Boston High School: Darwin Pereyra
March, 10, 2011
By Brendan Hall | ESPNBoston.com
READING, Mass. -- Wednesday night at Reading Memorial High School's Hawkes Field House was the site of a few firsts for Lawrence High's boys basketball team.
In the immediate moments following the Lancers' 75-67 win over Lynn English (21-3) in a Division 1 North semifinal, star senior point guard Jaylen Alicea was carried off the floor for the first time by his rowdy, navy-clad classmates.
"Greatest feeling in the world," Alicea smiled. "I do it for them, and I do it for my teammates. I've never been to the Garden, never made it out of the first round. This is my first year doing this, and it feels great."
Minutes later, when everyone had a few moments to gather their thoughts and wrap their head around just how a No. 15 seed just punched its way to the D1 North finals at the TD Garden, where they'll face heavily-favored St. John's Prep, the Lancers (16-8) took a moment to reflect on the past. Friday will mark the Lancers' first appearance in the Garden since the 2005 D1 Eastern Mass final, when the Lancers lost to Newton North and its major college-ready backcourt of Anthony Gurley and Corey Lowe.
It was also the last game played by one of the Lancers' best guards in recent years, Hector Paniagua, who was shot and paralyzed weeks later. And for that, head coach Paul Neal told reporters he was about to reach out to Paniagua -- whom he called "one of the best players that I have ever coached at Lawrence High School" -- and invite him to be on the bench for Friday's final against St. John's Prep (he accepted).
Neal then made a comparison to reporters between the 5-foot-8 Paniagua and the Lancers' electric senior point guard, the 5-foot-8 Alicea -- "he was very similar to Jaylen" -- but reiterated that these wins have been "a players' decision. They decided they wanted to do the things they're good at, and keep it simple."
Most importantly of that note, this has been a wild coming-out party for the waterbug Alicea. He scored 16 points in the final frame (including a perfect 14 for 14 from the free throw line) to give him 30 points on the night, his third straight 30-point game of a playoff run that is about to go five games deep. In the last game, an 81-80 quarterfinal win over Westford, he had 38 points; the game before that and arguably the upset of the playoffs, an 82-78 first-round upset of Cambridge, he went off for 35.
This wasn't the Alicea fans came to know during the regular season, when the Lancers sputtered to a 12-8 campaign after being hyped as one of the Merrimack Valley Conference's preseason favorites. So what changed?
"He's leading, and I think in the regular season Jaylen was more interested in getting the crowd into it, getting ooh's and aah's," Neal said. "He was more interested in crossing over and hearing the crowd go 'Ooh', but he wouldn't go anywhere. He would take a pretty jump shot and pull his hand back, or you know, he would do something fancy.
"And we've been trying to get him to...just, 'Jaylen, there's nobody that can cover you on the court if you go hard. Forget the crossover, just blow by him.' You know, go to the rim and get to the basket. And he's done that. You look at the free throws, and he hardly took any during the first, maybe, 17 games."
Last night, meanwhile, he was a perfect 16 of 16 from the line, taking nasty spills after physical collisions around the rim with the Bulldogs' big men, senior Corey McMillen and junior Keandre Stanton (16 points, 11 rebounds, 10 blocks). And when he wasn't doing that, he was setting up big man Jesse Hiraldo (17 points, 12 rebounds) down low or running mates Darwin Pereyra (12 points) and Yadoris Arias (10) with swift kick-outs to the perimeter. Alicea finished with five assists on the night.
In one particular momentum swing late in the third quarter, Alicea fed Arias with back-to-back three-pointers on the wing off kick-outs from the paint for 46-44 lead. Alicea then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and went hard to the hole, twisting his midsection in mid-air as he flicked the ball in for a successful lay-in and three-point play. He sunk the free throw for a 49-44 advantage, and English never led the rest of the way.
"I've played with Yadoris since I was in eighth grade, and he's always made big shots," Alicea said. "In eighth grade, we used to call him 'Mr. Clutch'. He's always made big shots for our teams, and he did it today. I love him for that."
It was that kind of night for the Lancers. So while Stanton's explosive vertical leap altered the game plans of the floater-tending guards, by the end of the night the Bulldogs were gassed. Rather than force a half-court tempo against the Bulldogs' exceptionally athletic lineup, the Lancers went right at them from the get-go with their own preference.
"He [Stanton] is a great athlete, but you can't take it away from my players," Neal said. "I mean, [they're] smaller, but they found ways to score, found ways to rebound when we needed them, and they found a way to win."
Senior Travonne Berry-Rogers led the way for English, with 25 points in the loss.
Brendan Hall is a high school sports editor at ESPNBoston.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @BHallESPN.
January, 27, 2011
By Brendan Hall | ESPNBoston.com
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- The post-game assortment of handshakes and daps complete, and the half-filled Lawrence High gymnasium filing out, Jaylen Alicea couldn't help but glance back on the court one last time and watch as some of his fellow Lawrence classmates spilled onto the court and began lining up at the spot atop the key where, seconds earlier, he sent the place into frenzy.
"Seems like people look up to me," the Lancers' senior floor general smiled sheepishly. "I guess they admired the shot. Probably not as much as I did, though. That shot means the world to me."
After all, this was a career-defining moment for the 5-foot-10 senior, who struggled mightily from the field but stepped up without hesitation in the biggest moment of the No. 20 Lancers' game with Merrimack Valley rival No. 5 Andover last night. With 3.7 seconds left and the shot clock on its last tick, Alicea rolled off a screen, pump-faked one of the state's premier defenders as he gathered the ball at the top of the key, and nailed the three-pointer to deliver a 59-56 win for Lawrence (9-4).
This wasn't exactly a perfect night for Alicea, who finished with nine points on 4 of 14 from the field -- including 1 for 7 on three's. And 30 seconds earlier his defender, highly-touted senior guard Joe Bramanti, almost delivered the win for the Golden Warriors (8-3) after stripping the ball from Alicea as he caught a pass up top. With the open court, the 6-foot-3 Bramanti drove down the lane, and was fouled as he sank the layup for a 56-56 tie, but missed the ensuing free throw.
But with time winding down, and facing overtime, the Lancers drew up a play that was initially supposed to go inside to 6-foot-6 center Jesse Hiraldo (10 points, 11 rebounds). When the play broke down, senior guard Darwin Pereyra paused for a few seconds at the right wing before instinctively throwing it back out top to Alicea for the winner.
Bramanti (19 points) then rushed up a half-court shot that clanked off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
"I mean, you know, he didn’t play well offensively all game, and we kept telling him to stay with it, stay with it, stay with it," Lawrence head coach Paul Neal said. "And at the end, they executed. They got him a screen, and he got a wide open shot and he knocked it down. You know, big win for us, big win for the program. Confidence-wise, it was good for Jaylen, as our leader, to get a win for us."
Said Alicea, "They couldn’t get him (Hiraldo) the ball, so I had to do what I had to do, and I got open for them. And as soon as I got the ball, I knew it was my time, that I had to shoot the ball, and I didn’t play well this game. That was the biggest shot I hit all day, and it means the world to me."
From tipoff, this was a back and forth game with slim leads. With under three minutes to go, Alicea crossed up his defender on the left wing and sunk a 16-footer for a 56-51 lead, the largest of the game. Down at the other end, Craig Luschenat (14 points) closed the lead to 56-54 with three free throws, followed by Bramanti's steal and layup.
All game long, the Warriors found ways to combat Lawrence's size advantage, to great results. Six-foot-two sophomore Sam Dowden (11 points) did the dirty work down low, facing the big-bodied Hiraldo man-up, and the Warriors held a 10-2 advantage on offensive rebounds in the first half. To manufacture points, the Warriors repeatedly used handoffs to create quick screens for their swift-triggered shooters; they also had success in drawing Hiraldo out of the blocks and slipping behind him, but players like Yadoris Arias showed poise in deflecting passing lanes.
Lawrence led 27-26 at the break, and 44-42 headed into the final stanza. Andover took two brief leads in this one, including one with four minutes left when Dowden converted a three-point play off an inbounds pass, for a 49-48 lead.
From an emotional standpoint, this was quite the yo-yo.
"Brutal, but it’s great. It’s a fight," Andover head coach Dave Fazio said. "I mean, that’s what it’s about, it’s a good fight. You know, they hit us with the last shot, and I got the best defender in the state on the kid. So, at the end of the day, it’s OK. It’s a great game, it’s a great experience for our kids, and we’re just going to get better, you know."
And for Alicea, it was the good kind of emotional.
"Andover’s a great team," he said. "We just know they come out to play hard every day, every game we play them. We haven’t beaten them since I was a sophomore, so this means a lot to me, to my coach, to the people of Lawrence. Everything."