Boys’ basketball: New faces, same result for Pembroke in season-opening win over Merrimack Valley

Merrimack Valley’s Luke Dougherty stares up at a block attempt from Pembroke’s Javien Sinclair during Tuesday’s matchup at Pembroke Academy.

Merrimack Valley’s Luke Dougherty stares up at a block attempt from Pembroke’s Javien Sinclair during Tuesday’s matchup at Pembroke Academy. ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL / Monitor staff

Pembroke's Jacob Mather attempts a layup with MV's Nate Joubert defending him during Tuesday's game.

Pembroke's Jacob Mather attempts a layup with MV's Nate Joubert defending him during Tuesday's game. ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL—Monitor staff

Merrimack Valley junior Aiden Gray dribbles through traffic during the Pride’s season opener at Pembroke Academy on Tuesday night.

Merrimack Valley junior Aiden Gray dribbles through traffic during the Pride’s season opener at Pembroke Academy on Tuesday night. ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL / Monitor staff photographs

Pembroke’s P.J. Regnier (second from right) corrals a rebound during Tuesday night’s game against the Pride. MV’s Logan Gabour (right) tries to poke the ball away.

Pembroke’s P.J. Regnier (second from right) corrals a rebound during Tuesday night’s game against the Pride. MV’s Logan Gabour (right) tries to poke the ball away. ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL—Monitor staff

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 12-13-2023 11:31 AM

Modified: 12-13-2023 5:15 PM


PEMBROKE – Graduating nine players in an offseason usually means a rebuild the following year. For coach Mike Donnell’s Pembroke Spartans, it was merely a “retool.”

With several new faces taking the floor in Tuesday night’s season opener between Pembroke and Merrimack Valley, the Spartans still saw seven different players crack the scoring column in their 57-44 win.

Junior Evan Berkeley led all scorers in the game with 14 points. Pembroke junior Devin Riel added 13 points, and senior Joe Fitzgerald scored 12.

For the Pride, seniors Trevor Simonds and Logan Gabour each had 13 points, the only MV players in double figures.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s double local matchup:

Spartans receive contributions up and down the lineup: One of Donnell’s biggest takeaways from his team’s win: The Spartans (1-0) played free and easy.

“I don’t think you saw the boys play under pressure at all,” he said. “That’s a big thing in high school basketball.”

Whether it was Riel playing the best quarter Donnell’s seen from his junior forward in the first, when he knocked down a couple threes and picked up a steal, or P.J. Regnier and Zach Al-Shawafi coming off the bench, hitting some shots and playing strong defense, Donnell could turn to multiple players to step up when needed.

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Balanced contributions were a key component to Pembroke’s team last year when it reached the Division II championship game. How successfully the Spartans replicate that formula with some new faces in 2023-24 will determine just how far this team can go.

Defensive intensity ramped up for Pembroke: Coaches love it when their teams do things well on the margins – deflections, diving for loose balls, forcing jumps. Pembroke did all of the above from the opening tip.

Donnell credited assistant coach Jim Cilley, who works with the defense, for having the guys ready to go.

“I’ve pretty much given him the reins of that, and he works these guys hard,” Donnell said.

He also noted how his team outrebounded MV despite being at a size disadvantage.

“That’s hard work,” Donnell said. “To be a good rebounder, you don’t have to be a great athlete; you just have to have determination. Our guys did that well. We’ve been doing a lot of work on (if the) ball’s on the floor, you’re on the floor; picking up the charge, which we got one tonight. It’s those little things that make the difference in the basketball game.”

MV’s Mucher aiming for steady progress: Tuesday was far from the best the Pride (0-1) will play this season, and head coach Tim Mucher knows it. With a number of new players on the roster, they still need to gain experience and confidence playing together on the floor before the team can play to its potential.

“We’ve got kids that are in different roles this year that have moved up from the JV, and they don’t know what to do right now because it’s a different level and the intensity’s different,” Mucher said. “They gotta think on their feet.”

In particular, MV looks to improve on offense after scoring just 44 points and struggling to run its sets with any sort of rhythm.

“The ball’s sticking,” Mucher said. “We always say keep the ball hot, and players are just holding it right now. Instead of playing with instincts, they’re thinking too much, and it’s just not there right now. We got a lot to clean up.”