Boston High School: Amherst

ESPN's Scouts Inc. division has completed its evaluations and rankings for the top high school players in the 2015 class for Massachusetts. While there are no four-star recruits in this year's class, there are certainly some intriguing picks.

Milton Academy kicker Justin Yoon is ranked as the top overall player in Massachusetts, with grades of 78 and three stars. This is the first time a kicker has ever top ESPN's player rankings in Massachusetts. With range up to 60 yards and a hang-time as much as 4.4 seconds, Yoon is considered by most scouting services as one of the nation's top kickers. Scouts Inc. regards Yoon, a Notre Dame commit, as the best at his position in the nation.

Once again, Boston College has cleaned up locally. Of the top 10 recruits in Massachusetts, seven are currently committed to the Eagles. Syracuse, UConn, UMass and Northwestern also have commitments represented in the rankings.

To see the complete rankings, CLICK HERE.

Here is the current Top 10 for Massachusetts:

1. Justin Yoon | Milton Academy | K | 78 | Notre Dame
2. Aaron Monteiro | Brockton | OG | 75 | Boston College
3. Davon Jones | St. John's | S | 74 | Boston College
4. Lukas Denis | Everett | CB | 74 | Boston College
5. Joe Gaziano | Xaverian | DE | 74 | Northwestern
6. Shyheim Cullen | Lowell | OLB | 73 | Syracuse
7. Chris Garrison | Lawrence Academy | TE | 73 | Boston College
8. Chris Lindstrom | Shepherd Hill | OG | 72 | Boston College
9. Jake Burt | St. John's Prep | TE | 71 | Boston College
10. Taj-Amir Torres | Amherst | ATH | 70 | Boston College
Amherst High incoming senior athlete Taj-Amir Torres verbally committed to Boston College today, he announced on his Twitter account.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound athlete has been a hot commodity on the recruiting scene for a while, picking up offers from BC, UConn and UMass last summer after an explosive campaign on both the gridiron and track. In the spring of 2013, his sophomore year, he was named Massachusetts' Gatorade Player of the Year for track and field after winning state and New England championships in the 100-meter dash, taking the latter with a time of 10.73. One week after his New England victory, he placed ninth at New Balance Nationals in the 100.

Torres came into the fall with some substantial hype. The Hurricanes fell flat in 2013, going 1-10, but Torres held his own, catching 35 passes for 503 yards and eight scores as well as 603 return yards. Defensively, he recorded 40 tackles, two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

Blessed with a rare blend of speed, Torres has timed his fastest 40-yard dash in the 4.3 second range.

Torres is the seventh in-state commitment for the Eagles' 2015 recruiting class, and third in three days, joining St. John's of Shrewsbury safety Davon Jones and Lawrence Academy tight end Chris Garrison. Back in the spring, BC got four in-state commitments in a span of 25 days, starting with Shepherd Hill lineman Chris Lindstrom and following up with pledges from Everett cornerback Lukas Denis, Brockton lineman Aaron Monteiro and St. John's Prep tight end Jake Burt.

Below is Torres' highlight film from last fall on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball:

Amherst's Kieran Presley commits to UNH

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
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For some, the recruiting process moves at a swift pace.

That was the case for Loomis Chaffee wide receiver/running back Kieran Presley, who received a scholarship offer from the University of New Hampshire last week, took an official visit to UNH over the weekend and committed to the school Monday morning.

Presley, who attended Amherst Regional before his post-graduate year at Loomis Chaffee, also had scholarship offers from Rhode Island, Albany and Maine.

“I was having conversations with UNH before the offer,” Presley said. “I’ve been leaning toward UNH. They were my No. 1 for a while. The campus is beautiful. Once I got up there I knew it was the right spot.”

UNH competes in the Colonial Athletic Association, and is one of the most successful Division 1 FCS programs in the country. The Wildcats made the FCS playoffs for the 10th consecutive season last year, and reached the national semifinals before losing to eventual national champion North Dakota State.

Presley said UNH recruited him as an athlete. He has also played defensive back, but said he expects to play on the offensive side of the ball in college. He rushed for a 1,009 yards in nine games during his senior year at Amherst Regional, and was a NEPSAC All-New England wide receiver for a 6-3 Loomis Chaffee team last season.

“Offensive is my thing,” he said. “I’ll probably play slot or running back, Basically whatever they need me for.”

Presley took in Saturday night’s men’s hockey game between UNH and Union during his official visit. He also met Nashua (N.H.) South quarterback Trevor Knight during the visit. Knight, New Hampshire’s Gatorade Player of the Year, has also committed to UNH.

“I made up my mind last night talking with Trevor,” Presley said. “I had breakfast this morning then I met with Coach Mac (UNH coach Sean McDonnell). I told him I was coming to UNH and he seemed pretty happy.

“All the recruits seemed cool. When I went up there, everything seemed to click.”

Soccer Roundup: Silver Lake routs New Bedford

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
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WEYMOUTH, Mass. -– Paul Beatty scored a second half hat trick to break open Thursday night’s Division 1 South sectional semifinal at Weymouth High. Beatty’s goals helped No. 1 seed (and No. 1 ranked) Silver Lake cruise to a 5-0 victory over No. 4 seed New Bedford.

Despite the final score, it was New Bedford that looked stronger at the start with star midfielder Klisman Sousa combining well with forward Edmilson Andrade and winger Felipe Ponte to put Silver Lake under pressure. The Whalers had the best chances of the first half and both came off of Sousa’s boot.

First, the Whalers senior played an in-swinging free kick that picked out defender Shawn Dias flying in at the far post, but he was unable to put the header on target. Just a minute later, New Bedford came forward again and Sousa worked the slightest sight of goal and let loose a left-foot rocket that Silver Lake keeper Stephen McSwain punched away.

Beatty had very little service in the first half with New Bedford putting a defender in front and behind him. The complexion of the game changed with just four minutes before the break. A long throw was barely touched past the post by Whalers keeper Austin Eugenio. On the resulting corner, New Bedford failed to clear and the ball bounced into the path of Tim Barrow, who ripped smashed it home to open the scoring.

Down by a goal, New Bedford started the second half by pushing numbers forward. That left room at the back for the speed of Beatty to have effect.

Lakers head coach Dan Correia explained, “They had all the momentum at that point, so for us to be able to be scrappy in the box and tuck one away...I mean those are the goals you need to get in these games. That opened things up a little bit in the second half because they had to change things defensively and freed Paul up.”

Beatty admitted that he was frustrated by the way the first half had gone, but he did not let it get to him. Instead, with his first real look at goal the striker was able to hit a shot that was deflected up over Eugenio to make it 2-0 just three minutes after halftime.

Beatty noted, “You just have to keep knowing that you’re doing the right thing and getting to places where you can get the ball and it will come eventually. I needed that to put me in the right state of mind.”

New Bedford tried to get back into the game through its star player, but Sousa was denied by McSwain again. The keeper was somehow able to get two hands to punch away a swerving shot and then also got down well to palm away the follow-up rebound by Andrade when it seemed destined for the net.

New Bedford head coach John Macaraco remarked that his team was unlucky not to have been on the board and that a goal at that moment would have changed the game.

He said, “The score doesn’t indicate how close this game was; every chance they got, they finished. Their keeper came up with some good saves. If we make it 2-1 then it’s a different game.”

From that point on, New Bedford struggled to get into the possession game that defines its style. Macaraco added, “We never settled down and got into our rhythm. I always say we need to play 'Calma' and I think we played 'calma' and go into our rhythm and if we did, I think the outcome would’ve been different.”

The Whalers were also facing a striker that suddenly felt momentum on his side. Beatty started to find a lot of space to turn and run at defenders. Fifteen minutes into the second half he went one-on-one with Ty Catunto and blew past him to finish from just inside the box to make it 3-0. A few minutes later he tapped in his hat trick when Sean Hurlburt’s long throw was allowed to bounce to him in the middle of the box.

Correia was aksed if this was a typical game for his center forward and he replied simply, “Yeah.”

He elaborated, “I think that’s 35 goals this season. He just has that extra gear that guys don’t have.”

Macaraco pointed to the goal as changing the way his team approached defending Beatty. He remarked, “Once we got down, you know, we had to push some numbers up top. We made a few mental mistakes and, with his blistering speed, he’s able to finish most of his chances.”

Silver Lake added a fifth in the final minutes when Brendan Nemes found space on the edge of the 18 and curled his shot into the top corner. It was an emphatic exclamation point on a dominating win for the Lakers.

It was also the final game in the New Bedford career of the talented Sousa, who drew praise from both coaches after the game. Macaraco reflected, “He’s a special player and he needs just an inch of space and with his ability he can get that inch and get that shot off. It’s been a pleasure being part of his four years at the high school.”

Silver Lake advances to the sectional final on Sunday at Taunton High at 5:30 p.m. to play the defending state champion Needham, which beat BC High 3-0 in the other semifinal.

TOURNAMENT NOTES:
  • While the Needham boys advanced to the sectional final with a solid win in a rematch with the Eagles, the Needham girls could not match the feat in the nightcap at Medway High. The Rockets were beaten 2-0 by defending champ Franklin, which returns to the sectional final. The Panthers got goals from Alexis Stowell and Taylor Cogliano in the first half to earn the victory. The D1 South final will feature the top two seeds, as Bishop Feehan scored in double overtime to end the amazing tournament run of Walpole. It was the first goal that the Rebels had given up in four playoff games.
  • In the D2 South boys’ semifinals, No. 2 seed Oliver Ames allowed a goal within the opening three minutes but then stormed back on a Dave Stapleton free kick and second half header by Gaston Cetrangolo to reach its first ever South final with a 2-1 win over Hingham. The Tigers will face No.13 seed Walpole, which beat Pembroke 2-0. Both of these teams competed in D1 last season. The girls’ final In D2, as it does in D1, will feature the top two seeds with No. 1 Scituate beating Sandwich 1-0 and No. 2 Notre Dame (Hingham) beating Dartmouth 3-2. Those finals will be played on Veterans Day at Braintree High.
  • There was another big upset on the girls’ side on Thursday. The top team in the state, Central Catholic, and the No. 4 team, Duxbury, were already eliminated and now the No. 3 team, Belchertown, is out as well. The Orioles were stunned in the D1 West sectional 1-0 by Pittsfield. The loss ends the remarkable careers of all-state twins Brittany and Breanne Moreau and puts Pittsfield back into the West sectional final for the second year in a row. Minnechaug will be the opponent after it beat East Longmeadow 2-1. There was also an upset on the boys’ side of D1 West with No. 2 seed Amherst beaten on penalties by West Springfield in the semifinal.
  • There will be a rematch in the D1 North boys’ final, as No. 1 seed Somerville beat Malden 3-0 and No. 3 seed St. John’s Prep knocked off Madison Park in double overtime. The Highlanders, led by forward Thayrone Miranda (you know, the guy who did this), will be looking to repeat as sectional champions. On the girls’ side, Newton North will face Acton-Boxborough. The North finals will be on Saturday at Manning Field in Lynn. Also on Saturday at Manning Field will be a top 10 showdown against unbeaten North Andover and perennial D2 power Concord-Carlisle, which will be one of the top games of the tournament. Not to be outdone, the D2 girls will feature a match-up of Beverly and ESPNBoston.com Miss Soccer candidate Caitlin Harty against Concord-Carlisle. Amazingly, those are not even the sectional finals; those are just the semis.
  • In the Central, the defending D1 champion Nashoba girls were eliminated by rival Algonuin. Last year, the Tomahawks lost only three games in the season, each of them against the Chieftains. Algonuin will face top seed Westborough in the final to be held at Wachusett. Westborough also has the top seed on the boys’ side and the Rangers advanced to the sectional final to face Wachusett, which knocked off two-time D2 state champion Groton-Dunstable (moved into D1 after the Central lost a Division 2). Wachusett will host the boys’ final. Like Westborough in D1, Sutton will have both the boys and girls in the finals in D4 after both were dropped down from D3.

Silver Lake to No. 3 in boys' soccer poll

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
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New Bedford retains the top spot in our MIAA boys' soccer Top 20 poll this week ahead of Tuesday's clash with Big Three rival Brockton, which tied the Whalers in the first meeting. A pair of scoreless draws last week drops Needham down a couple of spots to No. 4 and Somerville moves back up to the two spot.

Silver Lake's impressive 5-1 win over St. John's Prep jumps them above Needham, while Masconomet moves to No. 3, but even with the loss, the Eagles stay in the Top 10 just ahead of their Catholic Conference rivals BC High (who Prep has beaten twice this season).

The Division 1 West sectional should be a battle with three teams in the Top 20, which based on the number of qualifiers from last season, means almost 40 percent of the sectional is ranked. Ludlow has been inconsistent but remains in the Top 10 closely followed by Belchertown with Amherst at No. 19. Central also has three teams, two from D1 and Sutton from D3,

Oliver Ames drops into the Last 10 Out after another draw in the Hockomock League, but watch out for the Tigers in D2 South. OA is replaced by Westborough, which enters the rankings for the second time this season at No. 18. The Rangers were the first team to beat Ludlow this season (at the time the Lions were no. 1) and are the only team to beat Wachusett this year.

There are two undefeated teams in the Last 10 Out, newly dropped Oliver Ames and EAC champion Martha's Vineyard.

This demonstrates how much parity exists as soccer continues to become more popular and the level of play increases across the state.

Just one more week until we're looking at playoff brackets and the excitement (and mohawks) are already growing.

For this week's full poll, click HERE.

Needham on rise in boys' soccer Top 20

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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New Bedford holds on to the top spot in the boys' soccer Top 20 again this week after a draw against South Coast rival Dartmouth and a tough road win at Agawam.

Right behind the Whalers in second is Needham. Everyone keeps saying that the defending state champs are not as good as last year, but nobody has been able to beat the Rockets yet this season. Head coach Don Brock has his team heading towards another possible Bay State Conference title.

North Andover jumped up a couple of spots after extending its perfect start to 13-0. But the big move was former No. 1 Ludlow dropping from third to ninth after a loss to Chicopee and another draw with rival Amherst. The Lions have lost two and drawn two over the last two weeks.

Nauset continues to move up after clinching its third consecutive Atlantic Coast League title. The Warriors have improved throughout the season and are living up to the preseason hype.

A pair of unbeatens make their way into the Last 10 Out, as Martha's Vineyard improved to 12-0-2 and Norton sits at 9-0-4.At 9-1-3, Belmont also moved back into the Last 10 Out.

For this week's complete poll, click HERE.

The Road Ahead: Keep an eye on several huge games this week, including a Catholic Conference (and Top 10) showdown between St. John's Prep and BC High on Wednesday as well as a huge Bay State Conference clash between Needham and Framingham on Thursday. Prep also has another Top 10 matchup next Monday against Silver Lake.

New Bedford bolts to boys' soccer No. 1

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
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There is a new No. 1 team in the state this week.

New Bedford controls the top spot in this week's edition of the ESPN Boston MIAA boys' soccer Top 20 poll.

Somerville had a minor stumble on the road against Lexington and had to settle for a draw. It may have only been a minor blip, but New Bedford and Ludlow have been perfect, so each moved up one place. The Whalers beat Top 20 team and South Coast rival Dartmouth last week and will have a tough week with a pair of Big 3 games, while the Lions are looking ahead to a Top 10 showdown with Amherst on Oct. 5.

The Highlanders only drop down to No. 3 after the draw and will take on No. 4 Masconomet in the top match-up of the week.

Groton-Dunstable lost a pair of games last week and dropped out of the Top 20, while Worcester North dropped from the Top 10 to No. 20 after a tough start. The other team to drop out of the poll was Acton-Boxborough, which was beaten 3-0 by No. 8 Concord-Carlisle over the weekend.

Westborough moved into the poll for the first time after it beat Wachusett and Groton-Dunstable to improve to 6-0. The Rangers take over at No. 18.

Bedford also moves into the poll at No. 19 behind All-New England midfielder Michael Dushman. The Bucs take on Concord-Carlisle on Wednesday, so they will have the opportunity to prove that they belong right away.

In This Week: No. 18 Westborough (6-0-0); No. 19 Bedford (5-1-0).

Out This Week: Groton-Dunstable (2-2-2); Acton-Boxborough (1-1-2).

Somerville remains atop boys' soccer Top 20

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
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No. 1 Somerville boys' soccer opened the season with a 3-1 win over Brockton and stays atop the ESPN Boston MIAA Top 20 poll for the second week in a row.

New Bedford is close behind after a perfect 3-0 start. This week also featured the first Top 10 match-up as Masconomet and St. John's Prep drew, 1-1, in Danvers. Max Craig had the equalizer for Masco; he is a former Prep player, who transferred back for his junior year.

There were a few upsets of note in the opening week as No. 7 Concord-Carlisle drops six places after a loss to Cambridge and Nauset drops out of the Top 20 after defeats to Martha's Vineyard and No. 2 New Bedford. Dartmouth also suffered a tough loss to unranked Brockton in a rivalry game, but rebounded with a big victory over Falmouth.

Belchertown, which moved to Division 1 in the West sectional this year, beat No. 5 Amherst in the season opener and moves into the top 20 for the first time in the history of the poll. The win over the Hurricanes was the marquee victory that the Orioles needed to show that they are ready to make the jump from D3 to D1. Belchertown joins the Hurricanes and perennial power Ludlow to make it three teams from the West in our top 12.

There is a lot of parity around the state and many teams have only played one or two games, so there will most likely be a lot of movement in the rankings as teams manage difficult league campaigns. As the first week has shown, this is going to be a very interesting season.

In This Week: No. 12 Belchertown (3-0), first time in the rankings.

Out This Week: No. 14 Nauset (1-2), in Last 10 Out.

Four MIAA soccer storylines to watch

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
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With MIAA soccer matches kicking off this week, here are four storylines to watch for the new season:

1. Realignment changes dynamic of postseason.

The MIAA realigns this season and a number of teams will be competing in different divisions this year. The biggest change is that Division 2 now only exists in Eastern Mass. This means a shift for several teams out West, including Belchertown, which now has its girls playing in Div. 1 while the boys are expected to dominate in Div. 3. Two-time defending D2 state champion Groton-Dunstable also faces a jump up to D1 in Central Mass.

In the boys’ South sectionals, these changes have suddenly created a D2 tournament that will be as difficult as just about any sectional in the state. Division 1 South semifinalists Dartmouth and Oliver Ames, along with fellow playoff teams Nauset, Walpole, and Catholic Memorial will all be dropped down. The teams combined for seven wins in the 2012 D1 playoffs and, when added to D2 mainstays like Canton, Medfield, and Hingham, will provide a deep bracket filled with potential state champs. One team not included in that list is last season’s D2 South winner, Medway, which will now compete for the D3 title.

All of the movement will add some spice come October and November as many of the teams (for example the Dedham girls, who have been moved to D3) compete in leagues with teams in higher division or schedule those opponents to prepare for the playoffs.

2. What happens when the face of the program leaves?

The Needham boys will be without their all-time leading scorer, Mac Steeves, this season and on the girls’ side there are a number of programs that have lost not only good players, but among their best ever.

Franklin’s Kristi Kirshe, Peabody’s Hayley Dowd, Oliver Ames’ Kendall Andrew, Canton’s Lauren Berman, Nashoba’s Kim Slade, and Concord-Carlisle’s Andrea O’Brien are just a few of the graduates that have left question marks around entire programs. (Apologies to anyone not mentioned - it’s a very big list.)

Many of these teams are familiar faces in the rankings and will find a way to be successful even without the big name (Franklin for instance is still considered the team to beat in D1), but that is an amazing amount of talent moving on and it has changed the whole perspective on how successful these teams can be. It has opened the door for new league and sectional champions.

In many cases these players were not only the best player and the talent that produced wins on the field, but also the foundation on which the team formulated its game plan. Now, coaches may have to adjust to lesser talents that are not able to decide games on their own and players will have to step up and take responsibility where before they could simply pass to the star. It’s a challenge that will be interesting to watch this season.

3. A true rivalry out West.

Ludlow, boasting 17 state titles, has long been the dominant force in the West region, but last year Amherst earned its first ever sectional title and showed that it could compete with the best. This season, Ludlow is considered the team to beat but, with seniors Brandon Vazquez and Eric Gooden, Amherst believes that it has closed the gap. Both teams are ranked in the preseason Top 10 and now there are two teams that people out East have to ask about at the start of every year.

If the fans of Belchertown had their way, there would be a third team to add to the rivalry. The Orioles put up numbers last year that would make Barcelona jealous, but it is hard to determine the caliber of teams that they are competing against. With the drop into D3 this season, the gap between Belchertown and the top teams in the West is even larger, making it even more difficult to rate them.

4. Mr. Soccer and Miss Soccer races heat up.

Going into the season, there are a number of players to watch out for and the race for the second annual ESPNBoston.com Mr. and Miss Soccer awards (won last year by Mac Steeves of Needham and Kristi Kirshe of Franklin) has the potential to be very close.

Here are preliminary lists of some of the male and female players to watch heading into 2013:

Boys – Thayrone Miranda (Sr., F, Somerville); Dave Stapleton (Sr., M/F, Oliver Ames); Klisman Souza (Sr., M, New Bedford); Brandon Vazquez (Sr., M, Amherst); Noah Martins (Sr., M, Dartmouth); Aram Ouligian (Jr., D/M, Needham); Michael Dushman (Sr., M, Bedford); Paul Beatty (Sr., F, Silver Lake); Bobby Ivatts (Jr., M, Walpole); Lucas Resende-Verge (Sr., K, Weymouth).

Girls – Caitlin Harty (Sr., F, Beverly); Taylor Cogliano (Jr., F, Franklin); Kate Holleran (Sr., M, Oliver Ames); Lauren Petit (Sr., M, Medfield); Kayla Steeves (Jr., M, Needham); Breanne Moreau (Sr., M, Belchertown); Brooke Murphy (Sr., F, Monson); Maddie Jolin (Jr., F, Bishop Feehan); Alexis Fruzetti (So., F, Whitman-Hanson).

Roundtable: Best players, breakout stars, sleepers

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
6:03
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Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools editor


Best QB: Cody Williams, Springfield Central
Best RB: Johnathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR: Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE: Brendan Hill, Mansfield
Best OL: Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL: Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best LB: C.J. Parvelus, Everett
Best DB: Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense: Natick
Best rushing offense: St. John's Prep
Best offensive line: St. John's Prep
Best defensive line: Reading
Best linebackers: Reading
Best secondary: Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Medway
Coach Dave McSweeney's affinity for power football isn't a secret, and this season he'll have two road-graders to run behind in Kevin Sheehan (6-4, 285) and Cam Smith (6-5, 290, Lafayette commit). If there's any exhibit for why we needed to change the postseason format, the most glaring sample might be the Mustangs, who went 19-3 from 2009-10 with no playoff berth. In this new playoff system, a gameplan like the Mustangs' is built for the long haul.

Lynn English
Perhaps this isn't a surprise pick so much as an affirmation. In a Division 2 North that is perceived to be wide open after heavy favorite Reading, the Bulldogs have enough talent to make a deep run. There has always been elite talent at the skill positions, but Preseason All-State selection Chris Tinkham gives them a presence in the trenches they've lacked the last few years, a rare "war daddy" type who overpowers the interior gaps. The biggest question will be where the Bulldogs put junior Jordan Javier, a 6-foot-4 transfer from Haverhill who is a matchup problem at his natural split end position but also throws one of the prettiest balls you'll see on the North Shore.

Quabbin
The Panthers struggled to a 4-7 tune last season in a weak league, but there is some promise. Quarterback Dylan Kierman is an underappreciated talent, who should get a boost from the return of slippery receiver Nick Thyden. The Panthers run a unique "Air Raid" scheme, and another year of experience with it could surprised teams in Division 4 Central.

THREE BREAKOUT ATHLETES TO WATCH

Lukas Denis, Jr. ATH, Everett
After an injury-shortened 2012 season in which he was the assumed successor to record-setting quarterback Jonathan DiBiaso, but barely saw the field, Denis is moving to the perimeter, where he will take a role similar to the hybrid slot-back role that Manny Asprilla made legendary in 2010. Defensively, he should serve as a terrific compliment in the secondary to highly-touted safety/cornerback Lubern Figaro, and has already begun to pick up some Division 1 FBS interest.

Alfred Adarkwah, Sr. WR, Doherty
Standing a long 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, Adarkwah has an unusually large catching radius for a high school receiver. This summer in passing leagues, the Highlanders toyed with Adarkwah and Boston College-bound receiver Isaac Yiadom on the same side of 2x2 formations. Head coach Sean Mulcahy has to be excited with the possibilities that opens up -- just imagine sending those two on a post-wheel combo route. Or better yet, imagine running them on a bubble screen, taking advantage of both Yiadom's elite speed and Adarkwah's great downfield blocking skills.

Taj-Amir Torres, Jr. ATH, Amherst
Already a household name in track and field, where he was named the state's Gatorade Player of the Year last spring as a sophomore after winning New Englands in the 100-meter dash, he's about to get a whole lot more attention. Boston College, UConn and UMass have already offered Torres, who made just 24 catches last season but made some incredible feats of athleticism. Hurricanes head coach David Thompson told us earlier this month "[We're] trying to get the ball in his hands every opportunity we get", so expect bigger numbers in 2013.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Springfield Central
Div. 3 - Walpole
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 - Millis/Hopedale

***

Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor

Best QB - Drew Belcher - Sr. Reading
Best RB - Johnny Thomas - Sr. St. John’s Prep
Best WR - Brian Dunlap - Jr. Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan - Sr. Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker – Sr., Millis/Hopedale
Best DL – Joe Gaziano – Jr., Xaverian
Best LB – Eddie Motavu – Sr., Tewksbury
Best DB - Lubern Figaro - Sr. Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line – Bridgewater-Raynham
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers - Leominster
Best secondary - Everett

THREE SURPRISE TEAMS

St. Mary’s (Lynn)
OK, so a team coming off an 11-2 season and a Super Bowl appearance might not exactly be a surprise, but with a couple of other Catholic Central teams garnering the buzz in the preseason, let's not forget the Spartans have another season with Jordan Collier (1,495 yards, 18 TD).

Hingham

We've heard them knocking, but can they come in? The Harbormen have whittled the gap in recent years, particularly against Patriot League nemesis Duxbury, but they're still waiting to break through. They could have an in-road in Division 3 Southwest. An early non-leaguer against Oliver Ames should be a bellweather for things to come, but the real proof will come Oct. 5, against those aforementioned Dragons.

Wakefield
The Warriors fell short of their goal of winning the Middlesex League's Freedom division last year, but should be in the mix in a wide open Division 3 Northwest race. We'll have a better impression after a visit from Lynn English in Week 2.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES

Joe Johnston, Sr. RB/S, King Philip
Anybody who saw Johnston's hard-nosed 157-yard, 2-touchdown performance against North Attleborough last year knows Johnston's style. He's a burden for would-be tacklers inside the box, and once he kicks it outside, he's also very hard to catch.

Grant Kramer, Sr. OT, Duxbury
The younger brother of Boston College tackle Aaron Kramer, Grant is now ready to assume the role as the next great lineman on the Dragons' line (and there have been some very good ones in recent memory). He currently holds offers from Coastal Carolina and Villanova but has also expressed interest in attending West Point.

Connor Moriarty, Sr. RB, Walpole
When Rebels starter Mike Rando went out with an ankle injury near the midway point of the regular season last year, it was Moriarty who carried the load down the stretch. Expect even bigger numbers this year.

WAY TOO EARLY CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTIONS:

D1 – St. John’s Prep
D2 – Springfield Central
D3 – Walpole
D4 – Doherty
D5 – Auburn
D6 – Millis/Hopedale

***

Josh Perry
ESPN Boston correspondent


Best QB - Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB - Jonathan Thomas, St. John’s Prep
Best WR – Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE – Brendan Hill, Mansfield
Best OL – Jon Baker, Millis-Hopedale
Best DL – Andrew Bourque, Reading
Best LB – Kevin Bletzer, Catholic Memorial
Best DB – Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense – St. John’s Prep
Best offensive line – St. John’s Prep
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers – Catholic Memorial
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE:

Attleboro
A new coaching staff, the energy of a new field complex, and a strong crop of returning seniors could make the Bombardiers the surprise team of the Hockomock League. Attleboro has always been a sleeping giant and the program continues to find solid athletes, it’s now up to the new staff to build a system that fits the talent on the roster. With a couple of league rivals dealing with injuries and suspensions, Attleboro could sneak up on people.

Barnstable
Everyone assumes that there will be a significant drop off for the Red Raiders due to a big graduating class, but there is still potential to be a solid team in D2 and in the OCL. This may not be a another season with Barnstable holding the top spot in the poll, but it shouldn’t be written off either.

Stoughton
The Knights are expected to finish behind Oliver Ames in the Davenport, but don’t be surprised if they pull an upset or two and give the Tigers a run at the title. Watch out for running back Malachi Baugh, who will be getting the majority of the carries this season and is a beast to try and bring down.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES TO WATCH

Luke Morrison, Sr. TE/DE, Attleboro
Attleboro’s giant tight end/defensive end is a monster match-up on both sides of the ball and could be a real threat as Tim Walsh’s favorite target in the Bombardiers passing attack.

Ryan Charter, Sr. QB, Needham
Mike Panepinto has deservedly drawn praise as the star man on the Needham offense, but the senior quarterback, who has been under center for 1-1/2 seasons already, will have high expectations as the Rockets try to get back on top in the Bay State.

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
With the graduation of running backs Robbie Rapoza and Kevin Makie and the continued injury problems for wide receiver Michael Hershman the key cog for the Hornets offense will be its senior quarterback. Wisnieski’s ability to spread the ball around and pick the right options out of a still talented receiving corps that includes Brendan Hill is going to be the key for Mansfield’s run at a Hockomock title.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS:

Div. 1 – St. John’s Prep
Div. 2 - Nashoba
Div. 3 – Bishop Feehan
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 – Millis-Hopedale

***

Ryan Kilian
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Massachusetts Prep Stars


Best QB - Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB - Johnathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR - Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan, Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL - Alex Quintero, Lowell
Best LB - C.J. Parvelus, Defense
Best DB - Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - St. John's (Shrewsbury)
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line - St. John's Prep
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers - Duxbury
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Bedford
While Wayland and Concord-Casrlisle have earned the DCL Small Championship the past few years do not sleep on Bedford in 2013. The Bucs play one of the toughest schedules in Division 4 and the return All-DCL running back Olan Abner.

Chelmsford
While Lowell, Central and Andover are getting most of the early press in the MVC Large, the Chelmsford Lions return one of the State's top running backs in Jeff D'Auria, a seasoned young quarterback in Jack Campsmith and a nice nucleus of tough experienced defenders.

Archbishop Williams
If Archies can find early offensive balance to take some of the work load off the shoulders of star senior back Kylan Philbert-Richardson, they could make some noise in the D5 playoff hunt.

THREE BREAKOUT ATHLETES TO WATCH

Ian Kessel, Soph. RB, Haverhill
The St. John's Prep transfer saw late game carries last season as a freshman for Prep's Super Bowl Champion squad. The speedy halfback is now back home in the MVC Small, and with the graduation of work horse, All-State RB Chance Brady (Tufts), there should be plenty carries to go around.

Devin Lekan, Sr. DE/TE, Chelmsford
D'Auria and Campsmith return to lead the offense for Chelmsford's but it is the Lion defense could be the story if they stay healthy. The Lions feature the 2nd team all-MVC performer was the most impressive player in the games I saw last season.

Nick Orekoya, Jr. DB/RB Billerica
Orekoya saw a lot of playing time as a two-way starter for Billerica last season. With another year under his belt Orekoya should thrive in coach Rich McKenna's high octane offense.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Reading
Div. 3 - Tewksbury
Div. 4 - Dennis-Yarmouth
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 - Boston Cathedral

***

John Botelho
Editor-in-Chief, South Shore Sports Journal


Best QB - Troy Flutie, Natick
Best RB - Dylan Oxsen, Plymouth South
Best WR - Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan, Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL - Steve Manning, Abington
Best LB - Kervin Jean-Claude, Brockton
Best DB - Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line - St. John's Prep
Best defensive line - Auburn
Best linebackers - Brockton
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Brockton
They're ranked pretty high in any poll you look at because people have just come to accept the fact that Brockton generally reloads. They graduated 18 starters from last season's Super Bowl team, including quarterback Austin Roberts, who was one of the best in school history. Roberts, Micah Morel and Joe Previte are all playing ball at prep schools this year, and Anthony Davis has moved on to Div. 1 Central Connecticut. Still, the Boxers will very solid again. They have a number of athletes and playmakers, including returning do-it-all Aaron Leclair. Transfer Jamal Williams is going to compliment him well, and sophomore Kerry Raymond is physically imposing at 6-foot-1 and 205. Aaron Monteiro's 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame gives Brockton an anchor on the offensive line. They have plenty of guys ready to step forward on the other side of the ball as well, led by Kervin Jean-Claude, Justin Ahanon and Leclair.

Abington
The Green Wave went unbeaten in their march toward a Super Bowl crown last year, but saw a slew of stars graduate. QB Brandon Cawley, TE/DE Pat Dwyer, FB Jack Malafronte, RB Babila Fonkem, DB Mike Walsh, OL Tyler Perakslis and OL Matt Diver are just some of the elite players Abington graduated. These guys won't miss a beat though, as they have a ton of talent back. Matt Kilmain broke out for more than 400 yards on 27 carries in two postseason wins last year, and he might not even be the best player back this season. Abington returns its top three tacklers from a year ago and has most of their front seven back on defense. Jim Kelliher has one of the best coaching staffs going at this point, and these guys look like they're headed back to the playoffs. (For bold prediction purposes, I'm also going to go ahead and say I think they beat Duxbury on opening night, because that's how good I think this team can be).

Stoughton
The Black Knights missed the playoffs last year because of the wrong day for a let down game, taking a tough defeat to eventual Super Bowl champ Sharon. The Knights lost some very good players, but leading running back Malachi Baugh is back in the fold and they return four starting offensive lineman, so there's no reason to think the offense won't be up to par again. The Hockomock League has proven in recent years to be one of the toughest to win, but a second guaranteed playoff berth can only help a team like Stoughton.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES TO WATCH

Aaron Monteiro, Jr. OL, Brockton
Monteiro has something that can't be learned, or even worked toward. His 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame is one that will draw the interest of coaches at the next level. Coach Peter Colombo is very excited about plugging the junior into his offensive line, and it's not just because of the size. Monteiro worked during the off-season to get himself stronger and is primed to be one of the best lineman in the state. He plays basketball in the winter, something that has helped him develop quick and agile feet for a guy his size.

Sam Malafronte, Jr. LB, Abington
Started at linebacker a year ago as a sophomore for the Div. 4 Super Bowl champs, and finished second on the team in tackles. A very good athlete who is a work-out warrior, Malafronte will team with Matt Whelan to lead a solid corps in the middle of the field for the Green Wave.

James Shea, Sr. WR, East Bridgewater
The Vikings have benefited from having tremendous athletes in the backfield the last few years (think Casey DeAndrade, Tim O'Brien, Andrew Benson and Kevin Lynch), but in 2013 their most dangerous player will be splitting out wide. Shea can run with just about anyone -- he finished sixth in the 100-meter dash in the South Shore League last spring -- and is going to wreak havoc pulling in passes all year.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Natick
Div. 3 - Plymouth South
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Abington
Div. 6 - Millis/Hopedale

Amherst's Torres sprinting up the radar

August, 7, 2013
8/07/13
1:47
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From time to time this football offseason, we've made mention on this blog the amount of football talent rising in Western Mass. This time last year, Springfield Commerce linebacker Sha'ki Holines burst onto the scene, getting a number of Division 1 FBS/FCS looks before settling on UConn. Through much of the spring and summer, interest has slowly built for Springfield Central quarterback Cody Williams, who currently holds three FCS offers and could see more.

Is Amherst High rising junior Taj-Amir Torres the next big one out of the 413 area code?

Torres was named Massachusetts' Gatorade Player of the Year for track and field last June after winning state and New England championships in the 100-meter dash, taking the latter with a time of 10.73. One week after his New England victory on June 8, he placed ninth at New Balance Nationals in the 100.

On the gridiron, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Torres saw limited touches, thanks to the explosive emergence of running back Kieran Presley. On the season, Torres caught 24 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns, and made three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

Still, he's got an impressive highlight tape to work with. Check out his Hudl reel by CLICKING HERE.

There is a considerable amount of hype beginning to build. Jim Pignatiello of the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported last month that Boston College, UConn and UMass have all extended scholarship offers; New Hampshire and Rhode Island have also expressed interest. You can't teach speed, and at camps at BC and UConn this summer he recorded 40 times of 4.40 and 4.41, respectively; his fastest 40 time this summer has been 4.38, according to head coach David Thompson.

"Taj is what we say extremely fast," said Thompson, himself a former All-American at UMass who briefly played with the St. Louis Rams. "He can catch the ball and he can turn around and play corner. Colleges are moving to quick, shifty guys in the slot, and he was New England's champ in 100-meter dash -- you can't coach that type of speed.

"The talent level is there. A lot of them are just waiting for him to show out, come out junior year and see how he does. Then they want him to gain 10 pounds, but he's actually put on some weight. They wanted him to get to 170 and he's 175 now. He's working extremely hard, he's a good kid."

Needless to say, Torres will be a focal point of the Hurricanes' gameplan this fall, in all three phases of the game.

"I'm just trying to get the ball in his hands every opportunity we get," Thompson said. "Whether it's out of the backfield, out of the slot, kick returns, punt returns, screens, I just wanna give him the chance to make plays. We're going to use him as much as we can and he's hungry right now, he wants to perform at the highest level possible."

ESPN Boston boys' lacrosse All-State team

July, 1, 2013
7/01/13
5:53
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FIRST TEAM
G – Nick Marrocco, Jr., Duxbury
In his first season starting between the pipes for the Dragons, Marrocco was named an Eastern Mass. All-American while averaging 13 saves per game. Also a standout hockey player during the winter season, Marrocco is committed to Georgetown and was named Most Valuable Player of the bostonlax.net All-American game.

D – Rob Breed, Sr., Xaverian
One of the galvanizing forces behind the Hawks’ run to the program’s first state lacrosse title, the Eastern Mass. All-American was tasked with shutting down the opponent’s top attacks.

D – Ben Cox, Sr., Medfield
Named the Tri-Valley League’s Defensive Most Valuable player, Cox was a four-year member of the lacrosse team and part of back-to-back MIAA Division 2 state championship lacrosse teams. During the winter, Cox finished second on the Warriors hockey team in scoring, posting 12 goals for 38 points in 21 games. He will continue his lacrosse career at the University of Vermont.

D – John Sexton, Jr., Lincoln-Sudbury
The Notre Dame commit was a jack of all trades for the Warriors this season, taking faceoffs, playing on man-up situations and providing lockdown defense. Sexton was named an Eastern Mass. All-American and is a three-time Dual County League All-Star.

LSM – Nick Brozowski, Soph., Concord-Carlisle
A ground ball machine, the Maryland commit was named an Eastern Mass. All-American in addition to Dual County League All-Star honors.

M – Dan Delaney, Sr., Lincoln-Sudbury
The Eastern Mass. All-American tallied 38 goals and 20 assists while leading the Warriors to a Division 1 final appearance. Delaney will continue his lacrosse career at Fairfield University next year.

M – Keegan Dudeck, Sr., Longmeadow
The Lancers captain closed out his career on a high with a five-goal outburst in their Division 2 state championship win over Medfield. Dudeck tallied 38 goals and 17 assists for his senior season.

M – Jack Wheeler, Jr., Xaverian
Turning in a dazzling offensive display at Harvard Stadium, Wheeler was a key component to the Hawks’ first-ever lacrosse championship. The Boston University commit and Eastern Mass. All-American tallied 42 goals with 15 assists this year.

A – Jay Drapeau, Jr., Westford Academy
Among the state scoring leaders in each of the last two seasons, Drapeau ripped off 71 goals in 2013. The Loyola commit was an ESPN Boston MIAA Lacrosse All-State second-teamer last year and also was a Hockey All-State Honorable Mention during the winter season.

A – Andrew Melvin, Sr., Medfield
The Eastern Mass. All-American helped lead the Warriors back to the Division 2 state championship game. Melvin will continue his lacrosse career at Bates College.

A – Nico Panepinto, Sr., Needham
Named ESPN Boston’s third annual “Mr. Lacrosse” winner last week, the Fairfield University signee finished his high school career with 179 goals and 159 assists. Panepinto, also a standout on the football field for the Rockets, was a two-time Eastern Mass. All-American and ESPN Boston All-State selection.

Specialist – Derek Osbahr, Sr., St. John’s Prep
Osbahr was an offensive weapon for the Eagles at the faceoff X as the best draw-winner in Eastern Mass. Also a member of Prep’s Super 8 hockey squad, the Eastern Mass. All-American will continue his lacrosse career at Bentley University.

SECOND TEAM
G – Ryan Goodall, Sr., Dover-Sherborn
D – Jack Ullrich, Jr., Hingham
D – Jay Walsh, Sr., Duxbury
D – Ian Yanulis, Sr, BC High
M – Caleb Brodie, Jr., Hingham
M – Brendan Flaherty, Sr., Beverly
M – Mike Panepinto, Jr., Needham
M – Roby Williams, Jr., Wayland
A – Hunter Burdick, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
A – Nick Pino, Sr., North Andover
A – Tyler Reilly, Sr., Grafton
Specialist – Drew Kelleher, Jr., Longmeadow

Honorable Mention
Dom Abate, Sr. M, Beverly
Tommy Bannan, Sr. G, Hingham
Kevin Bletzer, Jr. M, Catholic Memorial
Rogers Boylan, Sr. D, Dover-Sherborn
Evan Boynton, Sr. D, Concord-Carlisle
Mike Carbone, Sr. A, Marshfield
Tucker Ciessau, Sr. A, Scituate
Matt Comerford, Sr. G, Reading
Pat Cronin, Jr. A, BC High
Matt Crowell, Jr. M, Medfield
Mark Dente, Sr. A, Reading
Kevin Farrell, Sr. FOGO, Billerica
Chris Frye, Sr. A, Walpole
Andrew Gallahue, Jr. A, St. John's Prep
Henry Guild, Sr. M, Lincoln-Sudbury
Carson Hart, Sr. M, Wayland
Keifer Heckman, Sr. A, Peabody
Eamon Hunter, Soph. LSM, Lincoln-Sudbury
Joe Igoe, Sr. M, Framingham
Reid Leveillee, Jr. D, Longmeadow
Giles Ober, Sr. G, Algonquin
Kieran Presley, Sr. M, Amherst
Brian Rotatori, Sr. M, Grafton
Drew Smiley, Jr. A, St. John's (Shrewsbury)
D.J. Smith, Sr. G, Billerica
Robert Treiber, Jr. G, Medfield
Luc Valenza, Sr. D, Foxborough
Tyler Weeks, Sr. D, Andover
Sam Wheaton, Sr. G, Minnechaug

Coach of the Year -- Ryan Liebel, Longmeadow

Recap: No. 10 Amherst 5, No. 22 Springfield Cathedral 2

May, 25, 2013
5/25/13
2:34
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AMHERST, Mass. -- The way Jamie Carey describes it, it sounds almost too simple.

“Guys seem to get on base ahead of me all the time when I’m hitting and I usually drive them in most of the time,” said Carey, who upped his team-leading RBI total to 22 after knocking in three more runs in Amherst's 5-2 victory over Springfield Cathedral Friday night at Stanley P. Ziomek Field.

The Hurricanes improve their overall mark to 14-5. They still have one final regular-season game remaining at Longmeadow on Saturday. The Panthers, who completed their regular-season, fall to 13-7. Both schools have already qualified for the Western Mass. Division 1 tournament.

Trailing 2-0 early, the Hurricanes rallied for three runs in the third and added a pair in the fourth to put this one away. After a shaky start, senior pitcher Asher Young responded nicely, going the distance, allowing just 3 hits while striking out 4. The benefactor of a late-breaking two-seam fastball and a 12-to-6 curve, Young, who will pitch for Wesleyan University next season, stymied Cathedral’s potent offense over the final six innings.

“After a tough first inning he was pretty phenomenal,” Amherst head coach Greg Vouros said. “He works hard and he works quickly.”

Playing under a light drizzle and strong wind gusts, the Hurricanes rebounded from their early deficit. In the decisive third inning, they loaded the bases against Panther righthander Tim Danehy. Young’s ground out drove in his team’s first run and Carey followed with a hard, two-out single up the middle giving Amherst a 3-2 lead.

“It was a great job by Jamie to get that two-out, two-RBI hit as a sophomore,” said Vouros. “We have some guys up in our order with high on-base percentages. In fact, all three of the guys batting ahead of him are multi-year players and the strength of this team is our leadership. It's made a big difference.”

One inning later the Hurricanes loaded the bases again. Young's infield single off the glove of Danehy plated a run to make it 4-2. Carey followed suit by legging out a chopper to the left side for a single and putting Amherst in front by three runs.

“To see our guys come through and fight back like they did, it certainly shows how some clutch, timely hitting really helps you out,” added Vouros.

After the offense did its part, Young took control of things from there, surrendering just a pair of singles over the final three frames to improve his mound record to 5-3, and, in turn, avenge an earlier 2-1 loss he suffered versus Cathedral.

“The way he pitches, like tonight, it really helps us out in the field,” said Carey. “We trust him as much as anybody else we have out there.”

The Panthers grabbed a two-run lead in opening frame. With two runners in scoring position following an error, a single and a SAC bunt, Cathedral wasn’t about to let this opportunity sail by. A fly out by Danehy deep to centerfield scored the Panthers first run. Moments later, a passed ball plated another. As it turned out, it was the only damage Young would encounter as he seemed to grow stronger on the hill as the game progressed.

“We have a lot of respect for Amherst and the way they play the game,” Cathedral head coach Pat Moriarty said. “Young is a very good pitcher but so is Danehy. We were just a little unlucky tonight as far as some of their hits dropping in and ours didn’t. I thought we played pretty-well and deserved better tonight.”

New England Roots: James Ihedigbo

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
6:34
PM ET
James Ihedigbo's journey from hometown walk-on to undrafted free agent to Super Bowl champion is the stuff of legend, a narrative often repeated around the campuses of his alma maters UMass and Amherst High School. After graduating from Amherst in 2002, the son of Nigerian immigrants walked-on at UMass just a short few miles down the road, earning Division 1-AA All-American honors at safety in 2006. After going undrafted in 2007, he hooked on with the Jets then played two seasons with the hometown New England Patriots, before landing with the Baltimore Ravens this past year and earning a Super Bowl ring.

[+] EnlargeJames Ugochu Ihedigbo
Brendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comFormer New England Patriot James Ihedigbo talked to high school kids at his alma mater Amherst High about his journey from walk-on to undrafted free agent to Super Bowl champion with the Baltimore Ravens.
For five hours Saturday stretching from morning into early afternoon, Ihedigbo ran drills, 7-on-7 competitions and spoke of his journey to area high school players as part of his second annual invitational camp at Amherst High. The camp was organized by UMass' Association for Diversity in Sport club, in conjunction with Ihedigbo's HOPE Africa Foundation.

Play was spirited in the 7-on-7 portion, with several Springfield Central athletes standing out, and Ihedigbo even jumped in at his familiar safety spot when players tired. Following the event, which concluded with a brief awards presentation to top performers, Ihedigbo talked to ESPNBoston.com about his journey in the NFL, the rising football talent in Springfield, and the value of walking-on at a Division 1 program.

Q: With everything that has happened this week in Boston, how has that affected you?
A:
It’s heartbreaking. You think the city of Boston to be shut down, and for people to be going through what they’re going through, I know we captured the people that were involved, but the people that are still hurting in those hospital rooms, suffering dramatic life-changing events, my prayers truly go out to their families. I’m a firm believer that God is in control of every situation, and that all things work for good for those who love the Lord. I really just pray that they’re dealing with the situation, and that their families are supporting them in everything.

Q: Being here today, what memories come to mind?
A:
Running touchdowns. I was saying to the kids today, I used to dominate this field (laughs). This was my stomping grounds. It’s awesome, it’s awesome to be able to come back here and share this with these guys. I can only imagine the affect it would have had on me if NFL players were to come to me when I was their age, and help me stay on the right path, teach me to be a competitor in the classroom as well as on the football field. It’s awesome, I love to be able to spend the time with them to do that, this is my second year doing it and I look forward to doing a third next year.

Q: You seemed to enjoy playing safety out there today.
A:
I love the game, and I want to coach after I’m done playing, so I just have a burning passion and desire to help the youth and to play the game and coach it.

Q: The recruiting landscape was a lot different in your high school playing days than it is now. Springfield is perceived to be an area with talent on the rise. Why do you think that is, and do you think this area underrated?
A:
It’s highly underrated. You got guys that are players, that are big time players in this area. All it is is the opportunity. My school [UMass] took a chance on me, and look at the career I’ve had so far. It’s all about taking the chance on kids. Springfield has had for years some talented players, from Mike Vaz to Julius Walker to Cedric Washington. The names go on, the great players that have gone through those programs. It’s really just about giving a kid an opportunity to prove himself.

Q: How closely have you followed Kieran Presley, the running back from Amherst who is considering several options, including walking-on at UMass?
A:
I heard that he may walk on or go to prep school, but I heard he is a phenomenal player.

Q: What life lessons did you learn from your high school coach, Waxie Cullen, that you still hold with you today?
A:
Never give up. He used to say, ‘Fight, fight no matter what, fight every single play’, and I’ve taken that with me throughout my whole career. No matter what, and that’s even what I told these kids today. Even though it’s 7-on-7, you fight. Be a competitor. It’s OK to want to win every single time. That’s OK. That’s life. You should want to be successful in everything you do. That was what was instilled in me, that now I want to instill in them.

Q: With the move to FBS, your alma mater has had an increased emphasis on establishing a walk-on tradition. As a former walk-on yourself who’s now in the NFL, what are your thoughts on that strategy?
A:
I think it’s a great strategy, because you can find a diamond in the rough that way. I’m not going to say you shouldn’t be out there recruiting and trying to get the top-tier guys from high school to be a part of the program. But to build the final spots of your roster, I mean, the best way to do it is to have you walk on. I was a walk-on, and at the time I was playing they [UMass] had seven All-Americans on defense. Being able to take another guy’s spot –- an All-American’s spot -– to be able to play, that shows a lot. You always find your diamonds in the rough.

Q: Your coach at UMass, Don Brown, is now the defensive coordinator at Boston College. What are your thoughts on that?
A:
Donny B, he’s like a father to me. We’re so close. I can only imagine the things he’s going to do with that program on defense. I wish him the best of luck in everything.

Q: For kids themselves trying to walk-on at a Division 1 program, what is the most important thing they can do to make the journey you’ve made?
A:
Think big. Think really big. Do not sit there and say, ‘Oh, I’m a walk-on’, and put yourself in a bucket of what you think you are. Think highly of yourself, because then you’ll go out there and perform at a high level and other people will think highly of you. That would be my advice. Think big, and outwork everybody.

Q: Tell me about your foundation, HOPE Africa.
A:
We have our big NFL Draft viewing party coming this Thursday in New York, at the Dream Hotel. HOPE Africa is an acronym for ‘Helping Our People Excel’. We provide last-dollar scholarships for students in the United States with African descent. This past year, we sent five kids to college from all over the country –- Ohio State, NYU, Arizona State, Oregon and one other. Being able to do that and help kids achieve their dream is really the most important thing. It stems from my parents doing the same thing, coming from Nigeria to the United States and earning their PhDs in education. At HOPE Africa, we want to give these students the same opportunities to do that.

Q: How proud are you to represent your Nigerian heritage?
A:
Very proud, very proud. It’s an honor to be able to have this platform, and to exemplify the foundation with which I was raised on –- my family, my grandparents, the people who worked hard so I could be where I am. To represent that culture on the football field, it is a great honor.

Updated Top 25 baseball poll

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
1:51
PM ET
We updated our statewide MIAA Top 25 poll this morning. To view it, CLICK HERE.

The poll was initially planned for a release this past Friday, but was postponed. From herein, you can expect a baseball poll update each Monday by noon through the end of the regular season.

A few notes and observations about this week's poll:

North makes a splash: The Bay State Conference made another big turn this week with a win over a Catholic Conference power. Newton North jumps up one spot to No. 5 following a big Thursday morning win over Xaverian, doubling up the defending D1 state champs 8-4.

Notable newcomers: We've got a slew of debut this week following some exciting April vacation baseball. The most notable entrance this week is Bridgewater-Raynham, which storms into the poll at No. 12 following wins over New Bedford and Silver Lake in the Brad Martin Tournament. Silver Lake, for its own regard, comes in at No. 15 on the heels of a win over Plymouth North en route to the final with B-R.

Shrewsbury (16), North Reading (19) and Chelmsford (20) also make debuts this week, while Amherst (22) returns to the poll after a one-week hiatus.

Here's how the poll breaks down this week by league affiliation:

Catholic Conference - 4
Bay State - 3
Northeastern - 3
Merrimack Valley - 2
Old Colony - 2
Southern Worcester County - 2
Valley League - 2
Atlantic Coast - 1
Cape Ann - 1
Central Mass. Conference - 1
Mid-Wach A - 1
Patriot - 1
South Coast - 1
Valley Wheel - 1

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