It’s just a matter of getting it together and playing as a unit and buying into what coach Machado wants us to do. We’ve had some injuries but I think that as soon as we get everyone back, we’re going to be a legitimate threat in the Mid-Wach.”
“Doherty’s very talented. People in Central Mass. know that,” said Machado of his tournament opponent. “I thought we did a good job of knowing that they were going to make a run at us and we stayed composed. When our time comes to make a play, be ready to make that play. That’s the most important thing that we did today.”
Coach also knows that his team cannot rest on one win alone and must turn up the heat against tough Mid-Wach opponents that will be waiting for them on the road and in their building. Keeping the other team out of the scoring column with strong defense and rebounding are what it’s about.
“We have to do a better job of executing,” Machado said. “I’m a defensive coach and always have been. We’ve got to do the things we need to do like box out, communicate, get a hand up and all the other good things we’ve been known to do over the past couple of years. We have to do a better job defensively and ultimately have fun. Practice is the time to sweat and work hard but games are supposed to be fun. If we go out and play with some enthusiasm, we’re going to be okay in the end.”
Members of the 2015-2016 Shrewsbury High boys varsity basketball team are seniors Nnamdi Okaka (center) and Steve Vayda (forward) along with juniors Connor McAulay (forward), Nate McGregor (guard), A J Laramee (guard), Matthew O’Keefe (guard), Dillon Zona (guard), Matt Mulcahy (forward), Hassan Shaikh (forward), Abdulrazak Frederick (center) and Jared Godek (forward) as well as sophomores Sam Mack (guard), Jack Taitel (guard), Paul Durkee (forward) and Ryan Hitchcok (guard).