After an ugly 66-39 loss in their season opener at home against Bourne on Dec. 12, the Whaler boys basketball team has gradually improved their game and appears to be finding their identity six games into the season as a gritty, defensive-minded team capable of making quality plays on the offensive end down the stretch.
Nantucket participated in the Scarlett Hawk Holiday Tournament in Milford last week and after beating Medway High School in round one, went on to beat Worcester South 60-56 on December 29th to win the tournament and improve their record to 4-2 this season.
The Whalers, littered with experienced senior talent, have been waiting for that experience to show and it certainly did against South. Nantucket was led in the tournament championship by captain Jayquan Francis – who scored 17 points, played quality defense, and was effective on the boards.
"I'm really just happy with the growth, the maturity,” Whaler head coach Willis Ferreira said. “You know, this team hasn't always been mature right? So as seniors you expect them to be and I think each day that goes by we have a little bit more confidence, a little bit more trust with each other. I thought the bench was incredible. They were up celebrating every possession and it takes everybody to make it work. You can't have the guys on the bench just sulking and sitting there. They were engaged all day and when we won, they were very excited. That's what teams do - they come together.”
Senior captain Jack Halik took home tournament MVP and finished the finale with 11 points after a 14 point performance in game one. Ferreira said as the game progressed through the second half, Halik was able to secure some key rebounds as well.
The Whaler’s third captain, Carlos Aguilar, had his best game of the season against Worcester South – scoring 14 points, including eight in the first half.
“Los wasn’t really taking enough shots and wasn’t shooting the ball too well (early on in the season), but he made some really big shots for us in that final early to give us that big lead,” Ferreira said of his senior point guard. “He made some deep 3’s too. I think he is getting some of that confidence back. I thought he was good at attacking the rim too.”
Nantucket jumped out to a quick 18-10 lead after one quarter of play. Worcester South’s Alex Johnson, who scored his 1,000th career point in this game, led South with 23 points on the afternoon but was held scoreless in the first.
Johnson began to heat up in the second – scoring 10 points – but Nantucket continued to be efficient in the second and carried a 34-26 lead into halftime.
Nantucket slowed down offensively in the third quarter, allowing South to trim the lead to 43-42 entering the final quarter.
Ferreira said while he would like to see his team maintain the separation and early leads they are building, he continues to be pleased with their ability to have short memories and make enough plays down the stretch to win these tight games - another sign of this groups maturity and experience.
Francis showed lots of poise in the final quarter to help his team hold on for a four-point victory. He drilled five of his seven free throw attempts and scored nine of his 17 points in the final eight minutes. Aguilar only scored four points in the final quarter, but made both of his free throw opportunities down the stretch.
“I think with Jay and Los, I think both of them have maybe been waiting for things to come to them but they have to go get things,” Ferreira said. “Like Jay has always been great offensive rebounding and rebounding in general but this year he hasn’t really been that guy for whatever reason. Los I think just needs to get his confidence back up.
“There are tricks in Jay’s bag he needs to start using and he used them in this game. As a result, he got to the line and made some big shots for us.”
Ethan Jarrett, Dwayne Martin, and Amare Bramwell also impressed Ferreira.
Jarrett has become a dependable big for Nantucket to compliment Halik and give him needed rest during games while Martin continues to show a strong ability to facilitate and find open teammates, run the offense, and contribute defensively. Ferreira said he would like to see Martin shoot more moving forward when the looks are there given he has proven to be capable of making those open shots from three-point range.
Bramwell, who has become a weapon for Nantucket as a defensive stopper as a sophomore, also contributed offensively in this one with eight points.
“Amare continues to be really good. He hit a three early in the game to get us going and then hit a big foul shot for us in the fourth while we were down one to make it a tie game again,” Ferreira said.
The Whalers have now won four of their last five games and will look to improve their record to 5-2 on Friday, January 5th against the Dennis-Yarmouth Dolphins on the road at 3:30 p.m.
Nantucket beat DY at home on December 14th in a close game 57-55, but the Dolphins have picked up a pair of solid wins since that matchup.
On December 19th, DY beat Martha’s Vineyard at home 60-47 and after losing to Marshfield on the road 75-61 on December 21st, beat the Rams at home 68-64 one week later.
DY is currently 3-2 this season and are undefeated at home (3-0).