Boston High School: George Merry

Behold the Future: MIAA hoop teams to watch

March, 28, 2012
With the unveiling of our MIAA All-State Teams for Boys and Girls late last week, the 2011-12 basketball season has come to close. But before we officially slam the book on another exciting season of hoop, and move on to spring sports, I wanted to get out a few thoughts on the landscape for next season.

To whet your appetite for the 2012-13 season, here are my early projections on the state's must-see teams to watch:


Central Catholic - Plenty of talent returning with this squad, which captured the No. 1 overall spot in Division 1 North despite missing Luis Puello (ankle) for most of the season. ESPN Boston All-State guard Tyler Nelson returns as one of the state’s top shooters, but the Raiders also return all three of their regular bigs in Joel Berroa, Doug Gemmell and Nick Cambio.

New Mission – Apparently it’s never too early for bulletin board fodder, because head coach Cory McCarthy is already making some barnstorming rounds, telling this afternoon that if the Titans don’t win the Division 2 state title next year, “I should be fired.” Bold, yes, but it’s hard not to like a lineup of Isshiah Coleman, Nate Anderson, Greg Bridges, Damion Smith and Shaquan Murray. There is some promising talent in those ranks.

Mansfield – Folks are talking about the Hornets being one of the South region’s top teams in two years’ time, between promising freshman Brendan Hill and sophomore Michael Hershman. I’m of the camp that believes with those two versatile parts, paired with a terrific coach in Mike Vaughan, the future is now.

Taunton – Shaquille O’Neal Davis. That’s legitimately his full name, and one you certainly will not forget by this time next year, for reasons that have nothing to do with The Big Aristotle.

West Springfield – Terriers return virtually everyone, including Chris Lipscomb, Paul Bessette, Andy McNulty, Dewey King, and leading scorer Riyadh Asad. West Side is the early favorite next year in Division 1 West.

St. John’s (Shrewsbury) – Junior transfer Tarik Octave was one of the nice surprises of the playoffs, and freshman Davon Jones has shades of former Pioneers great David White all over him (Doesn’t hurt that Jones was also the Pioneers’ starter at safety last fall, too). A boat load of underclassmen return, including Ken Harrington and T.J. Kelley, which should more than make up for the graduation of Matt Palecki.

Danvers – Falcons graduate 6-foot-7 center George Merry, an ESPN Boston All-State selection, but return some terrific guards. Nick McKenna, Nick Bates, Eric Martin and Dan Connors can all shoot the ball, and are perfectly-suited for John Walsh’s four-out offensive system. My early pick to repeat at D3 champs.

BC High – Eagles return what ought to be one of the state’s best backcourts in point guard Charles Collins and ESPN Boston All-State swingman Jameilen Jones. Throw into the mix one of the region’s best basketball minds in Bill Loughnane (he of four state titles) and it’s hard to think of the Eagles as anything but a favorite in the South.

Springfield Central – A plethora of talent graduates, including Chris Prophet, Lee Turner, Jevaughn McMilian, and ESPN Boston Super Teamer Tyrell Springer. But All-State forward Kamari Robinson should have another terrific season, and the way Cornelius Tyson exploded onto the scene in the Division 1 state final makes us all wonder if he’s about to realize the potential that many in the Springfield area have been talking about for so long.

Stoughton – Super Teamer Aaron Calixte and Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Middleton formed the state’s best backcourt in 2011-12. If all goes as planned, they’ll be well-equipped to defend that notion next season.

Wareham – Vikings might not endure an unbeaten regular season again next year. But another year of All-State point guard Darien Fernandez means they’re not going anywhere.


Braintree – Wamps started three freshmen this year: Ashley Russell, Bridget Herlihy, and 6-foot-1 center Molly Reagan. Expect them in conversation for state title contention from now until their time runs out in 2015.

Archbishop Williams – Ditto the Bishops, who have two 6-foot freshmen to look forward to the next three seasons. Add in sophomores Olivia Conrad and Leah Spencer, and their fiery mouthpiece Sara Ryan, and this could be another top-five team come December 2012.

Reading – The Rockets made a flawless run through the Division 2 gauntlet, winning their first Division 2 state title in school history as one of two final unbeaten squads in Massachusetts. Two-time Middlesex MVP and ESPN Boston All-State Olivia Healy returns, as does guard Morgan O’Brien.

Andover – Golden Warriors are expected to come down to Earth with the graduation of two-time ESPN Boston Miss Basketball, Nicole Boudreau, and UConn lacrosse commit Ally Fazio. What might be overlooked amidst Andover’s unprecedented run to a third straight state title is that there were plenty of terrific complimentary backcourt pieces in the underclass.

Central Catholic – Raiders treaded water after some injuries early on. But once junior forward Casey McLaughlin was back to full strength, they made a run all the way to the Division 1 North semifinals. Have to imagine they’ll be in conversation again next year.

ESPNBoston's MIAA All-State Boys Basketball Team

March, 22, 2012

All-StateGuard – Aaron Calixte, Jr., Stoughton
An exceptional athlete gifted with a tenacious motor, and one of the state's most dynamic scorers, the 5-foot-11 Calixte was the driving force behind the Black Knight's run to the Division 2 Eastern Mass. final, and asserted himself as the state's premier point guard. For his junior season, he averaged 19 points and six assists, and was named a Hockomock League All-Star. Calixte also stands out on the gridiron for the Black Knights' football squad.

All-StateGuard – Tyrese Hoxter, Jr., Charlestown
After playing in the shadows of former All-Stater Akosa Maduegbunam a year ago, the 6-foot-3 Hoxter thoroughly burst onto the scene and had a monster campaign for the Townies, leading them to the TD Garden floor for the first time since 2005 before bowing out to Brockton in the Division 1 Eastern Mass. Final. This season he averaged 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.

All-StateGuard – Tyrell Springer, Sr., Springfield Central
After falling short of a state title two seasons ago with New Leadership, the 6-foot-2 Springer led Central to the DCU Center floor this season where the Golden Eagles captured their first Division 1 state title since 1991. The centerpiece of one of the state's most athletic lineups, Springer averaged 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, seven assists and 7.3 steals. He is undecided on college plans.

All-StateForward – Jake Layman, Sr., King Philip
The 6-foot-8 Layman was one of the most dominant players in Massachusetts this season, with the ability to score both inside and out, as the Warriors set a school single-season record for wins (18) before suffering a surprise upset in the Division 2 South quarterfinals. In 21 games, he averaged 26.5 points, 16 rebounds, 5.8 blocks, 3.2 assists and three steals. He closes his career with with 1,752 points, 1,098 rebounds and 391 blocks, giving him career averages of 20.6 points, 12.9 rebounds, 4.6 blocks, 2.8 steals and 2.6 assists. This is his second appearance on the Super Team; he also captured the Hockomock League's MVP for the second straight season. Layman, who was named ESPN Boston's "Mr. Basketball" earlier this week, is ranked the nation's No. 62 overall senior by ESPN, and will continue his career next season at the University of Maryland.

All-StateCenter – Sayvonn Houston, Sr., Brockton
A nightly double-double machine, Houston established himself as one of the state's most dominant true centers, making life difficult down low as the Boxers went 23-3 and made their first Division 1 state final appearance since 1985. He saved his biggest performances for the biggest stages, such as his 20-20 night in the Division 1 South semifinals, or his 22-point, 13-rebound effort in Brockton's overtime win over Charlestown in the Division 1 Eastern Mass. Final at TD Garden. Houston is undecided on college plans.


All-StateJalen Adams, Soph. G, Melrose
Quickly rising as one of the Bay State's most complete scoring guards, the 6-foot-1 Adams took home Middlesex League MVP honors after averaging 21 points per game. He led the Red Raiders to an 18-2 regular season record, before they fell to state runner-up Brighton in the Division 2 North semifinals. Adams has already declared that he will be transferring to Wilbraham & Monson Academy next season, where he will reclassify to the Class of 2015.

All-StateJaylen Blakely, Jr. G, Brockton
Like Houston, the 5-foot-11 Blakely saved some of his best performances for the crunch time in the playoffs, such as his eight-assist performance in the Boxers' win over Catholic Memorial. Blakely distributed evenly to Brockton's talented shooters and post players, as they went 23-3 and reached their first state final appearance since 1985.

All-StateMatt Droney, Sr. F, Catholic Memorial
A terrific shooter, the 6-foot-4 Droney was named the Catholic Conference's MVP after a season of averaging 20.7 points, six assists and five rebounds per game. He also became the eighth player in school history to surpass 1,000 points earlier this season. The Canton resident will be doing a post-graduate season next year at the Taft School in Connecticut.

All-StateDarien Fernandez, Jr. G, Wareham
The 5-foot-7 waterbug demonstrated a tenacious motor in leading the Vikings to their second Division 3 Eastern Mass. Final appearance in three seasons. Wareham was the state's last unbeaten before losing to state champion Danvers. For the season, Fernandez averaged 24 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and five steals, and recorded three triple-doubles. He needs just 45 points next season to reach 1,000 for his career.

All-StateRony Fernandez, Sr. G, Charlestown
Fernandez was one of the most outstanding point guards of the MIAA tournament, leading the Townies to a thrilling win over Lexington in the Division 1 North final before bowing out to state runner-up Brockton in the Eastern Mass. Finals. For the season he averaged 16 points and seven assists. He is undecided on college plans, but is currently fielding interest from Division 1 programs such as Maine, Northeastern and Hartford.

All-StateJoey Glynn, Sr. F, Cardinal Spellman
The 6-foot-5 Abington resident did it all this season for the Cardinals, averaging a double-double (18.5 points, 12 rebounds, three steals, 2.2 blocks) as they lost to Eastern Mass. runner-up Wareham in the Division 3 South semifinals. For his career, Glynn scored 1,425 points. He will continue his career next season at Bentley University.

All-StateSteve Haladyna, Sr. G/F, St. John’s Prep
One of two repeat All-Staters, the 6-foot-3 Haladyna was unable to lead the Eagles deep in their Division 1 state title defense, but he still leaves the Danvers campus as one of its most decorated basketball stars. He averaged 22.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, both team highs, and for his career he finishes with 1,392 points -- second all-time on Prep's scoring list. The South Hamilton resident will continue his career next season at Tufts University.

All-StateMalik James, Soph. G, Brighton
The 6-foot-1 James elevated his game when the Bengals needed it most, as they made their first state final appearance in school history, falling to Mahar in the Division 2 title game. For the season, James averaged 18.1 points, 8.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds as the Bengals won their first-ever Eastern Mass. title.

All-StateJameilen Jones, Jr. G, BC High
BC High's season came to an unexpected halt as the Eagles loss in the first round of the Division 1 South tournament, but the 6-foot-2 Jones has established himself as one of Eastern Mass.'s premier two-way players. For the season, he averaged 17 points and eight rebounds as the Eagles went 15-6.

All-StateZach Karalis, Sr. G, North Andover
The 6-foot-1 Karalis was one of the driving forces for the Scarlet Knights, who went 21-2 and reached the playoffs an unprecedented 47th straight time. For the season he averaged 15.9 points and shot 46 percent from the field, to go along with 6.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.8 steals. Karalis will continue his career next season at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

All-StateKevin LaFrancis, Sr. C, Acton-Boxborough
After a stellar season in leading the 21-2 Colonials to a Division 1 North semifinal appearance, the 6-foot-6 LaFrancis was named the Dual County League's MVP. He averaged 19.5 points and eight rebounds this season, and finishes his career at A-B with 1,012 career points. He is undecided on college plans.

All-StateAlex Lopez, Sr. G, Springfield Commerce
The 5-foot-10 Lopez led the Valley League in scoring for the second straight season, averaging 22.3 points as the Red Raiders went to the Division 1 Western Mass. Finals and took state champion Springfield Central to the wire. He led Western Mass. in field goals made (185) and total points (512). Lopez is currently undecided on college plans.

All-StateDamian Lugay, Sr. G, Weymouth
The 6-foot-2 Lugay led the Wildcats to a second straight 17-win season, before they were bounced in the first round of the Division 1 South tournament. For the season he averaged 18.1 points and just under four assists, and leaves Weymouth as a two-time First Team All-Bay State Conference. Lugay is undecided on college plans.

All-StateGeorge Merry, Sr. C, Danvers
At 6-foot-7, Merry was a force at both ends of the floor for the Falcons, known for his ability to redirect shots as much as his scoring touch. He averaged 16.1 points, eight rebounds and 6.6 blocks as Danvers captured its first Division 3 state championship in school history. Merry is currently undecided on college plans, but showing interest from several schools in Divisions 2 and 3.

All-StateMarcus Middleton, Jr. G, Stoughton
Tasked nightly with locking down the opposition's top scorer, Middleton established himself as one of the state's premier on-ball defenders. Middleton averaged 16 points per game for the Black Knights, who won the Division 2 South title before bowing out to state runner-up Brighton in the Eastern Mass. championship at TD Garden. Middleton also stars on Stoughton's football squad.

All-StateMatt Mobley, Sr. G/F, St. Peter-Marian
One of state's most pleasant late-blooming surprises, the 6-foot-3 Mobley was one of the leading scorers in Central Mass. as the Guardians made it all the way to the Division 1 Central Final. For the season, he averaged 23.2 points in leading SPM to its most successful season under head coach Marcus Watson. Mobley finished his career at SPM with 1,175 points, and will do a post-graduate season next year at Worcester Academy.

All-StateTyler Nelson, Soph. G, Central Catholic
The 5-foot-11 Nelson established himself as one of the state's premier shooters, as the Raiders made it to the Division 1 North semifinals before bowing out to champion Charlestown. He averaged 15.5 points and four assists this season, shot 42 percent from three-point range, and 91 percent from the free throw line.

All-StateColin Richey, Jr. G, Whitinsville Christian
After winning a Division 3 state title a year ago, the 6-foot Richey nearly led them back, as the Crusaders lost in the final seconds to state runner-up St. Joseph Central in the state semifinals. For the seaosn, Richey averaged 16.8 points, 6.7 assist and 6.3 rebounds for the Dual Valley League champions.

All-StateKamari Robinson, Jr. F, Springfield Central
The 6-foot-5 Robinson was a rock underneath for the Golden Eagles, who captured their first Division 1 state title since 1991 and third overall. He was a nightly double-double threat this season, averaging 13 points, 11 rebounds, four steals and three assists, as Central went undefeated in Massachusetts.

All-StateMichael Thorpe, Sr. G, Newton North
The Tigers went run-and-gun this season, and the 5-foot-11 Thorpe kept them thoroughly going. One year after reaching the Division 1 South finals, he nearly led them back, before losing to state runner-up Brockton in the semifinals. He was named the Bay State Conference's MVP, with averages of 15 points and four assists. Thorpe will continue his career next season at Emerson College.


The kind of on-ball pressure Middleton provided nightly to some of the state's premier scorers can take its toll physically, but he was routinely up to the task. As teammate Aaron Calixte saw a barrage of double-teams and box-and-one's, Middleton did his part at the other end, hedging off screens and staying one one's hip, chasing them all over the floor. As much praise as Calixte will get in this unprecedented season for the Knights, an equal amount must be thrown Middleton's way.

G – Marcus Middleton, Jr., Stoughton
G – Anthony Hodges, Sr., Holy Name
G – Darien Fernandez, Jr., Wareham
F – Jake Layman, Sr., King Philip
C – George Merry, Sr., Danvers


The Bengals lost their best player before the start of the tournament, and backpedaled into the playoffs with uninspiring losses to Acton-Boxborough and Madison Park. Yet in the end, they were one step away from the school's first-ever state title. Coleman is an unabashed disciple of the legendary Jack O'Brien, and staples of those historic Charlestown squads are sprinkled all over the program. Not only has Coleman done a remarkable job bringing the team to heights never before reached in his three seasons at the helm, but this is a program that will be dangerous for the next few years.

Paul Connolly, Newton North
Dean O'Connor, Franklin

Kevin Brogioli, Wareham
John Gallivan, Stoughton
Reggie Hobbs, Lexington
Malcolm Smith, East Boston
Chad Softic, Mahar
John Walsh, Danvers
Dennis Wilson, Madison Park

Div. 3 Boys Final: Danvers 59, St. Joe's 47

March, 17, 2012

WORCESTER, Mass. -- On this Holiday of Obligation in Ireland, the whole world feels a little Irish. And from the sound of the alarm at the end of the first half until the final buzzer sounded Danvers' 59-47 win over St. Joseph Central, Nick McKenna's ancestors wielded cudgels for him fervently and fought for him.

The junior guard scored a game-high 18 points, including a three-point buzzer beater at the end of the first half to pull the Falcons within one in addition to 5 of the 7 points in Danvers' run at the end of the third quarter that put them ahead for the final time, St. Joseph Central High School unable to beat back McKenna and his army.

“I think St. Patrick was looking down on us,” said Danvers coach John Walsh. “The luck of the Irish I think was with us today.”

With 3:32 left in the third quarter, St. Joseph had seemingly quashed Danvers' attempt at recovery, having outscored Danvers 12-7 in the third and Mike McMahon (12 points, eight rebounds) just completing a three point play. But the free throw was ultimately his last score on the day.

After the Falcons only taking two trips to the free throw line in the first quarter netting one point (Eric Martin failing to complete a three point play, George Merry icing his shot), McKenna took back-to-back trips to the line and went 3-of-4, closing down the St. Joe's lead to three at 37-34.

Merry dropped a deuce followed by a McKenna score, which put Danvers up 38-37. St. Joseph attempted a shot in the last 10 seconds of the third, but a miss and a rebound by Dan Connors (15 points, 11 boards) sent the Falcons into the fourth with the lead and an intangible energy that was planted in the locker room at halftime by Walsh.

“[Taking the lead 38-37] was a huge momentum swing,” said Walsh. “We were down 37-31 and we went on that 7-0 run and then had another little run in the fourth quarter. That kind of separated the game and we were able to finish with the win.”

Starting the fourth quarter, the teams traded baskets, but Danvers had the momentum and they were able to take a five-point lead at 44-39 with just less than seven minutes to go in the game.

At 5:50, the Crusaders' junior point guard Taverick “Tank” Roberson (13 points) hit a shot, making it a 3-point game. The score would mark a drought for the Crusaders. Connors hit two free throws with 4:30 to go and McKenna hit two more at the 4:02 point, spreading Danvers’ lead to nine with a spread leg, underhand roll, off the backboard, ring-around-the rim layup that somehow found the bottom of the net, leaving the score at 50-41.

“Sometimes, it as simple as we hit some shots and they didn’t,” added Walsh. “That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

With 2:50 to go, a St. Joe's intentional foul showed the team’s desperation. Although the effort netted one point at the line, Danvers kept the ball and the game turned into a foul and Hail Mary match for the Crusaders, but Danvers’ had been ordained the Division 3 champs from a higher power with McKenna being the conduit of the blessing.

Conditioning as an Achilles’ Heel, Weapon: Late in the game, Danvers was able to put on a couple of runs. The first ended with them coming from behind to go into the fourth leading by one, the second spread the score out to 10 and put the game out of St. Joseph’s reach for good.

“Honestly, I think it was just focus,” said St. Joseph’s Mike McMahon. “I think we started getting worn down a little bit because we weren’t mentally in it, we weren’t making smart plays... plus we weren’t playing defense.”

On the back end of the fatigue end, Danvers prepared for a prolonged battle and fourth quarter conditioning is something that they rely on like a sixth man according to Dan Connors.

“We work hard in practice... all year," he said. "So come the end of games we’re in very good shape, we get our free throws and close out games.”

Danvers’ center George Merry (13 points, 7 blocks, 2 steals) led the charge down low with Connors.

The Shot: “I’m still not sure how the first one went in,” said McKenna of his shot that brought his team within one at the end of the first half. “I tried to get the ball and get a good look at the hoop. I decided to get a shot at the basket... I didn’t see the ball go in but I just heard everyone go nuts.”

“Kind of ridiculous,” is the way Walsh hestitantly described the basket. “But someone put that in for us.”

Coming Back: Last year, Nick McKenna had an injury that kept him out for the whole season, so this year, he has had incremental growth as a player which pleases coach Walsh, but McKenna’s easy going demeanor, smile and good feel he brings to the team is the most value part of his game according to Walsh.

“He’s a great kid too; better kid than he is a player. “He didn’t play last year so he starting to peak just now.”

Coming back with three out of their five starters, and if all goes well McKenna joining that starting line up, the future for Danvers looks like they’ve got lots of luck in store for next season.

ESPN Boston's MIAA State Championship Picks

March, 16, 2012
The MIAA will crown six state champions in boys and girls basketball on Saturday at Worcester's DCU Center. Here are my thoughts on how those six games will play out:

Pentucket Players to Watch: Tess Nogueira, Jr. C; Leigh McNamara, Sr. F; Sarah Higgins, Sr. F; Nicole Viselli, Jr. G; Alex Moore, Jr. G; Kelsie McNamara, Fr. G
Sabis Players to Watch: Jazmine Collins, Jr. G; Janaiya Sanchez, Fr. G; Shyanne Washington, Jr. F; Madison Sinkfield, Fr. F; Casie Thurber, Soph. C.
Analysis: After coming close the last couple of years, Sabis finally got over the hump in their competitive Western Mass. bracket, to land here at the DCU Center. Plain and simple, these Lady Bulldogs are on a mission; and led by a core that includes the dynamic Collins, this is a well-oiled machine. Unfortunately (and this will be the operative word for many of my picks), they run into a Pentucket team that is quite simply swarming on defense. The Sachems' lineup =is among the best in Division 3, and they're on a roll. Pentucket is also motivated -- the last time they were here, in 2010, the Sachems were penned as a favorite, only to run into a gritty Lee team that, quite frankly, pressed like kamikazes. Hall's Pick: Pentucket over Sabis

Danvers Players to Watch: George Merry, Sr. C; Nick McKenna, Jr. G; Nick Bates, Jr. G; Eric Martin, Jr. G; Jon Amico, Sr. G.
St. Joe's Players to Watch: Taverick "Tank" Roberson, Jr. G; Mike McMahon, Sr. F; Joe Wiggins, Sr. F; Lavante Wiggins, Jr. G; Jon Bianchi, Jr. G
Analysis: Credit to St. Joe's for playing an ambitious non-league schedule, which included a rockfight of a bout with Holy Name back in December, and get ready to be introduced to the spunky power that is Roberson -- in my opinion, he's every bit of a tank as his nickname suggests. But after putting in arguably its best performance of the year Monday night in the Eastern Mass. Finals against Wareham, I'm convinced Danvers will come out on top in this one. the 6-foot-7 Merry can step out on the perimeter and facilitate offense for shooters like McKenna and Bates, as much as he can take it inside. Danvers coach John Walsh goes with some of the same offensive principles as his cousin Watertown head coach and two-time D3 state champ Steve Harrington. And if you thought Harrington's four-out, drive-and-kick, dribble drive-oriented motion offensive was frustrating enough, imagine what it's like with size.
Hall's Pick: Danvers over St. Joseph Central

Reading Players to Watch: Olivia Healy, Jr. G; Morgan O'Brien, Jr. G; Melissa DalPozzo, Sr. F; Katie Clements, Sr. G; Katherine Callahan, Sr. G.
Tyngsborough Players to Watch: Lauren Iadarola, Jr. F; Amanda Hogan, Jr. G; Helena Hamilton, Sr. F; Morgan Mitchell, Jr. C.
Analysis: The Mid-Wach C champion Tigers avoided a clean sweep of Central Mass. on Wednesday with a dominant 50-35 win over Palmer out in Springfield, getting quality production out of Iadarola, Hogan and Hamilton along the way. But Reading has had the tougher route here, putting away stalwarts Wachusett, Bishop Feehan, Arlington Catholic (twice) and Scituate to get to DCU Center floor. Look for Healy to get hers, but most crucial in the Rockets' overtime defeat of Scituate on Tuesday night was the play of O'Brien, who scored 33 points. Look for her to be the X-factor in this one.
Hall's Pick: Reading over Tyngsborough

Brighton Players to Watch: Malik James, Soph. G; Theo Oribhabor, Jr. G; Daivon Edwards, Jr. G; Prince Unaegbu, Jr. F; Jerard Mayes, Sr. F; Tre Dowman, Sr. C
Mahar Players to Watch: Travon Godette, Sr. F; Jesse LaCroix, Sr. G; Phil DiPhillipo, Sr. G; Josef Whitman, Jr. F; Nate Martin, Sr. C; Darwin Duncan, Sr. F.
Analysis: The relationship between Brighton coach Hugh Coleman and his mentor, legendary Charlestown coach Jack O'Brien, is well-documented. There are ripples of O'Brien's system and tactics sprinkled throughout the Bengals; and we can assure you, there are tons of coaches in Eastern Mass. rooting for Coleman, as good a guy as they come, on Saturday. That aside, the Bengals figure to be favorites in this one. Godette, DiPhillipo and LaCroix combined for impressive whipping of St. Bernard's on Tuesday, but they haven't seen anything like Brighton. Hardened by a brutal schedule, the Bengals lost their best player, sophomore Nick Simpson, before the playoffs, yet somehow haven't dropped off. There's plenty to like -- a frustrating extended 2-3 zone, a swarming press, and a gifted shooter in Edwards -- and I think this will be another big one for promising sophomore point guard Malik James.
Hall's Pick: Brighton over Mahar

Andover Players to Watch: Nicole Boudreau, Sr. G; Ally Fazio, Sr. G; Devon Caveney, Sr. G; Angelice Gonzalez, Jr. G; Jackie Alois, Jr. F; Rebecca Alois, Soph. F.
Holyoke Players to Watch: Monique Heard, Sr. G; Alison Littles, Sr. C; Kirsy Segarra, Jr. G; Nyomi Walker, Jr. F; Selena Yates, Sr. G.
Analysis: Our friend and Pioneer Valley legend Adam Harrington is getting giddy over this "dream matchup", Western Mass.'s premier point guard versus, quite frankly, the best female guard to come through Massachusetts in over a decade. We think the crowd on hand will be impressed with Heard, but the Golden Warriors -- despite usually being undersized -- have proven again and again to be unstoppable. It just seems whatever the score is going into the fourth quarter, the Warriors simply turn around and take ownership of it. When you have a team of athletes that get up and down as quickly as these girls, plus a superstar with NBA range, that's a vicious combination.
Hall's Pick: Andover over Holyoke

Brockton Players to Watch: Jaylen Blakely, Jr. G; Drew Fiske, Sr. F; Jahleel Moise, Sr. F; Jean Thomas, Sr. F; Will Baker, Sr. G; Sayvonn Houston, Sr. C; Jamal Reuben, Sr. F; Jarrod "Bubba" Shelby.
Springfield Central Players to Watch: Tyrell Springer, Sr. G; Lee Turner, Sr. G; Chris Prophet, Sr. G; Kamari Robinson, Jr. F; Jevaughn McMillian, Sr. C; Trevor Bacon, Sr. F; Cornelius Tyson, Sr. G.
Analysis: This might be the best matchup of the day. I picked Springfield Central to win it all before the tournament started; and since the Eagles are still in it, I'm sticking with the pick. The X-factor here might be the health of McMillian, a game-changing 6-foot-7 shot-swatter who injured his ankle in Tuesday night's thrilling semifinal win over St. John's (Shrewsbury). If he can't go or is less than 100 percent, that could make the matchup down low with Brockton's 6-foot-6 Sayvonn Houston -- by many accounts, one of the state's most efficient true five -- very interesting. Yet it seems the Golden Eagles thrive on adversity -- in the Western Mass. Final, with Springer and Prophet fouled out -- Robinson held his own to stave off a furious Commerce comeback bid. On the flip side, the Boxers have been on a mission since getting trounced by nearly 20 by Charlestown right before the start of tournament play. Blakely has been one of the best point guards of the tournament, and the Boxers have gotten crucial shooting out of Baker, Fiske and Reuben. Look out for Moise, an athletic shot swatter with quality defensive skills.
Hall's Pick: Springfield Central over Brockton

Div. 3 Boys: Danvers 68, Wareham 45

March, 13, 2012
BOSTON — Danvers head coach John Walsh knew it wasn’t a time to panic.

Even after Wareham scored the first 10 points of the second half and grabbed its first lead since the first bucket of the game, Walsh stood firm and let his players decide to figure it out for themselves.

Boy did they ever. Danvers went on a 24-4 run after losing the lead to hand the Vikings (24-1) their first loss of the season in the Div. 3 state semifinals in a 68-45 win, on Monday at the TD Garden.

“We only had three (timeouts) left,” said Walsh. “With five minutes left I was going to call the timeout, but we had used two earlier in the backcourt. I said screw it. If it becomes a nip-and-tuck game then we are going to need that other timeout.

“If they had scored one more hoop I would have called the timeout. We came down and hit a big shot, and then another shot.”

Stefan Montiero and Aaron Baptiste took dishes from Darien Fernandez and deposited them for 3-pointers to begin the 10-0 run, and Fernandez capped it off with a hoop for a 32-30 lead.

Nick McKenna finally got Danvers on the board in the half with a 3-pointer and then the points started to come in a flurry. Nick Bates hit back-to-back 3s to stretch the lead back to seven points. After Fernandez got to the dish again, the Falcons scored 15 of the next 17 points to take full command of the game.

“They went into a zone so the shooters on the team knew that we had to open it up from the outside and hit a couple of shots,” said Bates, who finished the game with 17 points. “That opened it up on the inside and that’s how we get back into games.”

McKenna scored four straight buckets in the run and finished with 12 points for the game, while George Merry led the team with 22 points.

Guarding Fernandez: It’s one thing when you see a talented point guard play and get used to his tendencies, but the Falcons only heard of the talents that Fernandez brings to the table.

The Falcons’ defenders had to just adjust to what they were seeing on the Garden floor instead of what game tapes or X’s and O’s could be drawn up in preparation leading up game time.

“He’s a great player,” said Bates. “We just had to go out there and do it on our own this time. The coaching staff usually has all the plays drawn up for us when we go against the teams from the NEC, but today we didn’t know much about (Wareham), so we kind of had to go out there and just learn it on the fly and play basketball.”

Fernandez finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, but the Falcons kept his assist numbers low (four) and forced the talented Vikings guard into committing turnovers.

“It’s tough. I like to go the lane and they were 6-8, 6-6, so I had to alter my shot more,” said Fernandez. “I was trying to drive and kick, but their guards did a good job of hitting the ball from behind. I had a lot of turnovers too.”

Strong Start, No Nerves: Nobody would begrudge either team for being nervous on probably one of the biggest stages in high school basketball, but the Falcons came out strong as if it was just another game.

As a team the Falcons shot 9-of-14 from the floor and built a 21-9 lead after one.

“I think it was more that we were just ready,” said Merry. “We were excited and ready to play. I think in warm-ups we were nervous because it was a huge gym and big atmosphere. … You are playing on the parquet and some of the greatest players in the game played on that floor. We thought we could do the same, got in the zone and did our thing.”

D3 North Boys: Danvers 53, Saugus 40

March, 10, 2012
LOWELL, Mass. -- Danvers is headed to the TD Garden Monday night to face Wareham in the Division 3 semi-finals after it knocked off league foe Saugus 53-40 Saturday in the Division 3 North final at Tsongas Center.

After losing by at least 30 points twice this season, it was different Saturday for Saugus. It had a plan right from the start on how to deal with Danvers’ 6-foot-7 center George Merry.

Unfortunately, it was not always successful, as the senior went off for 21 points and 12 rebounds.

“Right from the start, when we walked in before the game, coach said, ‘I want you to play like an animal,’ and that’s what I tried to do,” he said. “I tried to be as good as I can, tried to get every rebound. I tried to get the ball and go up. I tried to change shots, without fouling of course, and just play my butt off trying to get every rebound I could, get every point I could.

“I was trying to help out the team as much as I could on defense. On offense, I just wanted to try and create shots for guys, help secure the ball and just get it to the guards.”

It played some form of a zone for a majority of the game, while mixing in the occasional man-to-man defense. He had seen most defenses before, and adjusted accordingly.

“They went man a couple times, and that just didn’t work,” he said. “The other times they played a 2-3, and whatever side I was on, the middle guy and the guy on that side collapsed on me down low and tried to prevent me from getting the ball.”

Saugus led 15-14 after the first quarter, due largely to its guards getting in the lane and hitting short-range jump shots and floaters over the long arms of Merry.

Curtis Casella (19 points, four rebounds) proved to be a difficult matchup for Danvers, who always seemed to find his way into the paint and score, even when spacing seemed limited.

“We had an entire gameplan to try and stop Curtis,” said Danvers coach John Walsh. “He’s one of the best players in our league, and he is still going to get his points. He’ll drive and dish, the kid is just a phenomenal player. We spent the last few days trying to devote all our defensive time to a kid like him, and he still gets his points. That’s the frustrating part, but it’s more just hats-off to him because he’s just so good. There’s really not much you can do about him.”

With the lead never getting above four points, Danvers’ Nick McKenna (10 points) hit a three-pointer in the second quarter to give his team the lead at 23-21. From there, Danvers never looked back.

Its lead only grew from there and by mid-afternoon, Danvers had punched its ticket to the TD Garden.

Defense Delivers: Danvers is moving one step closer to the TD Garden thanks in large part to its team defense. It held Saugus to only three points in the final quarter and scoreless over the final six minutes.

“Our team is all about defense,” said Danvers’ Nick Bates (nine points, 12 rebounds, two steals). “We knew we had to go out there and defense hard, and that’s what we did in the second half.”

It will have to continue that trend if it hopes to come out on top against a high-scoring team like Wareham on Monday.

“We tried to defend that well from the beginning,” said Walsh with a laugh. “Kids like Curtis (Casella) don’t make it easy. We just tried to defend and keep the ball away from some of their top scoring options. We did a better job on that in the fourth quarter to let them put only three points up.”

Merry Shines: Nine of Merry’s 21 points came from the free throw line. The big man showed a deft touch from the line after getting mauled underneath by the Saugas defense. It seemed like every time Merry got the ball in the low block, the defenders made it a point to hit his arms, whether it was to try and dislodge the ball or to intentionally send him to the line.

He made them pay by adding to his team’s point total and ultimately, allowing them to get one step closer to a state championship.

“Free throws are one of my strengths,” he said. “In the Wayland game (the tournament semifinals), I hit two big free throws at the end of the game to ice it. I just do free throws all day before practice, after practice, when we come out of the locker room at halftime. Before we go into the game, I’m always shooting free throws and always making sure I’m on point.”

Mid-season Boys Hoop Superlatives

January, 17, 2012
With many teams across the state reaching the midway point of their schedule this week, here are my mid-season picks for our annual MIAA All-State, All-Defensive, and Coach of the Year awards.

G – Aaron Calixte, Jr., Stoughton
G – Steve Haladyna, Sr., St. John’s Prep
G – Tyrese Hoxter, Jr., Charlestown
F – Jake Layman, Sr., King Philip
F – Isshiah Coleman, Jr., New Mission

Yadoris Arias, Sr. G, Lawrence
Tyler Delorey, Sr. G, Holy Name
Matt Droney, Sr. G/F, Catholic Memorial
Joey Glynn, Sr. F, Cardinal Spellman
Leroy Hamilton, Sr. F, New Mission
Jameilen Jones, Jr. G, BC High
Kevin LaFrancis, Sr. C, Acton-Boxborough
Alex Lopez, Sr. G, Springfield Commerce
Damian Lugay, Sr. G, Weymouth
George Merry, Sr. C, Danvers
Marcus Middleton, Jr. G, Stoughton
Matt Mobley, Sr. G/F, St. Peter-Marian
Brian Mukasa, Soph. G, Sharon
Tyler Nelson, Soph. G, Central Catholic
Quinton Perkins, Sr. G, Fitchburg
Luis Puello, Sr. G, Central Catholic
Colin Richey, Jr. G, Whitinsville Christian
Kamari Robinson, Jr. F, Springfield Central
Tyrell Springer, Sr. G, Springfield Central
Michael Thorpe, Sr. G, Newton North

G – Luis Puello, Sr., Central Catholic
G – Anthony Hodges, Sr., Holy Name
F – Jake Layman, Sr., King Philip
F – Antonio Ferreira, Sr., Stoughton
C – George Merry, Sr., Danvers

Scott Boyle, Lowell
Hugh Coleman, Brighton
Paul Connolly, Newton North
Paul DiGeronimo, Fitchburg
John Gallivan, Stoughton
Paul Neal, Lawrence
Brendan Smith, Boston Latin
Malcolm Smith, East Boston
Mike Vaughan, Mansfield
John Walsh, Danvers