At the beginning of the season, the North Reading boys’ basketball team had one simple goal, and that was to improve. So far, it has done that and much more.
Last season didn’t go as planned as the Hornets were affected by multiple injuries en route to a surprising 7-13 record, missing the tournament for a second consecutive year.
This season, things are drastically different, in all the right ways.
The key to No. 12 North Reading’s 13-0 record stems from the dedication of the group that started in summer leagues. Led by nine seniors, the Hornets are averaging 59.4 points per game while only allowing 40.
“This group was not known for its defensive intensity but that has completely changed this year,” said coach Joseph Casey. “Our commitment to defense is just a sign of maturity for the players. They have really embraced it.”
John Mastascusa, a senior transfer from Malden Catholic, is the Hornets’ leading scorer, averaging 13.5 points to go with nine rebounds per game. Alongside its 6-foot-4-inch powerhouse, North Reading has other weapons such as guard Tommy Hogan, cocaptain Dan Fitzgerald, and Chris Capozolli. But the Hornets’ depth goes further.
In Friday’s game against rival Lynnfield, Mike O’Brien came off the bench and scored 13 points, 11 in the second half, to help the Hornets to their 13th win.
“Guys are doing whatever it takes to help,” said Casey. “These kids have been playing together since the fifth grade. It’s just one of those special classes that comes through a school every so often. Their closeness has been a big part of the success.”
Last season served as a wake-up call for the Hornets, who realized their senior-laden team had one final run at a state title. However, standing at 13-0, the Hornets know teams in the Cape Ann League will be gunning to take them down, and Casey doesn’t necessarily view that as a bad thing.
“We now have a bull’s-eye on our back in terms of the league,” he said. “This is exactly what we want coming down the stretch here, we want to earn everything we accomplish. We are not taking anything for granted. Rankings are nice and all that, but the only rank that’s important is the one at the end of the season.”
DiBiaso wins 400th
Everett coach John DiBiaso, who also coached the Crimson Tide to their third consecutive Super Bowl victory this fall, added to his list of accomplishments on Friday. Behind Timmance McKinney’s 19 points, Everett beat Cambridge, 78-69, earned DiBiaso his 400th career win on the court.
“It makes me feel old,” said DiBiaso. “I’m very pleased for our kids. It was a big win on the road.”
Games to watch
Top-ranked Central Catholic looks to extend its winning streak to eight on Tuesday when it takes on North Andover . . . St. John’s Prep, which lost its first game of the season on Sunday, hopes to bounce back against Catholic Memorial on Friday before a clash with Central Catholic on Sunday . . . In a Northeastern Conference showdown on Tuesday, Beverly will host unbeaten Danvers, which is averaging 72.8 points per game.
Andy Deossa covers boys’ basketball for the Boston Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Andy_Deossa.