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Saugus boys banking on pressure defense, improving offense for second-half success

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By Dom Nicastro


The wins are not there as much as the Saugus High School boys basketball team would like. The Sachems are 3-9 after 12 games and ranked 69th out of 71 teams in Division 3.

However, third-year coach Joe Bertrand is looking at some gains over the second half of the season. Saugus has been much better on offense, has fine-tuned its full-court press and trapping game and is hoping to pick up some momentum in its final eight games, starting with Winthrop at home on Thursday, Jan. 25 (7 p.m.).

Two days before that Winthrop game, Saugus and the other school champions since the school’s new fieldhouse was built celebrated by raising some banners. The Saugus boys and girls basketball teams each won the Northeastern Conference championship in early 2023. The banner ceremony for the previous year’s NEC championship is not just a celebration of a title but a marker of the program’s growth under Bertrand. This moment signifies a milestone for the Sachems under his leadership.

“First one for the program in a while,” Bertrand said, “so it’s very exciting.”

Back to this year’s team. Bertrand knows things can improve and he’s been positive it’s starting to turn around already despite some recent losses. The team dropped a couple of games in the past week. The Sachems lost, 63-35, at Beverly. Isaiah Rodriguez (11 points), Huey Josama (eight), Cam Victor (seven) and Ryan Shea (six) led the way in scoring for Saugus. The Sachems previously fell to Swampscott, 70-56.

“A true team effort, and I’m proud of the way we played,” Bertrand said.

Danny Shea led the way with 18, and Rodriguez and Josama added 12 points each while Ryan Shea tossed in 10.

Coach Bertrand highlighted the team’s early struggles with scoring, but through strategic adjustments, they managed to increase their point average significantly. This improvement is not just a statistical achievement but reflects the team’s adaptability and learning curve. “I think the first seven or eight games, we were averaging about 40 points a game,” Bertrand said. “And we made some adjustments in practice and our game plan, and we’ve gotten our point average up to where we’ve scored over 50 about every game since. So scoring was kind of an issue early in the season. And we picked that up. So I think that’s huge for us going forward if we can keep doing that. I think things will start to fall into place.”

The Sachems exhibit a collaborative scoring approach, which speaks to their team chemistry and the coach’s emphasis on inclusive play. Junior Danny Shea and senior Rodriguez each average about 12 points per game. Sophomore Ryan Shea has been good for about 10 per game, and sophomore Josama and junior Cam Victor have contributed on offense. “Sometimes one of those guys gets 10 to 15, while the others get six to eight, and it’s kind of mixed up,” Bertrand said. “It’s never been one guy every single time.”

Ryan Shea and Josama, the sophomore connection, have been two nice surprises among the younger players.

Bertrand takes pride in the team’s defensive capabilities, particularly their effective full-court press. He mentioned the critical role of players like Josama, who is getting four or five blocks a game and has “been the real anchor to the defense,” and Shea, a defensive standout. This focus on a robust defense underlines the team’s comprehensive approach to the game.

The rise of young talent like sophomore Shea is a testament to the team’s depth and the coach’s ability to develop emerging players. Bertrand said, “Ryan Shea… he’s proven to potentially be our best defender this year, which I wasn’t expecting. I knew he was gonna play. He’s talented…He’s taken control of being point guard a little bit more often. His older brother Danny’s generally our point guard, but we’re trying to get Danny off the ball to get him sitting on some different looks. And Ryan’s kind of taken over that point guard role. And he’s embraced it really well. He’s worked himself into the starting lineup consistently the last few games, so I’m really happy with the progress that he’s made.”

Bertrand’s analysis of the Northeastern Conference competition provides insight into the team’s positioning and the challenges they face. Gloucester and Saugus battled to the end last season, with Saugus winning the NEC small. Gloucester is just as strong this year.

Saugus still has NEC large frontrunners Peabody and Salem on the schedule. For non-leaguers, they’ll take on Dracut and Triton, the latter of which they already lost to once this season.

Despite current challenges, Bertrand’s optimism for the rest of the season is evident. “I think we’re gonna have a strong finish,” he said. “I’m confident in our team.”

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