Boston High School: Cambridge

D1 North: Central Catholic 65, Charlestown 53

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
11:39
PM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- With four minutes to go, it was still anybody’s game.

Charlestown had stayed within four points of Central Catholic for much of the second half of its Division 1 North tournament matchup. Then suddenly, Kevin Fernandez made his presence felt. In the blink of an eye, the sophomore scored three times on three possessions, including a basket off a rebound and a dagger three. Central’s lead was up to 11 points and it was smooth sailing from there.

The Raiders held the Townies to just three points over the final three minutes on their way to a 65-53 victory.

Fernandez had 15 points and 9 rebounds in the game, but his three buckets late were by far his biggest contribution the whole night.

“I thought it was huge for him,” said Central Catholic coach Rick Nault. “I thought he struggled in the first half defensively. I thought he really gave us that huge, huge lift late in the game and he was the x-factor. He’s a guy that can create shots and does a lot of good things for us offensively.”

Charlestown made its intentions known right from the opening tip. The Townies came out in a 1-2-2 full-court pressure against Central’s guards. The Raiders -- being a smaller, guard-oriented team -- handled the necessity for quick decisions and ball movement with relative ease.

“We wanted to get the guards fatigued and get them to give the ball up and make somebody else score,” said Charlestown coach Edson Cardoso. “They’re very good with the ball under control. I thought if we could make them play a little faster and take quick shots, we’d rebound and go. That’s the style we want to play.”

The Raiders took a 36-29 lead into halftime. What Central did struggle with was defending Chris Conway. The 6-foot-4 center was a force underneath for the Townies, scoring 12 points and nine rebounds. He shot 10 free throws in the game because he was able to outmuscle players underneath the basket and create opportunities for himself.

Kewan Platt created havoc on the defensive end. He had 4 steals and 3 blocks, including a steal and dunk midway through the third quarter that gave his team a one-point lead, its only lead of the second half. However, it was Warfa Abdillah who led Charlestown in scoring with 17 points.

In the end, the home team had a more explosive fourth quarter, outscoring the Townies 13-5 over the final eight minutes of play.

Tanahj Pettway sidelined: The Central crowd got a scare with about three minutes left in the third quarter. Its prolific freshman guard Tanahj Pettway was following the player with the basketball around the perimeter when he ran into a screen from Kewan Platt. Pettway went down hard and laid face down on the ground for about a minute. Eventually, he pushed himself up and gingerly walked to the sideline next to a team trainer. He remained on the bench with his head in his hands and did not return to the game. Until that point in the game, he was Central’s leading scorer with 14 points.

The current extent of his injury is unknown as well as if it will effect his ability to play Saturday at all.

“We really don’t know (his status),” said Nault. “He’s going to go get checked out right now. The trainer said he was out for the rest of the game. He’s our leading scorer, so when you have your leading scorer out of the game in a game like that, it’s a big loss for us. We just go next man up. We’re very confident in our bench.”

Tensions boil in fourth: After a Fernandez three made it 61-50 with 3:31 to go, Cardoso called a timeout to try and settle his team and slow down Central’s building momentum. Less than 10 seconds after coming out of the timeout, two players were in a chest-to-chest altercation underneath the Charlestown basket behind the play.

The players had to be separated by officials, but not before raising the ire of fans and players on each bench. Emotions got the best of the Townies as they were assessed two technical fouls for their actions. Attending police officers stood on the court to ensure nothing got out of hand.

This came after Fernandez had a verbal altercation with Conway earlier in the game resulting from physicality under the basket. Each player was warned by officials, but as the game wound down in the fourth quarter, emotions were clearly still high on both sides. Order was restored and play continued for the final four minutes of play.

“Yeah, we got into a little altercation, me and (Conway),” said Fernandez. “It was just a heat of the moment type of thing. We settled down, we shook hands at the end, and that’s what matters.”

On to Cambridge: Central Catholic advances in the Division 1 North tournament to face Cambridge Saturday night. The two teams got an up close and personal look at each other less than two weeks ago when Cambridge played at Central’s President’s Day Roundball Classic tournament. They did not play each other during the two-day tournament, but Nault is very familiar with what kind of challenges the No. 1 seed in D-1 North brings.

“They’re loaded. They’re so good at every position,” said Nault. “They’re big. They’re very well-coached. They play hard. Their guards are really, really solid. They probably have the best backcourt in the state. We’re going to have to match with not only their size and length, but we have to hopefully use our quickness and our defensive tenacity to really be a factor in that game. I told my guys, I love my group. I’m ready to go play anyone. We’re going to play Cambridge, the No. 1 seed, and we’ll be ready to play.”

Cambrige coach Lance Dottin and his assistants were in attendance to watch Central’s guards the team to victory. Fernandez, the Pettway brothers, and Santos will have to slow down the likes of Isaiah McLeod, Jakigh Dottin, etc. if it hopes to advance farther in the tournament.

“They’re big, they’re athletic, but I’m not going in there to get spanked,” said Fernandez. “I’m not going in there to lose. I’m going in with the mindset that I’m going to win the game. We’re a tough team. We’re small but we box out, we get our rebounds, and that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

Recap: No. 2 Cambridge 79, No. 11 Brockton 68

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20
1:31
AM ET


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- A player that has spent nearly every minute of free time over the past four years in their high school’s gym lives for these moments.

Isaiah McLeod’s Cambridge Falcons (18-2) were down big on Senior Night at War Memorial Gymnasium. Visiting Brockton (15-5) was dominating the action, as the Boxers opened the game on a 28-8 run to take a commanding second-quarter lead. But the four-year varsity star and basketball junkie would not accept a loss on such a significant night.

With his team down 28-12, McLeod bookended a 24-7 run with two 3-pointers to give the Falcons a 36-35 lead going into the half. He didn’t take his foot off the gas pedal the entire night, as he scored a game-high 34 points to lead his team to a 79-68 victory, completing an undefeated season against in-state competition.

“We talked about it weeks ago, that there was no way we were going to lose on Senior Night,” McLeod told ESPNBoston.com afterwards. “We weren’t too worried about them going up on us. There was a lot of time left in the game. We knew they were going to have runs, and that we could make a run to come back.”

The Falcons managed to wrestle the lead away from the Boxers, but the game was far from over, and McLeod said he reiterated that fact to some of his younger teammates: “I told the team at halftime to stay focused. I didn’t want us to get all excited about the comeback and then have them come out and go back at us in the third and fourth quarter.”

Following that advice, Cambridge clamped down defensively and held Brockton to just six points in the third quarter, expanding a slim halftime lead into a commanding 54-41 advantage in the process.

With McLeod leading the way, the Falcons were able to thwart a fierce fourth-quarter comeback attempt, and head into the postseason on a high note.

“All season long, Isaiah’s been an incredible player for us,” said Falcons head coach Lance Dottin. “The thing I love about him, is that he’s a leader, and he led us on the defensive end of the floor tonight.”

He continued, “Of course, [McLeod’s] averaging over 25 points per game for us as well. He’s been on varsity for four years, he’s scored over 1,000 points, and he actually accomplished that in three years. He’s a tremendous basketball player, and an even better young man.”

Final Tune-Up: These former Suburban League rivals tested each other before heading into the state tournament, and both coaches were able to take some positives away from a close contest.

Brockton head coach Bob Boen was impressed with his teams’ effort out of the gate, especially considering the fact that the Boxers were missing one of their leading scorers in Amare Appleberry (knee).

Junior guard Bryan Henry (15 points) stepped into the starting lineup for Appleberry, and along with senior point guard Kiano Monteiro, was instrumental in building an early lead.

However, things started to unravel in the second quarter, and Boen admitted, “We definitely missed Appleberry. If he’s in the lineup, I don’t think they make that run in the first half. We lost our heads. We were taking bad shots, and they made some big plays. They’ve got a good team, and you can’t make mistakes against them.”

The coach concluded, “We did some good things tonight, but we’ve got a lot of things to work on. We’ll look great in the tournament if we play like we did in the first 12 minutes tonight, but if we play like we did in the next 12, we’ll be out in the first round.”

Squashing A Comeback: Dottin also expressed plenty of concern about his team’s performance, as Cambridge allowed Brockton to mount a serious comeback bid in the fourth quarter.

Junior Jonathan Duvivier scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth, including nine straight for the Boxers, as they trimmed the deficit to four (66-62) with just over two minutes left to play.

In the end, it was McLeod who squashed the comeback, as the senior paraded to the charity stripe and nailed all 17 of his free throw attempts on the evening.

“I was nervous at points,” Dottin admitted. “Brockton’s a tremendous team. They’re so long and athletic, that the ball got stuck a little bit, and there were times when we should have been taking layups and guys settled. One thing you don’t want to do in a situation like that is hesitate, because that leads to turnovers, and they were able to come back the other way and score.”

Still, Cambridge’s coach could not be displeased with the final result.

“To finish up against a team like Brockton gives you a great deal of confidence,” said Dottin. “We’re happy to have earned home court advantage for the start of the tournament, because our players definitely feed off the energy here, and while there are areas of concern, we’re happy about our season.”

Now that’s he put a stamp on a fantastic career at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, McLeod can be happy about it as well.


Cambridge 79, Brockton 68

CB 12 24 18 25 --- 79
BR 21 14 6 27 --- 68



Top Performers:
Cambridge – Isaiah McLeod (34 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals)
Cambridge – Tevin Charles (17 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists)
Cambridge – Marcus Collins (10 points, 8 rebounds)
Brockton – Jonathan Duvivier (18 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists)
Brockton – Kiano Monteiro (5 points, 6 assists, 2 steals)
Brockton – Garrison Duvivier (14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks)
We updated our statewide MIAA Top 25 boys basketball poll last night. To view it, CLICK HERE.

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

Shamrock Shake-up: After nearly a month away, Bishop Feehan, a preseason Top 20 selection, has made its return to the poll at No. 24 after sweeping Durfee and clinching at least a share of the Eastern Athletic Conference title. Let by dynamic juniors Mike Nelson and Frank Oftring, the Shamrocks are a favorite in Division 2 South, where they are looking to grab the No. 1 overall seed for the second straight season.

Grey Ghosts debut: Westford Academy is making its first appearance in the poll of the 2014-15 season. The Grey Ghosts are off to a strong start in the Dual County League, with their only two losses coming to No. 2 Cambridge.

Still the ones: Two-time defending MIAA Division 1 state champion Putnam remains the No. 1 team in the land, a spot they've held since March 2013. They've won six straight in dominant fashion since the loss to Corona Del Sol (Ariz.) at last month's Hoophall Classic, and next week it will have been two full years since they last lost to an in-state opponent. Rounding out the top five are Cambridge (2), Newton North (3), Catholic Memorial (4) and Danvers (5).
We updated our statewide MIAA Top 25 boys basketball poll before this evening's slate of games. To view it, CLICK HERE.

(NOTE: Monday's results were not factored into team records)

The next poll update will be on Monday, Jan. 13.

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

Putnam stays on top: Two-time defending Division 1 state champ Putnam holds on to the top spot in the land after narrowly escaping Chicopee High with a 61-60 win, in which they rallied from down four with 36 seconds to go. The top five remains unchanged, with Putnam at the top spot followed by Andover (2), Cambridge (3), Newton North (4) and Catholic Memorial (5). The only significant movement this week is at the bottom half of the poll, which saw Bishop Feehan drop all the way out from No. 17 after a loss to Walpole.

Franklin checks in: Only one team makes its season debut this week. Franklin, off to a 4-2 start, comes in at No. 25 for its first appearance since the final poll of the 2013-14 season.

As always, here's how the poll breaks down by league affiliation:

Boston City - 3
Hockomock - 3
Merrimack Valley - 3
Bay State - 2
Big Three - 2
Catholic Conference - 2
Northeastern - 2
Dual County - 1
Central Mass. Conference - 1
Greater Boston - 1
Middlesex - 1
Patriot - 1
Suburban - 1
Valley League - 1
Valley Wheel - 1

Video: Recapping Shooting Touch Shootout

December, 28, 2014
12/28/14
2:23
AM ET
MEDFORD, Mass. -- Legendary power St. Anthony (N.J.) remained unbeaten in Massachusetts all-time with its 77-35 win over St. John's Prep on Saturday night, closing down the first day of the Shooting Touch Shootout at the Cousens Gymnasium on the campus of Tufts University.

ESPN Boston High Schools editor Brendan Hall breaks down the day's marquee matchup, offers some thoughts on the first month of the MIAA basketball season, and gives a farewell to Shooting Touch, which is discontinuing the event after an admirable four-year run.

(Video by Greg Story)

St. Anthony vs. St. John Prep Recapa from ESPN Boston on Vimeo.

McLeod, Dottin lead dynamic Cambridge backcourt

December, 23, 2014
12/23/14
4:11
PM ET
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The scoreboard in Bedford High School’s gymnasium read 16 seconds.

Sophomore guard Jakigh Dottin skied for a defensive rebound, pivoted immediately after hitting the ground, and burst down the floor. He split two defenders with his dribble around half court, got into the opposing team’s paint, left his feet, and dropped a no-look pass to his left that hit his running mate Isaiah McLeod in stride for an easy layup.

The scoreboard read 11 seconds.

That basket capped off an emphatic run at the end of the second quarter of Cambridge’s third victory this season, as the Falcons blazed past Bedford to win 95-68.

It’s one thing to be fast, but Cambridge Rindge & Latin (4-0) may have the most dangerous backcourt in the state because Dottin and McLeod are almost always on the same page.

This is Jakigh’s second season as the Falcons’ primary point guard, while 6-foot-1 senior Isaiah McLeod is one of the most accomplished players in the rich history of Cambridge’s basketball program.

Yet these two hometown kids have played together for several years at different levels, and that may be why they know each other’s tendencies on the court.

“Most of the time if I’m going full speed down the court I try to locate Isaiah and get him the ball,” said Jakigh. “We work on that chemistry in practice, when we play pickup, and in games. My primary focus is always getting him the ball in positions to score.”

McLeod, an ESPN Boston All-State selection and the MVP of the Greater Boston League last season, credits Jakigh’s distributing ability as part of his recent success.

As Jakigh’s uncle and Falcons head coach Lance Dottin can attest, having two talented guards has been invaluable to the program.

“We needed Isaiah to score more, and taking him off the ball provided that opportunity. Jakigh is a natural facilitator, so they complimented each other well” said Dottin.

The coach continued, “Their relationship has developed over the years. Isaiah being the older of the two, he’s a guy that Jakigh looks up to, and wants to model himself after, but there was a bit of a trial period last year. Isaiah was the elder spokesperson, and at times they might’ve clashed, but I think overall they have a great deal of respect for each other and what they bring to the table.”

Born For This

Both of these players have lived in Cambridge their whole lives, and said they looked up to the varsity basketball players growing up.

McLeod’s father, Tony, was a guard on the Falcons’ 1981 state championship team, and played alongside Patrick Ewing. Jakigh’s uncle was also part of a state championship team (in 1986), and his nephew has been itching for an opportunity to add to his family’s legacy in Cambridge.

“I’ve been around the program my whole life, basically since kindergarten,” said Jakigh. “I really feel I was born for this. Since I was younger, I went to [coach Dottin’s] practices, knew all the players, and I was expected to come right in and make an impact, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Already six feet tall and extremely athletic, Jakigh made that impact by averaging 8.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists during his freshman season. For better or worse, his uncle has been there with him through every step of his growth as a ball player.

“He treats me a little differently from the rest of the team,” Jakigh said about his coach. “He expects more from me, but not in a bad way necessarily, because it might make me better in the long run.”

Dottin admitted, “There were some growing pains last year, but as I always tell my nephew, ‘this is a marathon, not a sprint.’”

He continued, “Jakigh’s physically gifted, but for us, it’s about having him grow and mature as a point guard, because there is a lot of criticism and responsibility that goes along with being the point since you're essentially an extension of the bench.”

Dottin heaped praise on McLeod, who he said has been a staple of the program over the last few years. The Southern Connecticut State signee averaged 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and two steals per game last season. He’s excelling once again this year, as he paced Cambridge to a win at Bedford with a game-high 32 points.

“I have so much respect for Isaiah,” Dottin said. “He’s a kid that’s completely bought in to our program, he’s done all the things we’ve asked him to do, and when you look at the final product, you see an outstanding young man.”

He may be more guarded when lauding his nephew, but the 19-year head coach seems to feel that both of these guards are destined for greatness.

“Both of them work as hard as anyone we’ve had in this program, and we’ve had some really great players,” said Dottin. “These two really fall into that mold in that they never take a day off, and you can see the product of their work ethic on the court.”

Speed Kills

Bedford and Cambridge were tied at 13 after one quarter last Friday night, but then the No. 3 team in ESPN Boston’s preseason polls seemed to flip a switch.

The Falcons went to a full-court zone press, forcing Bedford to commit eight turnovers as they opened the second quarter on a 13-0 run.

“We can wear down on teams with our press, and get them out of their comfort zone,” said McLeod. “That’s the way we want to play. We’re a fast team. We like to get the ball and go, so when we can cause turnovers it helps us get our offense going too.”

The success of that pressure began in training camp, where the Falcons begin each practice by sliding their feet with hands behind their backs in a 'zig-zag' drill.

Of course, when you increase the tempo, you have to be well conditioned, and McLeod somehow managed to play at high level without coming out of the game until late in the fourth quarter at Bedford.

“We focus in the summer on getting our bodies ready for the season so we don’t get tired during those late-game situations,” said McLeod.

Jakigh agreed, “Those workouts help out a lot. Coach says tired in just a state of mind, and he’s right. It’s your mind telling you to stop, but your body can keep going as long as you put the work in to prepare.”

Going Out On Top

Cambridge is one of the most storied programs in the state, but the Falcons are going through a bit of a down period by their standards.

Central Catholic bounced them from the second round of the state tournament in each of the last two seasons, but Jakigh and McLeod feel this year’s team is ready to make the next step.

“We’re a very athletic team,” said McLeod. “We’ve got kids that are fast, strong, and can jump out the gym, but we’ve got to work on our communication. There are times when we’re not matched up correctly and give up open shots.”

The Falcons allowed Bedford to shoot just under 50 percent from downtown, as the Buccaneers hit 15 threes last Friday, but shored up their defense by holding Westford Academy to just 51 points in their next contest.

“When we get into situations where someone loses an assignment and we start arguing with each other, it’s just like ‘why?’" wondered Jakigh. “What we need to do is work on avoiding those breakdowns altogether.”

The sophomore continued, “Looking at our personnel, you wonder how anyone can stay in front of us. It’s like we have an army, and if you take one of us out then someone else is ready to step up. There are no weak links. Everybody plays their role, and they’re damn good at it.”

For McLeod, there is added incentive to get over the hump in his senior season.

“It would mean the world to me,” McLeod said about going out on top with a state championship. “Going out in the second round these last two years was tough, but we’ve worked too hard to go out too early in the tournament this year. If we listen to coach and play hard, we’re going to make a deep run. We’re the only ones who could stop ourselves.”

Concord-Carlisle takes over boys' soccer No. 1

October, 22, 2014
10/22/14
2:01
PM ET
There is a new No. 1 in our MIAA boys' soccer Top 20 poll with just one update remaining before the start of the playoffs. Concord-Carlisle, which has been less No. 2 than No. 1A in recent weeks, jumps up one spot after another comprehensive victory on Tuesday over Cambridge. The Patriots have now recorded 13 clean sheets in 14 games and have only allowed two goals all season. The perennial Division 2 power has dominated like the best team in the state should over the course of the season and, thanks to a small slip by Needham, takes the top spot.

The drop is slightly unfair to Needham, which also is less of a No. 2 than a No. 1A, because of the Rockets' overall strength of schedule in the deep Bay State Conference. Two draws against Top 20 squad Framingham and a draw with Top 10 BC High are the only blemishes on the record, but with Concord-Carlisle continuing to stay perfect the Rockets take a tiny drop.

There were several losses in the middle of the rankings, but not a lot of movement. Sutton fell to Algonquin but stayed at No. 11 then the Tomahawks lost the next day to Wachusett, which enters the rankings at No. 17, but remained at No. 9. Despite a second defeat to New Bedford, Brockton stayed put at No. 10 ahead its second meeting with BC High on Thursday.

There were three additions to the rankings this week. Wachusett's aforementioned win over Algonquin earns it a spot along with reigning Division 3 champion Belchertown, which enters at No. 19, and No. 20. Wellesley, which has taken the lead in the Bay State's Herget division. Duxbury moves into the Last 10 Out after three straight losses, as does Minnechaug after a loss to Ludlow, and Lexington after a slip-up on Tuesday.

For this week's complete poll, click HERE.

(Editor's note: Records are as of Tuesday, Oct. 21.)

Conference Breakdown:
Bay State - 3
Big Three - 2
Catholic Conference - 2
DCL - 2
Midland - 2
Patriot - 2
ACL - 1
Cape Ann - 1
Churchill - 1
Dual Valley - 1
Hockomock - 1
Smith - 1
TVL - 1

Our 2014 Summer Football Primer

July, 8, 2014
7/08/14
11:52
AM ET
Don't look now, but the first day of MIAA football practices is just 40 days away. Per our tradition every summer, ESPN Boston High Schools editors Brendan C. Hall and Scott Barboza whet your appetite for the gridiron with some players on the rise, surprise teams to watch, top teams and some food for thought.

Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


FIVE PLAYERS ON THE RISE

Drew Jean-Guillaume, Sr. QB/DB, Shepherd Hill
With a powerful frame and impressive speed honed during track and field season, Jean-Guillaume is a throwback-type option quarterback, a converted running back who’s as adept at powering through defenders as he is at evading or blowing by them. The Rams will be heavy favorites in Division 4, and Jean-Guillaume will have plenty of room to work behind a reportedly heavy line led by Boston College commit Chris Lindstrom.

Mekhi Henderson, Soph. DB, Xaverian
In a defense full of household names, Henderson is one of the Hawks’ brightest young stars. Often last season, he was left on an island against an opponent’s top target, and often he held his own. With his coverage skills and raw ability, the coaching staff has a luxury to get creative in the secondary.

Shane Combs, Sr. ATH, St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
It’s assumed that Combs, a Notre Dame baseball commit and ESPN Boston All-State selection during the spring, will take the reins at quarterback from last year’s Mr. Football finalist Drew Smiley. The Missouri transplant was one of the state’s most productive rushers during the playoffs, going over the century mark in all five postseason contests as the Pioneers reached the Division 2 state final.

Mike Maggipinto, Jr. RB, East Longmeadow
Somewhat quietly, the 5-foot-5 scatback eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark last year for the Spartans, running behind a great blocking scheme that continued to find unique ways to get him in space. Between Maggipinto and Plymouth North’s Christian Carr, this could be the year of the pint-sized running back.

Jahkari Carpenter, Sr. RB, Doherty
Among the area’s most elusive, Carpenter was a weekly highlight reel during the Highlanders’ run to the Division 4 state title, with runs like THIS, or THIS, or THIS. Junior Tavian Vassar is expected to have a bigger role in the backfield this year, which could make for an imposing thunder-and-lightning combination.

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Billerica
The Indians hit a home run this offseason with the hiring of Duane Sigsbury as their new head coach, though they are considered a year or two away. Still, Sigsbury is one of the area’s brightest offensive minds, with a track record of making programs relevant in a hurry (see: Boston Cathedral). Similar to his other stops, there are already some terrific talents coming up the pipe.

Boston English
The Blue and Blue made history last fall to end Brian Vaughn’s first season at the helm, beating Boston Latin for the first time since 1997. Now, with dynamic dual threat Emmanuel Almonte leading the offense, they’ll look to continue last year’s momentum.

Cambridge
Long considered a powder keg for skill talent, head coach Ryan Saulnier has tapped into it, and found a lot of success running his brand of spread offense in his first season last fall. With Marcus Collins returning under center, and a new home in the Dual County League, the Falcons ought to be one of the most entertaining teams to watch in Division 2 North.

Leominster
Blue Devils graduated one of their most talented classes ever, but this is a program built to reload, not rebuild, under a great offensive mind in Dave Palazzi. Defensive coordinator Charlie Raff left to take over at Oakmont, but in his place comes former North Middlesex coach John Margarita. It’s too early – not to mention, lofty – to make any Neil O’Connor comparisons yet, but keep an eye on sophomore Noah Gray this fall.

Springfield Central
Similar to Leominster, the Golden Eagles have many holes to fill on the heels of its most successful season in school history. But they should have a solid defense again, led by lineman Kaleb Hunter-Sams, and the coaching staff should get a boost from the addition of former Putnam head coach Bill Watson.

Hall's Preseason Top 10:

[+] EnlargeJoe Gaziano
Brendan Hall/ESPNESPN Boston's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Northwestern commit Joe Gaziano, leads a stacked Xaverian defense.
1. Xaverian
Little drama here as to who’s the top dog. With a star-studded defense that includes the likes of Northwestern commit Joe Gaziano, ESPN Boston’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2013; linebackers Noah Sorrento, Kenny Kern and D’Aundre Holmes; and defensive backs Damion Wood and Mekhi Henderson; as well as a potent running game behind UMass-bound tackle Joe Parsons, and an innovative playmaker in quarterback Jake Farrell; the Hawks figure to start the year No. 1 in many polls.

2. Everett
Crimson Tide are licking their chops after a disappointing end to 2013 season, and as usual they reload with some of the most gifted skill players in the area. The interesting question is how they’ll fit Boston College-bound cornerback Lukas Denis into the offense; originally slotted as the successor to Jonathan DiBiaso at quarterback before injuries derailed his sophomore season in 2012, Denis showed flashes of brilliance in a multitude of positions last year.

3. Central Catholic
The Raiders’ featured one of the state’s best defenses a year ago in their D1 state title run, and they’ll be held in high regard again thanks to linebacker Markus Edmunds and safety Mike Balsamo, who is fielding multiple Division 1 FCS offers at the moment. Also keep an eye on Matt Milano, who was statistically one of the state’s most productive quarterbacks in the playoffs last year.

4. Mansfield
The Hornets dramatically altered their offense on the fly late in the season following a season-ending injury to wideout Brendan Hill, and it worked out as they took the D2 state title. A fully healthy Hill and another year of running back Miguel Villar-Perez, one of last fall’s most pleasant revelations, should make the Hornets the favorite in a tough D2 South.

5. Bridgewater-Raynham
Trojans always get the benefit of the doubt for their powerful running game and their “anyone, anywhere, anytime” approach to scheduling, and they’ll be a force again with Brandon Gallagher returning at tailback. But the question is whether the Trojans can sustain momentum and avoid last year’s fate, when they reached No. 1 in our statewide poll early, only to sputter in the second half.

6. Shepherd Hill
In short, Boston College-bound offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom Jr. is a force. But the fact that he is the Rams’ most dominant, yet possibly their lightest, should tell you something about what to expect in 2014. They’re arguably Central Mass.’s most talented team this fall, and while there’s a couple other heavy hitters contending in D4 – Holliston, Dennis-Yarmouth and Wahconah, for starters – these guys are my odds-on favorite. Look for them to put up a ton of rushing yards in head coach Chris Lindstrom Sr.’s double wing scheme.

7. Lowell
The Red Raiders made one of the biggest statements of the playoffs last fall in blanking St. John’s Prep 41-0 in the first round of the D1 North tournament. Syracuse commit Shyheim Cullen was exceptional at interior gap blitzes, baiting and confusing potential blockers to create chaos up the middle, and he’ll lead a talented defense that includes linebacker Nicolau Coury and defensive back Theo Bryant.

8. St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Boston College-bound free safety Davon Jones is one of several early candidates for Defensive Player of the Year after recording 125 tackles and eight picks a year ago. Offensive coordinator Chris Moriarty is as creative as they come, and how he utilizes Jones and athlete Shane Combs in the offense will be one of the more interesting storylines of the season’s earlygoings.

9. Brockton
We’re still in wait-and-see mode after another season of unrealized expectations in Brockton, but it’s hard to deny the talent the Boxers have coming back. Keep an eye on Boston College-bound lineman Aaron Monteiro, who has some raw potential and a powerful frame at 6-foot-6 and nearly 300 pounds.

10. Dennis-Yarmouth
Division 1 recruit Michael Dunn lined up at nearly every offensive position last year for the Dolphins in their run to the D4 state final, and he may very well do it again. Defensively, this kid is a treat, regarded as one of the state’s premier shutdown corners. As usual, Paul Funk’s frenetic read option scheme will be a tall task to keep up with.

Others to Watch: Attleboro, Barnstable, BC High, Doherty, Holliston, Marblehead, Oliver Ames, Plymouth North, Pope John Paul II, St. John’s Prep, St. Peter-Marian, Tewksbury, Wahconah, Walpole

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

1. Spread offense has been the growing trend in Massachusetts over the last decade, and we’re now seeing its influence at all levels of the game. But at the other end of the spectrum, we’re seeing more and more teams dip into playbooks from decades and decades ago for some wild success in the running game. We’ve romanticized Nauset’s Single Wing offense for years. At Holy Name, Mike Pucko dug into Dutch Meyer’s World War II-era playbook and installed a fullback-less “Triple Wing” offense for the Naps’ Thanksgiving contest with Milford, a game they won 35-14. Last year’s D5 West Final featured a Pistol Flex Bone (Hoosac Valley) versus a Wishbone (Easthampton). Tewksbury, last year’s D3 state champ, calls running plays out of an encyclopedia of formations from every family of offense. Factor in all of the traditional Double Wing success stories like Shepherd Hill, Holy Name and Somerset-Berkley, too. Running offense continues to diversify in this corner of the country, and if you’re an X’s and O’s junkie like me, you are having a blast watching it.

2. LSU took some negative backlash last fall when they received a verbal commitment from a freshman early in his season after an apparently intense summer of recruitment from a number of SEC schools, but this doesn’t appear to be a trend going away any time soon. Early offers are still fairly uncommon for football prospects in this part of the country, though it’s worth noting St. Sebastian’s incoming sophomore Blake Gallagher received an offer from Nebraska last month. Beyond the concerns about pressure and bloated expectations, the biggest question I have is this: What if the recruit stops growing, or has just peaked earlier than his peers? I’m interested to see if Maryland head coach Randy Edsall’s proposals for recruiting reform gain any traction. Among other things, his plan stipulates schools can’t make a written offer until a player’s senior year, and that the offer must come with permission from the school’s admissions department.

3. I’m on record as saying I hope the true state championship format the MIAA rolled out last year is here to stay, but I’m also in favor of giving it some tweaks. First and foremost, get rid of the second automatic qualifier for leagues. Weak leagues were rewarded at the expense of teams like Medway and Pope John Paul II, teams who finished with winning records in qualification period but were pushed all the way out of the eight-team field in their respective divisions to satisfy undeserved automatic berths. Leagues should be restricted to one automatic qualifier, or two if it is a two-tier league. I also question whether a seven-game regular season is enough of a window to properly gauge a team’s strength. Expanding to an eight-game season and starting it on Labor Day Weekend could satisfy that, and could be a good gate opportunity for many schools as well.

***

Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


FIVE PLAYERS ON THE RISE

Michael Balsalmo, Sr. RB/FS, Central Catholic
A standout on the Raiders’ Division 1 championship season a year ago, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder holds a couple of offers (Bryant, Wofford) entering the season. Here’s better there will be more to follow.

Christian Carr, Sr. RB, Plymouth North
For what Carr might lack in stature, he makes up for in elusiveness. A consistent 100-yard-per-game rusher in his junior season, he broke out with a 351-yard performance in the Eagles’ playoff win against Dighton-Rehoboth.

Jake Gibb, Jr. QB, Stoughton
In his first season under center, Gibb led the Knights to the Division 3 South final before falling to Plymouth South. Gibb will have them contending for the Davenport division title again.

Kyle Murphy, Jr. OL/DL, Attleboro
The two-way lineman was a driving force behind the Blue Bombardiers’ breakout season last year. It’s only a matter of time before the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder starts getting colleges’ attention.

James Sullivan, Sr. RB/S, Tewksbury
Sullivan announced himself to a statewide audience on the biggest stage last year, racking up 125 yards and three touchdowns in the Redmen’s win over Plymouth South in the Division 3 state title game. With graduations, Sullivan will take on an even bigger role this year.

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Braintree
The Bay State Carey should again be one of the more interesting races to watch across the state this year, and the Wamps might be primed to take a big step forward after last year’s 4-7 mark. One to watch is inside linebacker Derek Anson, who’s only added to his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame.

Doherty
The Highlanders were historically good in 2013, capturing their first state title while beating Dennis-Yarmouth for the Division 4 championship. Although several key contributors have graduated, they can still make a run

Natick
It might not be the aerial display we’ve seen in recent years with Troy Flutie at quarterback, but the Redhawks will be one worth watching as Brian Dunlap returns from a season missed due to injury (Lisfranc fracture) last year.

Quincy
After a 7-4 campaign last season, are the Presidents ready to challenge for the Patriot Keenan title? With promising running back Jhave Handsom-Fields (8 TD as a sophomore) and quarterback James Lam returning, the time could be now.

Somerset-Berkley
The Raiders return a big class of juniors, including feature back Chip Wood back in the fold and Jacob Cabana rushing off the edge. Another EAC title could be in the cards.

Barboza's Preseason Top 10:

1. Xaverian
The Hawks will have some questions to answer on offense, but deserve the top spot on defense alone, with Defensive Player of the Year Joe Gaziano returning along with the state’s best secondary group.

2. Central Catholic
The Raiders peaked at precisely the right time last year, capturing the first true statewide Division 1 title. Some of their biggest playmakers have graduated, but Michael Balsamo’s primed for a breakout year.

3. Everett
The Crimson Tide are undoubtedly still smarting over last year’s home playoff loss to Central Catholic. We all know what that means.

4. Bridgewater-Raynham
Here’s betting tight end/defensive end Connor Reagan is one of next year’s breakout performers.

5. St. John’s (S)
You never know what you’re getting from the Pioneers’ offense game to game, and it’ll be intriguing to see how the group develops this season. But you have to like any group with athletes of ilk of Shane Combs and Davon Jones.

6. Lowell
I’ll take my chances with the linebacking corps the Red Raiders have returning, anchored by Shyheim Cullen and Nicolau Coury.

7. Brockton
The Boxers will not be pushed around inside the tackle box, with perhaps the biggest returning offensive line in the state, including Aaron Monteiro (6-6, 300) and Uzziah Hilliard (6-0, 280)

8. Mansfield
Mike Redding will come up with creative schemes to avoid Brendan Hill being double-teamed on both sides of the ball. Connor Finerty will also look to expand on a promising sophomore season.

9. Dennis-Yarmouth
The Dolphins fell just shy of the Div. 4 state title in a riveting matchup with Doherty. They might not be denied this year.

10. Tewksbury
The Redmen might not match the size and physicality of last year’s state championship squad, but having James Sullivan in the backfield is still enough to win.

Others to watch: Arlington, Attleboro, Billerica, BC High, Holliston, Leominster, Oliver Ames, Shepherd Hill, Stoughton, Wahconah, Walpole.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

1. The football playoff system is here to stay – well, at the very least for two more years. While there are still pockets of dissent, the sentiment across the state is that the first year determining true state champions across six divisions was a success. It even drew over some who’d been opposed to the playoff proposal originally and voted against the measure. The build up and drama of the first seven weeks leading up the start of the tournament brought a different dimension of intrigue to the season. Still, detractors remain and, as Brendan ruminated earlier in this feature, there’s still room for improvement regarding the means of automatic qualifiers and the discrepancies that exist between the respective athletic conferences’ rubrics – including, most importantly, the weight of league games. But with one year in the books, I declare the system to be a success. Now, let’s start tweaking the framework.

2. Which brings me to my next point: get rid of Thanksgiving. This is going to be a highly unpopular opinion in some neck of the woods, but it’s simply a reality of what’s put in front of us. At the end of last season, I talked to many athletic directors who complained about a diminished gate return from their Thanksgiving Day games. That’s a natural feedback of the playoff system – which in some place requires teams to “double up” with their Thankgiving rivals. In change, that has deemphasized the pomp and circumstance surrounding Turkey Day. As a result, that left some Thanksgiving Day matchups to resemble more of an exhibition game in tone – althought don’t tell that to St. John’s Prep and Xaverian, or Foxborough and Mansfield. The result is a hodgepodge of situations that follow teams into what used to be the biggest day of the regular-season football calendar: ie a non-playoff team vs. a team that’s bound for a championship game, or two teams who are playing out the string on a season that’s already ended. I counter those scenario’s are really no different than what existed in the year B.P. (Before Playoffs), but the current arrangement has only emphasized was already apparent – Thanksgiving is an exhibition. Minus the Catholic Conference or Merrimack Valley Conference duels which resulted in playoff berths in previous years, Thanksgiving largely was such. Only now have the detractors used the playoff system to highlight the faults in Thanksgiving Day that already existed. What Thanksgiving Day has always been about is the rivalry. I ventured to North Attleborough last year when the Red Rocketeers (already eliminated from the playoffs) hosted Attleboro (who were just eliminated the previous week in the sectional final). The scene was what you’d become accustomed to – with an overflow crowd at Community Field. They were all there to watch an exhibition game. Why not make that game mean something more again? Why not play the game before the first frost?

D1 North: Central Catholic 53, Cambridge 50

February, 28, 2014
2/28/14
11:38
PM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- It had everything one would expect from a state tournament game: intensity, physicality, and a touch of last minute heroics.

With 30 seconds to go and the score tied at 48, Central Catholic’s Tyler Nelson came off a perimeter screen and knocked down a three-pointer to put his team ahead.

Coming out of a timeout, Cambridge’s Isiah McLeod hit a quick layup to cut the lead down to one. After another timeout, Central inbounded the ball to Nelson, who was fouled. He hit both to make it a three-point game.

Cambridge had one last possession to tie the game. It looked to get the ball to Demetrius Woodson, who had already hit three three-pointers in the second half. Fredens Deneus held the ball, waiting for Woodson to get open. As he struggled to find space, Deneus threw the ball into the backcourt where it was picked up and dribbled away by Central’s Nick Cambio. The clock ran down and Central came away with a 53-50 victory to move on to the Division 1 North semifinals.

“We knew it was going to be an incredibly tough game and we knew it was going to be a physical game,” said Central Catholic coach Rick Nault. “Fortunately for us, we made some nice plays at the end with Nick Cambio (13 points) and Tyler Nelson (27 points, 7 rebounds), our two captains carrying us in key moments of the game.

"They’ve been through these wars before, they’ve played in big games, and they’ve been through the tournament runs so we rely on them to make plays when the game is on the line, and they absolutely did that tonight.”

The game was back and forth the entire night. Even going into halftime, Central (19-5) had a two-point lead, but Jakigh Dottin (13 points) hit a runner in the lane to tie it at 18 going into the break.

Cambridge (16-6) took the lead midway through the fourth quarter when a Deneus steal lead to an easy layup for McLeod (13 points) at the other end. Central answered with a basket of its own on its next possession.

The two teams traded free throws until Nelson his a three from the right corner to make it 47-44. McLeod was fouled driving to the basket, so he went to the line and made both free throws to cut the lead down to one.

The teams each took turns at the free throw line, seemingly losing that physical let-them-play the referees allowed earlier in the game.

Aaron Hall, Central’s starting center, fouled out of the game with 57 seconds to go. Deneus made one of two free throws, but Dottin got the rebound and a outback to tie the game at 48.

Nelson hit the three-pointer and Central is on to the semi-finals.

Cambio comes through: Cambio was held scoreless the entire first half, which is uncommon. Usually, Central looks to establish he and Aaron Hall (8 points, 4 rebounds) early in the paint with various post-ups and pick and roll actions. In the first half Friday, he was not allowed to establish position in the post and his team’s offensive performance suffered because of it.

Nault tried to light a fire under his co-captain at halftime, and the senior responded with a 13-point second half.

“We had a little talk at halftime and challenged him to be more assertive and stop fading away,” said the coach. “It seemed like in the first half, he seemed very tentative and fading away and taking jumpers. We told him you have to dominate that paint in the second half and he absolutely did that.”

Central opened the second half with Cambio isolated on the low block against Deneus (2 points, 12 rebounds). He received entry passes from the guards and either challenge his man one-on-one or pass out and look for a better opportunity. It helped that the referees were allowing each player to attempt to establish position underneath, which lead to a physical battle for paint supremacy.

“I missed every single shot I took in the first half,” said Cambio. “At halftime, he gave it to me and got me going a little. I just had to go out and execute for my team because I was not losing this game tonight.”

Rematch with Prep on tap: Central moves on to play St. John’s Prep in the semifinals of the Division 1 North tournament. It is another rematch from the regular season. In the first meeting on Feb. 9, Central won 63-60 in a hotly-contested thriller. This time the game will be played on a neutral floor where the loser’s season ends.

“Next game is going to be a crazy game, I can’t wait for it,” said Cambio. “It’s going to be a battle. Harder battle than this game, I can tell you that.”

St. John’s Prep defeated Lowell Friday, 74-67, for the right to advance.

“We’ve beat them before, but we can’t go into the game saying hey we beat them, so we’re going to beat them again,” said Nelson. “We know we have to prepare. They have a grew starting five, they have a great bench. They’re well-coached. We really have to come out and play better than we did tonight.”

Video: Recapping Presidents Day Roundball Classic

February, 17, 2014
2/17/14
11:54
PM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- Host school Central Catholic won the inaugural Presidents Day Roundball Classic, presented by ESPN Boston, after fending off Cambridge late for a 66-57 win at Memorial Gymnasium. Hot-handed senior guard Tyler Nelson took home Tournament MVP honors after an impressive two-game scoring stretch.

Correspondent Mike Riley discusses the tournament, and projects the wide-open Division 1 North field, with ESPN Boston High Schools editor Brendan C. Hall:

Roundball: No. 7 Cambridge 74, New Bedford 46

February, 16, 2014
2/16/14
8:39
PM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. -– Cambridge outscored New Bedford by 21 in the second half to cruise to a 74-46 win in the first semifinal at the Roundball Classic at Central Catholic.

“I didn't think we did a great job of rebounding or defending in the first half,” Cambridge coach Lance Dottin said. “I wanted to make sure we emphasized that coming out of the locker room in the second half, and then we were able to get some fast break opportunities against their press.”

The Falcons shut down the Whalers early in the second half, blowing a nine-point halftime lead out to 13 quick and putting the pedal down.

Junior center Fredens Deneus (17 points, 13 rebounds) crushed on both ends of the floor, while Demetrius Woodson buried four 3-pointers en route to 17 points from the guard spot. Junior shooting guard Isaiah McLeod added 10 points.

“I just thought that the kids did a good job of executing,” Dottin said. “We were able to get the ball inside a little late with Eric [Smith-Sokol] and Fredens which was nice. It was nice to see those guys get those opportunities.”

The Whalers were unable to deal with the Falcons size. Cambridge held double-digit rebound advantage for the bulk of the game. On the defensive end, Falcon rebounds opened up the transition game and allowed the guards to flourish.

“It improves the team's chemistry even more,” Woodson said. “We can keep focusing and get everybody touches. In practice we try to keep spacing the defense out, get better shots, and create post plays.”

The Whalers offensive rolled as junior guard Quincy Pope did. Pope pumped in 16 points and pulled down six rebounds, but he didn't get much help around him. Dillon Kuehne had eight points for the Whalers, and Jaleal Massey added six points of his own.

While New Bedford's guards did damage, Woodson and McLeod always had an answer. The duo combined for six three-point baskets and moved the ball quickly with ease.

“I've played with him my whole life,” McLeod said. “We started [in] AAU together. It's pretty easy; we got good chemistry.”

DURABLE DIANDRE
Sometimes the most important parts of an engine are the parts you can't see. While Deneus was dominating the lane and Woodson was raining baskets, Diandre Shouder-Williams kept the motor running.

Shouder-Williams played for most of the game and put up 10 points and nine rebounds.

“Diandre is sort of our Mr. consistency,” Dottin said. “The other night he had 17 and 13. He's a guy that comes in and plays every single night. He's a very good basketball player.”

Having another big body in the paint will certainly help the Falcons as it goes for the tournament title today against Central Catholic.

“I love playing with Diandre,” Deneus said. “He grabs rebounds with me, he's got a pull-up game; he's the whole package. If he keeps working he could be something special.”

MONDAY NIGHT MAYHEM
To say that Division 1 North is a mess would be an understatement. Central, Cambridge, St. John's Prep, Everett, and others will be in the hunt for the top seed in a crowded tournament.

Tonight's final will go a long way in terms of seeding for the North section as well as potentially provide a boost for the Falcons.

“Tomorrow night is certainly a big challenge,” Dottin said. “It's not like we don't know both of them; I've seen both of them over the course of the year. It's good for us. We need this challenge going into the tournament.”

Against New Bedford, the Falcons came out flat but were able to rebound. Another early stumble like that will be punished by Central's speed and athleticism.

“We got to play better than today,” Woodson said. “We had a few errors that we could have did better, especially defensively.”

Presidents Day Roundball Classic set

February, 11, 2014
2/11/14
1:24
AM ET
Central Catholic High is presenting its inaugural Presidents Day Roundball Classic, presented by ESPNBoston.com, this weekend.

The boys' basketball teams from BC High, Cambridge, NewBedford and the host Raiders will compete in a two-day tournament.

Here's a look at this weekend's event, and, of course, stayed tuned this weekend for tournament coverage:

Sunday, Feb. 16:
3:00 - Cambridge Rindge & Latin vs New Bedford
5:00 - BC High vs Central Catholic

Monday, Feb. 17:
5:30 - consolation game
7:00 - Championship Game

Tournament Features:
- $1,000 scholarship awarded to 1 member of each team
- Nike tourney sweatshirt and backpack for all players
- college officials will work all the games
- $500 half court shot will be attempted by a student fan in each of the 4 games.

Recap: No. 11 Everett 74, No. 13 Cambridge 63

January, 11, 2014
1/11/14
1:50
AM ET
EVERETT, Mass. –- It seemed as if whenever Cambridge made a run on Friday night, it was Everett’s ball pressure and high-octane offense that got the Crimson Tide the lead back.

Despite being down after three quarters, Everett (6-0) was able to overcome Greater Boston League rival Cambridge, 74-63, thanks to an outstanding second half from sophomore Ernie Chatman (16 points) and forward Gary Clark (15 points, 8 rebounds).

Trailing 42-36 at the beginning of the third quarter, it was Chatman -- playing with a hurt ankle -- who had a major hand in bringing the Crimson Tide back into the game. A flashy point guard with a quick crossover, Chatman nearly blew the roof off the gym when he crossed up a defender and finished an acrobatic lay-up early in the third. A few minutes later Chatman pulled up and swooshed a three-pointer from 28 feet out.

Chatman, who transferred to Everett from Boston English in the offseason, has had a smooth transition to the Crimson Tide program.

“[Ernie] has done well, the kids have accepted him," Everett coach John DiBiaso said. "We’ve got some great senior leadership -- our seniors are a great group. They wanted to build it to the next step, we went to the semis last year and our goal is to go a little bit further this year."

With his team down a point to Cambridge (4-2) after three quarters, Clark came up big for the Crimson Tide in the fourth, scoring 8 of his 12 second half points during a three-minute span in the final period. It came of little surprise to his coach.

“Gary’s one of the best players in the state. We’re very fortunate to have him, but the thing that epitomizes us is that we’re a team," DiBiaso said. "The scorebook says that about nine guys scored, you don’t see that in high school...It looks like an NBA box score."

With Clark sitting out injured in the first half, as well as Chatman struggling to move around at first on his hurt ankle, it was Everett’s depth that helped them stay in the game in the early going. Timmance McKinney (12 points), Rodwell Blanc, and Debrien Cora-Perez all managed to score, force turnovers in the halfcourt, as well as assert their power on the defensive glass.

“I thought it was our depth, we went 12 deep on the bench tonight. We had guys in foul trouble, we had guys hurt,” DiBiaso said. “Everybody I thought stepped up and came to play.”

Slowing down McLeod, Deneus: Cambridge point guard Isaiah McLeod and 6-foot-5 center Fredens Deneus have been as good as any inside-out punch in the MIAA this year. McLeod, a playmaking point guard who has taken on a primary scoring role for the Falcons, was contained to just 12 points -- with a couple of those baskets coming in garbage time at the end of the game.

“They’re a good team. [McLeod] is a good guard, they churn the momentum around, they broke the press and got some lay-ups, but to our credit we bounced back and stayed true to what we were trying to do," DiBiaso said. "We were going to press until the end and that wore them down at the end I thought."

The longtime coach at Everett, DiBiaso always enjoys playing Cambridge because of the talent that coach Lance Dottin’s Falcons always seem to bring to the table in the Greater Boston League (Cambridge is moving from the GBL into the Dual County League next season).

“The great part about having Cambridge in the league, they came in the [Greater Boston League] in 1991. It upped the ante for everybody; it made everybody in the league better," he said. "Before they came, teams were going to the tournament one-and-done because we didn’t play anybody during the season of their caliber. By having them in the league it raises the bar for everybody.”

Deneus (10 points, 13 rebounds), who has been drumming up plenty of interest from college coaches since the start of his senior season, was dominant on the glass despite a rather inconsistent offensive performance.

Athletic big men like Deneus come at a premium at the MIAA, but DiBiaso said that Deneus’ length, skill, and athleticism didn’t force Everett -- a team known for attacking the rim -- to change up its gameplan much offensively.

“All we said was that on offense we were going to take the ball right to him—we weren’t going to let him change the game,” DiBiaso said. “We were going to the basket, and I thought we did a good job of going to the basket."

BABC: Cambridge 78, No. 15 Springfield Central 46

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
8:40
PM ET
BOSTON -- From the opening tip-off on Friday afternoon, Cambridge made it very clear who had the upper hand.

Led by point guard Isaiah McLeod, big man Fredens Deneus (13 points, 12 rebounds) as well as Diandre Shoulder-Williams (14 points) and Tevin Charles (13 points, 8 rebounds), the Falcons (2-0) blew out Springfield Central (1-2) 78-46 at the BABC Holiday Classic.

This win came in similar fashion to Cambridge’s first win, a runaway 101-70 victory over West Roxbury last week.

“It’s definitely a satisfying win, it being so early in the season and playing against a quality opponent. That’s what I’m trying to express to these young men, that you want to play against the best competition,” Cambridge coach Lance Dottin said.

The Falcons’ swarming pressure defense left Springfield Central to scramble for baskets in the first half, Cambridge made a living off of forcing turnovers, playing the fast break, and converting lay-ups or free throws at the other end. Despite having a deep stable of guards who can shoot it from behind the arc, the Falcons only attempted four three-pointers.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Cambridge jumped out to a 37-11 halftime lead. It was all according to plan, according to Dottin.

“We just really wanted to spread the floor a little bit against Central and look to find the open man and advance the ball if we could," Dottin said. "So that we could take advantage of the numbers on the fast break.”

Baldwin vs. Deneus: One of the biggest storylines in this one was the play in the post, with the 6-foot-6 Deneus facing off against Central’s Chris Baldwin -- two of the top big men in the state. Deneus got the best of Baldwin for the most part, asserting himself as the most dominant rebounder on the floor while also finishing a few high-rising dunks and lay-ups.

Deneus wasn’t a prospect seen on the AAU circuit in July, leaving him flying under the radar. But with several top Division 3 as well as a few Division 2 programs recruiting him, Dottin sees his big man as a potential break-out star in the MIAA this year.

“I thought Fredens was sensational today. Fredens, in a lot of ways, is a best-kept secret. He’s a kid who in my opinion is a scholarship kid who maybe a few people missed the boat on, but as they come around this year they’ll see,” Dottin said. “Especially on the defensive end, for most great teams that’s where it starts, and Fredens is a great defensive player.”

Baldwin was unable to do much scoring for the Golden Eagles, but often managed to make his presence felt in other ways, totaling 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 blocks.

“They had a big presence in the middle, their big fella must have had five or six blocks -- he’s a good young player and he’s only going to get better,” Dottin said of Baldwin.

Be the best, beat the best: The game against Central is a warm-up for what would end up being Cambridge’s toughest game of the regular season: a showdown tomorrow afternoon at the BABC Holiday Classic with Putnam, the top-ranked team in the MIAA and last year’s Division 1 state champion.

“This weekend we get a chance to play against two of the better teams out of the west, so it’s definitely a good win for us. I just want to make sure, in our case, that we get better every day. There were times where we weren’t that good today, too many turnovers,” Dottin said. “I’m satisfied with the win, but we really need to get better.”

“Our schedule dictates to us that we’re gonna’ play the best, tomorrow we’re playing the defending state champs. For us, it’s a good win, but we feel like we could be even better.”

Top 10 performances from Thanksgiving football

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
2:04
PM ET
1. Troy Flutie, Sr. QB, Natick
Broke the state single-season passing touchdown record with a near-perfect day through the air, completing 16 of 20 passes for 263 yards and a record seven TDs, as the Redhawks beat Framingham 48-13. He is now the state’s single-season (47) and career (112) touchdown pass record holder.

2. Brooks Tyrrell, Jr. RB, Marblehead
Carried 25 times for 300 yards and six touchdowns in the Magicians’ 51-13 win over Swampscott.

3. Emmanuel Almonte, Jr. QB, Boston English
Threw game-winning touchdown pass with no time remaining, as the Blue and Blue upset Boston Latin, 14-12, for their first win over the Wolfpack since 1997. English had allowed 49 points per game in the three previous installments of this rivalry.

4. Conor Moriarty, Sr. RB, Walpole
Racked up 300 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just 10 carries, in the Rebels’ 48-14 win over Weymouth.

5. Peter Gallant, Sr. RB, Gardner
In the Wildcats’ 39-6 win over Oakmont, carried 23 times for 298 yards and two touchdowns, the highest single-game rushing total in series history.

6. Drew Belcher, Sr. QB, Reading
Totaled six touchdowns (three rushing, three passing) as the Rockets rallied from 24 points down in the final six minutes of regulation to beat Stoneham in triple overtime, 44-36.

7. Luke Morrison, Sr. TE/DE, Attleboro
Recorded five tackles for loss, including four sacks, in the Blue Bombardiers' 34-19 win over North Attleborough.

8. C.J. McCarthy, Sr. RB, North Reading
Carried 48 times for 276 yards and four touchdowns in the Hornets’ 42-35 thriller over Lynnfield.

9. Jeff Costello, Soph. QB, Lexington
Ran wild in the Minutemen’s 56-21 win over Burlington, totaling 197 rushing yards and five scores, and adding 169 yards and a score through the air on 10 of 19 passing.

10. Shaquille Anderson, Sr. RB, Cambridge
In the Falcons’ 41-7 rout of Somerville, carried 13 times for 209 yards and three scores, and added a 47-yard touchdown reception.

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