NORTH ADAMS - The McCann Tech boys' basketball team has pinned itself into a pretty tight corner with just five games remaining in the season.
That might be the way the Hornets like it, however. They can't afford too many more blemishes. At 6-9, two more losses will eliminate them from the Western Massachusetts tournament. For a team that seems to enjoy playing from behind, that might not be such a bad thing.
"We always seem to start [games] off slow," senior Josh Superneau said. "The first or second quarter is just tough for us. But once that's over, it's off to the races. Usually when we're down, we step up and try to get back where we are supposed to be."
Don't let the sub-par record fool you; the Hornets could easily be 9-5 on the year. McCann has lost five games by five or fewer points. Three times the Hornets have either missed a shot at the buzzer that would have tied or won the game, or the opposition has hit a buzzer-beater to win the game.
"The little things make a big difference," Superneau said. "Rebounding, playing hard defense and being intense all the time- for all 32 minutes, not just a single half. That's what we need to do."
With a first-year coach and five first-year starters, that many close losses can be devastating for a team.
"What I've been telling the guys is obviously every team we play, we're in the game," coach Mike Nykorchuck said. "Really [Mount] Greylock was the only team that blew us out. We're good enough to play with all of these teams. Now we just have to learn how to win.
"We seem to play better when we're behind because we play with a sense of urgency. When we're ahead, it seems like we tend to play too loose."
The season started off tough for McCann. Two 20-point losses to Lenox and Greylock to open the year wasn't the start the Hornets had hoped for. A 54-44 win over Mount Everett got the Hornets into the win column four games into the season.
The Hornets knew there would be growing pains. Nykorchuck was introducing an entire new system and the Hornets had barley played together in the past.
"I think it took [some time] adapting to all the new things," Shane Fuller said. "We're running a new kind of offense and defense. We are slowing [the ball] down more. Last year, we were running the fast break a lot. We're definitely getting used to it, though."
The Hornets have struggled with their foul shooting all season long. In Friday's loss to Franklin Tech, the Hornets were 12 for 27 from the line. Chad Raimer was 8 for 10, meaning the rest of the Hornets shot 23 percent from the line.
"You just can't win close games like that," Nykorchuck said. "I learned a long time ago that there are four things that usually determine close games: Foul shooting, defense, rebounding and turnovers. We have to find a way to get a few more rebounds. We have to find a way to get a few more stops. We have to make more foul shots, and we have to take better care of the basketball."
The Hornets will begin the charge toward the postseason tonight with an in-county matchup against Wahconah. In Tuesday's game against Westfield Vocational, the Hornets had Fuller and Superneau on the court together for the first time in a while. Superneau has battled constant injuries and illness this season. Nykorchuck is happy to have both of them on the court together, and thinks it will give his team a lift. With Superneau out of the lineup as often as he has been, it's given a chance for other players to step up, especially Fuller.
"I knew Shane was a good player," Nykorchuck said. "I didn't think he was ready to step up and be the leader of my team, and he really has. Even as a sophomore, he's stepped up for us."
After the Wahconah game, the Hornets will get a chance to avenge home losses against Dean Tech and St. Mary's. They will also challenge Pathfinder and Pioneer Valley Christian School, teams they have already beaten.
To reach Sam Monroe, email email@example.com. On Twitter: @NAT_DigitalSam