Boston High School: Holy Name

Our 2014 Summer Football Primer

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
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 Softball Final: B-R 9, Holy Name 0

June, 14, 2014
Jun 14
11:55
PM ET
WORCESTER, Mass. -- Holy Name knew all to well the one thing it couldn't afford to do was spot Bridgewater-Raynham an early lead. Falling behind and having to face a dominant pitcher would be a formula for doom.

Somewhere along the way, the Naps lost sight of that premise. The Trojans were literally handed five runs in the first inning of Saturday night's Division 1 state final. That was certainly more than enough run support for Sarah Dawson as the B-R flamethrower took over from there.

Dawson, a 6-foot-1 junior, handcuffed Holy Name all evening long, allowing just one hit and striking out seven to help lead the Trojans to an easy 9-0 victory at Rockwood Field. The state title marks the first for B-R as it completes a remarkable 25-1 season.

"Sarah had good control by using her power today and using her change-up a lot to keep them off-balance," Trojans head coach Mike Carrozza said. "She controlled the game with her power pitches and staying in and out on them and then using her change-up.

"It was a fantastic run for us this year. I think looking back on the last three years we are something like 80-4 so that's a good three years. We had a lot of energy going into this game and a lot of confidence. We showed a lot of patients and the girls knew what they had to do to win and they did it."

In six tournament starts inside the circle, Dawson allowed only one run, as well as tossing a pair of no-hitters. Had it not been for Ama Biney's single off her in the sixth inning, Dawson would've added a third postseason no-hitter to her resume.

"I just went out there focused," said Dawson, a University of Pittsburgh commit. "You need to be focused and know what you want and we all wanted to win a state championship. To do that you've gotta be dominant. All of this probably won't sink in for another week or two. I still can't believe we won a state championship. I'm pretty shocked about that."

Following the five run first, this game was over. The Naps appeared tense to begin this tilt and it showed quickly. Four errors in the opening frame paved the way for B-R. It all started with Madison Shaw, the team's spark plug, reaching on an error. The Fordham University-bound senior hit a hard grounder to first baseman Danielle Rocheleau.

The sophomore could not field it cleanly and Shaw, sprinting down the line and finishing with a head first dive, beat Rocheleau to the base. After stealing second, Shaw came around to score the Trojans' first run on Emily Kurkul's double to centerfield.

"That first inning showed (Holy Name) that we are fighters and we will do anything it takes to get on base," Shaw said. "Getting a big lead like that in the first inning takes a lot of pressure off of Sarah and once the pressure is off she can go out there and throw her game. She does her thing inside the circle and we do our thing at the plate."

With Taylor Poulin running for Kurkul, the inning continued with a walk to Jenny Heller. Kelsey Leuenberger next hit a chopper that was mis-handled by second baseman Heather Drummond allowing Poulin to cross the plate.

The horror show for Holy Name continued one batter later with two more runs crossing the plate. Stephanie Cavallaro hit a comebacker to Naps pitcher Kelsey Saucier but the senior threw off-target to first with Cavallaro reaching safely and Heller scoring.

On the play, Rocheleau, seeing Leuenberger racing home, threw the ball to catcher Deanna DiPilato, who failed to catch it as it rolled towards the backstop fence and extending B-R's lead to 4-0. Things continued to snowball out of control for the Naps in the frame after Cavallaro came home on a Saucier wild pitch.

"Nothing went well for us tonight," said Holy Name head coach Aimee Lee, her team finishing at 22-3. "It's kind of sad because we didn't get to show (B-R) the kind of team we really are. Things seemed to fall apart after that first error and it just went downhill from there."

Except for a couple of Trojan miscues, the Nap batters continued to make a bee-line towards their dugout. Although Holy Name was making contact with some of Dawson's pitches, the majority of them were being hit directly to the defense. B-R would add a solo run off of Saucier (7 hits, 5 Ks) in the fourth on an RBI single off the bat of Kurkul.

Two innings later, the Trojans turned this into a rout. With one out Poulin and Shaw singled. Stacey Korotsky followed by laying down a bunt towards Drummond. The junior immediately came up firing to third in an attempt to nail Poulin. However, her throw sailed wide which allowed both Poulin and Shaw to cross the plate. Heller followed that up by roping a double to left to bring Korotsky in.

"We thought this would a nitty-gritty type of game right to the end," said Shaw. "The last thing on our minds was for us to get five runs in the first inning. When we started off with five runs it really calmed the rest of the team down. It felt pretty good. We feel if we put the ball in play it forces the other team to try and get us out. Sometimes teams make errors along the way and we try to take advantage of those."


LOWELL, Mass. – Revere had already accomplished something by the first inning of Wednesday night’s Division 1 Eastern Mass. softball final that no other team had this postseason. The Patriots put up a run on Bridgewater-Raynham starter Sarah Dawson, after a streak of 28 consecutive scoreless playoff innings.

While the upstart Patriots came out swinging against the South champion Trojans, they were unable to sustain the momentum, as B-R busted out in a three-run third in a 3-1 to advance to Saturday’s state championship game against Central champion Holy Name.

“I had a thought that, ‘Oh, there’s the one,’ and I wasn’t letting up any more,” Dawson said.

The junior University of Pittsburgh commit settled down after surrendering her first and only run of the playoffs to date. Dawson, who threw a no-hitter in Monday’s South sectional final against North Attleborough, allowed just two base runners past the first innings. She finished with nine strikeouts on the game, while recording five of the final six outs of the game by punch out.

Revere starter Sabrina Palermo kept the Trojans off balance in the early going as well, facing just two batters over the minimum entering the fourth.

That’s when some timely hitting and opportunistic base-running paid off for B-R.

“We probably should have waited a little bit more – [we were] a little impatient,” Trojans catcher Emily Kurkul said her team’s approach at the plate. “We were going a little too quick. The second time through we were much more determined to stay back and look at pitches to get hits.”

Kurkul, who leads the state with 12 home runs on the season, boosted her slugging percentage further with a lead-off double in the fourth – B-R’s second hit off Palermo. The Trojans would then load the bases with walks by Jenny Heller and Stephanie Cavallaro.

Sophie Perez tied the score with a sacrifice fly to center, allowing courtesy runner Taylor Poulin (in Kurkul’s proxy) to score easily.

That’s when the inning took a turn. With two outs and a 1-2 count on Trojans first baseman Holly Greet, Palermo threw a wild pitch. Heller came down the line and slid into home, but the throw from the backstop went back into the infield, allowing Cavallaro to score all the way from second as well.

The run support was all Dawson would need as she closed the door on the Patriots, finishing the game by striking out the side in the seventh.

Revere scored its first-inning run with a two-out rally. Catcher Juliana Cecere singled before Kristina Stella doubled her home with a gap shot to left-center field.

It’s not how you start that counts: Although the Trojans found themselves in an unfamiliar position playing catch up, there was an awful lot of game to go.

“At that point, we’re not going into any kind of panic mode,” B-R coach Mike Carrozza said.

A big part of the reason why the Trojans weren’t about to worry was their ace. Although Dawson proved mortal in allowing her first postseason run, she wasn’t about to let the game slip away either.

“She was reaching back and she knows that she wants the game,” Carrozza said. “She knew that she was going to have to reach back a little bit and we started using the changeup a lot more in the third inning, just so they realized it was there.”

The changeup was the key component of Dawson’s arsenal on Wedesday, and B-R’s brain trust, with Kurkul behind the plate, sought to make sure the Patriots didn’t have the same kinds of swing the second time through the lineup.

“It’s a big part of the game – keeping them off balance,” Kurkul said. “You can’t just throw fastballs all the time, they’re going to hit you.”

Dawson’s changeup also came with a secondary benefit – seemingly adding velocity to an already plus-fastball. It proved an effective combination.

“I was able to spot it, put it in the dirt a couple of times,” Dawson said. “It made them swing, get them off-speed, get them off-balance.”

D1 Central/West: Holy Name 6, Westfield 1

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
12:14
AM ET
WORCESTER, Mass. -- The transcendent climb of the Holy Name softball team did not begin in the postseason. In fact, it started a week prior when the Naps defeated then-unbeaten Nashoba Regional.

That victory game Holy Name a huge lift. One it hasn't come down from since.

On Wednesday night, the Naps faced another unbeaten foe and yet again, took care of business, upending West champion Westfield, 6-1, in the Division 1 state semifinal played at Rockwood Field.

Holy Name (22-2) will square off against Bridgewater-Raynham (24-1) there on Saturday for the state title beginning at 7 p.m. The Naps have played in the state final six times and have yet to win a title.

"Nashoba was the best team and were undefeated and had a great pitcher," Naps head coach Aimee Lee said. "After beating them I think it was a high for us and I think we haven't come down from it and we're still going."

Holy Name took advantage of a few Bombers' jitters in the first inning to take a 3-0 lead. It remained that way until Westfield (23-1) got a run back in the fifth. However, perhaps a bit complacent during the middle frames, the Naps offense re-awoke in their half of the seventh to put this game out of reach.

"I kept telling our girls in the later innings that I can't want this game more than them," Lee said. "I think once Westfield scored that run it brought us back to reality and we started hitting again in the seventh."

With Bridget Mias on base following a bunt single, senior Ama Biney smashed a triple to centerfield. A Heather Drummond (3 hits) double sent Biney to the plate. That was proceeded moments later by a Kelsey Saucier's RBI single and suddenly, Holy Name's was now up by five runs.

"It gets pretty exciting when everyone starts to hit the ball and everyone starts to get up again," Drummond said. "Then hits begin to string along and the other team gets down on themselves and we just keep it going. When we were up 3-1 I didn't feel safe. I wanted us to get more hits and more runs and we were able to."

Westfield, which defeated Longmeadow in the WMass final thanks to Annalise Eak's walk-off RBI single, appeared a bit nervous to start this contest and it eventually showed. Biney opened the first inning by reaching on an error. After stealing second, Drummond brought her home with a single. After Drummond advanced to third on a Saucier ground out, Bombers catcher Kaitlyn Puza tried to pick the junior off following a Sarah McNerney pitch. Unfortunately, the ball sailed into left field and Drummond scored easily with Holy Name's second run.

After Danielle Rocheleau kept the inning going with a single, Lauren Merritt hit a fly ball to centerfield that was dropped by Jessie Pratt. With Rocheleau now standing on third base, Deanna DiPilato sent her home with a ground out.

"I think we were a little tight early on," said Westfield head coach Joe Stella. "Holy Name overall has got to be the best team we've seen this year. They have pitching, defense, speed to burn and they can hit. I thought we calmed down after the first inning. We cut it to 3-1 and were getting our bats on the ball. But in the seventh things went the other way."

Saucer, Holy Name's senior ace pitcher, gave us six hits and struck out nine. McNerney, also a senior, surrendered 10 hits.

"We are a team that wants to score first," said Saucier, who will attend WPI next year. "Usually the team that scores first is the team that carries the momentum into the further innings. Westfield is a very good team. Even if we had a 10 run lead on that team you couldn't feel safe. That's why you have to play every inning as if it is your last and that's how we approached it."

D1 WMass final: Westfield 1, Longmeadow 0

June, 8, 2014
Jun 8
8:53
PM ET
AMHERST, Mass. -- The only thing Annalise Eak knew was she got enough of the sweet spot of her bat on the pitch.

Sprinting down the first base line, head down, it wasn't until Eak had rounded the bag before she realized her teammate Karly Mestello scored the winning run from second base in the bottom of the seventh, lifting Westfield to a 1-0 victory over Longmeadow in Sunday's Western Mass. Division 1 final at UMass' Sortino Field.

With both teams relying heavily on pitching, as expected, the turned into a duel between Lancers fireballer Jill Stockley and Bombers ace Sarah McNerney. As competitive both hurlers are, neither was about to back down to the other which set the tone for the entire game.

Mustering just two hits heading into the decisive frame, Westfield was looking for anyway to score the winner run and keep this contest from going into extra frames. Mestello got things started by looping a lead off single to right that landed in-between three Lancers fielders who converged on the ball. After moving to second on a Rachel Swords sacrifice bunt, the Bombers were given the same opportunity Longmeadow had in the top half of the inning.

While the Lancers failed to capitalize on their chance, the Bombers weren't about to let theirs slip by them. On an 0-2 pitch, Eak drove a Stockley outside fastball into the right-centerfield gap. With Westfield head coach Joe Stella emphatically waving his arm from inside the third base coaches box sending Mestello home, the junior never stopped running and scored without a throw sparking a wild celebration behind home plate.

"I just went up to the plate with the mentality that I have to do this for my teammates," said Eak, a senior. "I got the pitch that I wanted and was zoning in on the one spot where I wanted it and got it. Jill put up one heck of a fight for them but we were fortunate to capitalize on the limited opportunities we had today."

The Bombers (23-0) move on to the state semifinal round where they will meet Central Mass. champ Holy Name (21-2) on Tuesday (7 p.m.) at Worcester State University's Rockwood Field.

For the Lancers (18-5), this marks the second time in as many years they have fallen by a 1-0 count in the sectional championship game. Last year they were defeated by Agawam.

"It's tough no doubt about it," Longmeadow head coach Steve Marcil said. "We know the type of team we played today. Westfield is a great team and have proved it all year. We had some chances but we came up a bit short. Our girls fought to the very end which I'm very proud of.”

Longmeadow had its prime chance in the seventh. Camryn Boutin hit a hard grounder to third that Maddy Atkocaitis made an outstanding diving stop on. But the senior had to rush her throw which sailed just enough up the first base line to allow Boutin to reach. Stockley next laid down a bunt single putting two on with nobody out. With clean-up hitter Ally Mishol now up, some thought Marcil might have her lay another bunt down. Mishol proceeded to smash a hard grounder to Atkocaitis who stepped on third to force Boutin and fired a strike across the diamond to nail Mishol by a step to complete the double play.

McNerney retired Sarah Whitney to end the inning. Atkocaitis, a senior heading to Westfield State University, was solid defensively, making seven put-outs.

"Am I going to take the bat out of my best hitters hands in a situation like that and have her bunt?," said Marcil. "I couldn't. I'm going to let her try and be the hero at that point. It just so happens Ally hit a hard ball to their best and smartest athlete and she made a heads up play where quite honestly how many kids do you think could make a play like that? Give all the credit to Maddy on that play. I'm very proud of my kids and I think we will be back again next year. I felt good about them this year and I feel good about them for next year."

Stockley, only a junior, will lead the Lancers quest for a return trip to UMass next season. Against the Bombers, the UConn commit allowed four hits and struck out six. McNerney was equally impressive, surrendering a pair of singles and fanning four. When these two teams met back in May, McNerney, a senior, came within an out from pitching a no-hitter, before settling on a one-hit 1-0 victory.

McNerney will be the first to tell you that she doesn't possess the same kind of overpowering stuff Stockley has. Instead, she relies heavily on her defense to make the plays behind her.

"Even when they had runners on base I continued to go back to what I know how to do and throw strikes," McNerney said. "We got the outs and here we are now (as Western Mass. champs). My entire defense is amazing and I am so lucky and blessed to have them all behind me. It makes you more-confident knowing you have them behind you. We are one entire team here and everyone contributes. There is not one individual carries the entire team here."

Longmeadow made an initial threat the fourth when, with two out, Stockley reached on an error and took second on a wild pitch. But McNerney left her stranded there. The Bombers' didn't get their first crack until the sixth. Kaitlyn Puza hit a two-out single and swiped second. But Stockley, like McNerney, got the final out to come away unscathed. One frame later however, Westfield would threatened again only this time they didn't walk away disappointed.

"The girls executed at the right time," Stella said. "Stockley pitched great for them and she had us buffaloed for most of the game. It was tough when you have aggressive kids coming to the plate and you've got to tell them to start shortening their swings to somehow get our bats on the ball.

“That final inning was case in point. The girls did what we asked them to do and Annalise gets the big hit for us. Annalise has a lot of power but she also has a long swing. That inning we asked her to cut her swing down and fortunately it worked out.”

Holy Name's Dennis to walk-on at UMass

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
5:17
PM ET
Former Holy Name two-way lineman Basit Dennis is walking-on at UMass, re-joining former teammate Quron Wright among the Naps headed to Amherst.

The story was first reported by Bob McGovern of The Maroon Musket.

Basit, a 6-foot-2, 280-pound Worcester resident, played on the interior on both sides of the ball as the Naps reached the MIAA Division 2 semifinals in 2012. He did a post-graduate season this past fall at Worcester Academy.

Quron Wright to walk-on at UMass

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
7:18
PM ET
Former Holy Name star running back Quron Wright, one of the most decorated rushers in Central Massachusetts history, announced this afternoon on his Twitter account that he will be heading to UMass this fall as a preferred walk-on.

The 5-foot-6, 160-pound Wright did a post-graduate season this past fall at Worcester Academy, after a decorated career at Holy Name. He was a finalist for ESPNBoston.com's annual "Mr. Football" award in 2012 after totaling 3,199 yards from scrimmage and 38 touchdowns for the Naps, who reached the postseason for an unprecedented eighth consecutive year.

Wright, a Worcester resident, is the Central Mass. region's all-time leading rusher with 5,891 yards and 84 touchdowns. He was also dangerous on special teams, totaling 2,659 return yards and seven kickoff returns for his career.

B-R softball finishes season at No. 1

May, 31, 2013
5/31/13
12:32
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Bridgewater-Raynham kept its hold on the No. 1 spot in our final regular season MIAA softball Top 25 poll.

The Trojans also claimed the top spot in the Division 1 South tournament after an undefeated regular season. The Top 5 remained in tact this week with Milford, Hudson, Concord-Carlisle and Holy Name following in order.

(Editor's note: This will be the last poll update until the final postseason poll.)

IN THE NICK OF TIME
Four teams entered the Top 25 this week, including two teams making their first appearance of the season.

Bay State Carey champion Framingham made its debut at No. 18, followed by Tewksbury, which reentered the rankings after notching a couple of wins against Top 25 foes in the final week of the season.

A copule of South Coast Conference teams round out the poll, with Case hopping back in at No. 23, while Dighton-Rehoboth makes its first showing of the season at No. 25.

Softball recap: Grafton 8, Holy Name 5

April, 11, 2013
4/11/13
12:34
AM ET
GRAFTON, Mass. -- During the top of the sixth inning, and her team locked in a tight-fisted 1-1 duel against Division 1 foe Holy Name, Grafton ace pitcher Kendal Roy began to sing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” from inside her dugout. Her teammates quickly caught on and followed her lead. Suddenly a chorus of this famous song resonated all over Nelson Field.

This is the demeanor of the Indians. They play relaxed, are never uptight and have a great time playing the game they love. This off-beat conduct certainly has paid dividends for Grafton in the past. Last year, they won the Division 2 state championship boosted by the same mannerisms. On Wednesday, this personality helped carry them again as the Indians erupted for seven runs in the sixth to claim an 8-5 victory over the Naps.

“To us a 1-1 game is definitely different than losing 1-0,” said Roy, who allowed six hits while striking out nine which gives her 59 for the season. “When we tied it, 1-1, we all looked at it as if it was a 0-0 game. Once we tied it we knew we were doing fine.”

Holy Name hurler Kelsey Saucier (7 hits, 9 walks, 8 Ks) was in control early, holding the Indians to a single run through five innings. But things unraveled quickly for her in the decisive inning. The junior had lost command of her blazing fastball, as many pitches were starting to finish high above the strike zone.

Saucier opened the inning by plunking Tara FaFord, walking Michelle Goulet and allowing Marissa Ruggiero to reach safely on a fielder’s choice to load the bases. With the pressure on, Saucier threw a belt-high fastball to Tess Fitzmaurice, who roped a three-run triple to center making the score 4-1. Makayla Ritzie followed by lining a double to left scoring Fitzmaurice. Ritzie would later score on a fielder’s choice putting the Indians ahead 6-1. Two more Saucier walks resulted in two more runs on RBI singles from Roy and FaFord.

“It’s the beginning of the season and we’re not quite in shape yet,” Naps coach Aimee Lee said. “I think that was a main factor today and once they started getting hits we started getting that feeling of being defeated.”

That feeling didn’t resonate for to long. Holy Name (2-1) made a valiant comeback attempt in the bottom of the sixth. A pair of Grafton errors led to two runs making it an 8-3 contest. The Naps closed to within three run following RBI by Heather Drummond and Deanna DiPilato.

But Roy bore down from there allowing no further damage.

“I owe this entire game to my team,” added Roy, her team now 5-0. “We got some huge hits when we needed them and it really boosted our confidence and energy. These are the types of games that push us to be as good as we can be. Holy Name is a great team and we knew going in it would be a great game. These are the games that make us a better team.”

The Naps grabbed a 1-0 lead in the opening frame when Ana Biney (3 hits) scored from second on a two-out single by Saucier. Holy Name had a couple of opportunities to add to its total in the early going but a couple of web gems from center fielder Kate Cardoza kept it a one run game.

Grafton eventually tied things in the fifth. Ritzie, the No. 9 hitter, led off with a single, stole second and took third on a pass ball. The junior came home moments later on a Saucier wild pitch.

“Everything seemed to come together for us in that sixth inning,” Grafton coach John Gemme said. “But even before that Kate [Cardoza] made some great plays in center field for us which, if she hadn’t, could’ve changed the complexion of this game [Ritzie] has been working really hard at getting her swing more compact and today it showed with her getting a couple of hits. For Tess [Fitzmaurice], getting that triple was huge. It was her first hit of the year and came at a good time. She has been working very hard on her hitting and it certainly paid off today.”

Preseason MIAA softball All-State Team

April, 9, 2013
4/09/13
11:19
PM ET
MilfordBrendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comReigning ESPN Boston Miss Softball Award winner Shannon Smith hopes to lead Milford to back-to-back Division 1 state titles.
STARTING ROTATION
Megan Colleran, Jr., North Attleborough
Anna O'Neill, Sr., King Philip
Lauren Ramirez, Sr., Dracut
Kendal Roy, Jr., Grafton
Shannon Smith, Sr., Milford

STARTING NINE
Tori Constantin, Sr. 2B, King Philip
Stephanie Cornish, Sr. 3B, Abington
Alexis DeBrosse, Sr. SS, New Bedford
Caroline Fairbanks, Sr. 3B, Milford
Nicole Lundstrom, Sr. C, Dighton-Rehoboth
Bella Picard, Sr. SS, Blackstone Valley Tech
Madi Shaw, Jr. SS, Bridgewater-Raynham
Dakota Smith-Porter, Sr., P/SS, Turners Falls
Reilly Weiners, Sr. C, Agawam

WATCH LIST
Olivia Antczak, Soph. P, Central Catholic
Allie Colleran, Jr. SS/OF, Concord-Carlisle
Megan Cook, Jr. P, Bellingham
Haley Currie, Sr. 3B, Burlington
Sara Dawson, Soph. P, Bridgewater-Raynham
Kaleigh Finigan, Sr. 3B, St. Mary's (Lynn)
Bridget Furlong, Sr. 2B, Malden
Courtney Girouard, Jr. P, Fairhaven
Galen Kerr, Sr. P, Concord-Carlisle
Taylor LeBrun, Soph. C, Milford
Rachel Levine, Sr. CF, Milford
Michaela Mazure, Soph. INF, Burlington
Shannon McLaughlin, Jr. P, Tewksbury
Paige Mulry, Jr. C, Boston Latin
MacKenzie Navarro, Jr. 1B, Taunton
Alicia Reid, Sr. CF, Abington
Kelsey Saucier, Jr. P, Holy Name
Rachael Smith, Jr. P, Winchester
Lauren Tuiskula, Sr. P, Leicester
Jurnee Ware, Sr. P, Hudson

Video: Recapping MIAA Basketball State Finals

March, 17, 2013
3/17/13
11:51
PM ET
WORCESTER, Mass. -- ESPN Boston High Schools editor Brendan Hall is joined by MassLive.com producer Jay King and videographer Greg Story to break down Saturday's MIAA boys and girls basketball State Championships. Champions were crowned in six divisions, three each for boys and girls.

(Video by Greg Story)

D1 Girls Final: Central Catholic 53, Holy Name 48

March, 17, 2013
3/17/13
1:32
AM ET


WORCESTER, Mass. --- Senior forward Casey McLaughlin was in eighth grade in 2009 when Central Catholic defeated Shepherd Hill 67-62 to win the Division 1 state championship. After three straight years of watching Merrimack Valley Conference rival Andover hoist the state championship trophy McLaughlin and her Central Catholic teammates seized their opportunity on Saturday night at the DCU Center in Worcester.

The Stonehill-bound McLaughlin scored a game-high 27 points and pulled down 14 rebounds to lead Central Catholic (22-5) to the MIAA Division 1 state championship as they defeated Holy Name (23-3), 53-48.

“I wanted it so bad,” McLaughlin said after the game. “We all wanted it. None of us had been this far in the playoffs ever. This was my senior season and I just wanted to go out with a bang.”

McLaughlin, who never stops working on both ends of the court, found her angles to the basket as she repeatedly beat the Holy Name defense to the right and finished at the basket.

“She is so quick,” Holy Name head coach Barry Finneron said of McLaughlin. “She catches it and gives you that little head fake to the middle and then she is down the lane.”

Central Catholic jumped out to an early 17-8 lead after one quarter of play as the tandem of junior point guard Courtney Walsh (13 points) and McLaughlin accounted for 13 of Central’s 17 opening quarter points.

Holy Name, led by junior point guard Aryauna Perez (12 points), fought back in the second quarter as they cut the deficit to six and gained momentum with under 10 seconds remaining in the first half.

With less than 10 seconds on the clock Central Catholic junior guard Alex Nagri would come up with one of the biggest plays of the game. The 5-foot-2 Nagri stole the ball and found junior forward Amanda Williams (10 points, 10 rebounds) for a successful And-1 conversion with 6.7 seconds remaining in the half. The play helped shift the momentum and give Central Catholic a 31-22 lead at the half.

“I know that I am obviously short,” Nagri said. “They had some shot blockers and some big people so after the steal I saw Amanda and I knew my job was to get it to her and she did a great job of catching and scoring it.”

Holy Name junior center Brianna Frias (six points, 11 rebounds) came out of the half time break and showed why she is one of the top talents in the state as she was aggressive on the glass and sparked the Holy Name effort on the defensive end of the floor. The staunch defensive effort by the Naps would help cut the Central Catholic lead to six points at 42-36 heading into the fourth quarter.

Holy Name sophomore guard Gabrielle Guenther (11 points) nailed two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter but Central would answer back as Walsh, McLaughlin and senior guard Darion Summers made big plays down the stretch to ensure the victory.

Summers scored her only two points of the game on two clutch free throws down the stretch to help seal the win.

“I don’t even know how to put it into words,” Central Catholic head coach Susan Downer said. “I am just so proud of them. They dug, made plays when we needed to, stuck to our game plan, we switched some things up in the third quarter, it is just amazing.”

Arms distance: As hard as Holy Name fought throughout the game they could never cut the Central lead to under five points. Each time the Naps would hit a big shot to shift the momentum Central would stay poised and answer back with a basket of their own.

“I think our transition play is the best part of our game,” Nagri said. “I think that we just stuck with our plan, got key defensive stops and pushed the ball in transition and that is what ended up helping us keep the lead.”

The future: It may not be too far fetched to think that we could see this match-up again in next year’s final. The future is very bright for both Central Catholic and Holy Name as each team graduates only three players from their current rosters.

Central graduates one of the state’s best forwards in McLaughlin, along with Summers and guard Allison Tierney. They return four starters in Walsh, Williams, Nagri, and guard Caitlin Dell’Orfano, who are all veteran juniors.

Holy Name also returns four of their starters in Frias, Perez, sophomore forward Lauren Willard and junior guard Ama Biney (11 points, four steals).

Holy Name graduates starting forward Malissa Saad (eight points, eight rebounds) along with center Megan Thornton (two blocks) and guard Eva Katana.

“Malissa Saad is just awesome,” Finneron added. “She just carried us at times and as a senior she played great for us, especially in the third quarter.”

MIAA Basketball Championship Scoreboard

March, 16, 2013
3/16/13
11:29
PM ET

ESPNBoston.com's State Semifinal Hoop Picks

March, 11, 2013
3/11/13
1:58
AM ET
EASTERN MASS. FINALS

Boys

D1: Mansfield (24-2) vs. Central Catholic (21-5)
Brendan Hall: Whatever the fourth-quarter lead is, you might as well double it. Both squads are terrific finishing teams. Still, it’s hard for me to go against The Illuminati. Pick: Mansfield
Chris Bradley: The way Central Catholic is playing defensively, they can’t be beaten by anybody in the state. Tyler Nelson is on another level from pretty much any guard in the state in terms of playmaking, while his backcourt mate Lucas Hammel is great on-ball defender. Pick: Central Catholic

D2: Brighton (19-6) vs. Scituate (21-3)
Hall: Last month I said that whoever came out of the D2 North tournament would be battle-tested enough to run the table. Brighton came back stronger than ever after last season’s disappointment, and they are playing as well as any right now. Malik James has been playing his way into Super Team consideration at this current clip. Pick: Brighton
Bradley: Brighton’s toughest tests of the Division 2 tournament have passed—the Bengals beat Melrose and North Andover, two of the best teams in the state. A great season by Scituate, but I can’t see any of the teams left in the Division 2 field hanging with Brighton. Pick: Brighton

D3: Danvers (22-2) vs. Martha’s Vineyard (18-5)
Hall: Save a bad weekend at the Comcast Tournament, Falcons have survived every test given to them this season. With the Vineyard, there is always the element of the great unknown. We know the Vineyarders can run, but so can the Falcons. Pick: Danvers
Bradley: What a run by the Vineyard, beating Wareham in the D3 South final. That being said, Danvers has proven that they are hands-down the best team in the state. Expect a few treys each from Nick McKenna, Nick Bates, and Vinny Clifford. Pick: Danvers

Lynnfield (16-7) vs. Bishop Connolly (18-6)
Hall: Pulling for Scott Barboza’s alma mater to get some hardware here. Pick: Connolly
Bradley: Connolly has a slew of quick, athletic guards who can score and put a lot of pressure on opposing teams defensively. I foresee Lynnfield struggling with that pressure. Pick: Bishop Connolly

Girls

D1: Braintree (24-2) vs. Central Catholic (20-5)
Hall: Defense wins championships, and the Wamps have one of the best defensive players around in Bay State Conference MVP Bridget Herlihy. Four of the Wamps’ five starters are sophomores or younger, including Herlihy, yet this is one of the tallest lineups in the state. Gonna be fun to watch this crew the next few years. Pick: Braintree.
Bradley: Make it another sweep for Central Catholic boys and girls in the state semifinals. I’m calling upset here, expect a huge game from Casey McLaughlin. Pick: Central Catholic

D2: Reading (23-0) vs. Medfield (24-2)
Hall: Would be cool to see one of the state’s finest athletes Jen Narlee bring home a state title in two sports this calendar year, but you don’t get to 48 straight wins without some role players stepping up. Rockets’ workhorse Olivia Healy will get hers, but the hero will once again be someone else. Pick: Reading
Bradley: Well, I don’t have the guts to pick against an Olivia Healy-led team. Anybody who does--feel free to raise your hand. Pick: Reading

D3: Archbishop Williams (21-5) vs. Pentucket (24-1)
Hall: Does this qualify as an upset if I go with Pentucket? Sachems have been quietly waiting in the grass all season long. Monday night, they will strike with a first-round haymaker. Pick: Pentucket
Bradley: A great run by Archbishop Williams here in the final stretch of the season. I know this has been a highly-anticipated matchup all year, but I’m going to pick what some may call the “upset” and go with Pentucket, but expect an absolute thriller Pick: Pentucket

D4: Fenway (14-7) vs. Greater New Bedford (20-4)
Hall: Tajanay Veiga-Lee was the hero last year against this same GNB squad, but I like the Bears getting their revenge Monday night. Pick: Greater New Bedford
Bradley: Fenway's girls are battle-tested and on quite a roll right now, as they've won seven games in a row. Pick: Fenway

***

CENTRAL/WEST FINALS

Boys

D1: Springfield Putnam (22-1) vs. Milford (20-3)
Hall: I love the way Putnam plays so inspired, and their whipping of Springfield Central in Saturday's D1 West Final might be the Beavers' high water mark of the season. Look for big games out of KayJuan Bynum and David Murrell. Pick: Putnam
Bradley: Putnam has more talent and more speed than Milford, but during their tournament run the Hawks have displayed the type of toughness and poise that it takes to go to the state finals. Milford doesn’t have a go-to guy, but they have a team full of kids who aren’t afraid to take the big shot-which is why they’ll beat Putnam and give Central a run for their money in the state finals. Pick: Milford

D2: St. Bernard's (19-4) vs. South Hadley (16-7)
Hall: Bernardians made it this far last year, only to meet a disappointing end. They're back again, and more determined. Pick: St. Bernard's
Bradley: The Bernardians will have a significant size advantage, as well as one of the better scorers in Division 2 in John Crawley. Count on St. Bernard’s to punch their ticket into the D2 state finals. Pick: St. Bernard's

D3: Smith Academy (21-3) vs. Littleton (24-1)
Hall:
Here's a team we missed the boat on. Smith took the D3 field by storm, and from what I understand they're a loaded bunch. I like their chances in this one. Pick: Smith Academy
Bradley: Littleton hasn't lost a game since December, thanks mainly to a high-scoring attack and exceptional play from senior guard Chris Murray. They certainly weren't the favorite in a tough D3 Central field, but they made it out alive. Pick: Littleton

Girls

D1: Holy Name (22-2) vs. Chicopee (16-7)
Hall: Junior center and Providence commit Brianna Frias is a monster on the boards, and my pick for Defensive Player of the Year. Long-time Naps coach Barry Finneron has his best shot at a state title in a while. Pick: Holy Name
Bradley: Holy Name is on quite the run and couldn’t be any higher emotionally after absolutely blowing out Wachusett in the D1 Central final. Sophomore Gigi Gunther is a future star. Pick: Holy Name

D2: Nashoba (21-2) vs. Hoosac Valley (19-5)
Hall: Going with strength of schedule in this one, and the Chieftains delivered powerhouse Tyngsborough its first-ever loss within Central Mass. to get to this stage. Pick: Nashoba
Bradley: All five of Nashoba’s starters could be considered go-to scorers, they’ve had such an even scoring attack all year. Their balance offensively is going to give Hoosac plenty of problems. Pick: Nashoba

D3: Lee (18-5) vs. University Park (23-1)
Hall: Death, taxes, and the Lee Wildcats on the DCU Center floor competing for a state title. Pick: Lee
Bradley: Lee is clicking at the right time, beating favored power Sabis in the Western Mass. Division 3 finals. Not only that, Stephanie Young has shown several times this year that she can break 20 or 25 on any given night. Pick: Lee

Updated girls hoop Top 25 poll

January, 8, 2013
1/08/13
4:27
PM ET
We updated our statewide MIAA Top 25 girls basketball poll this afternoon. To see the complete poll, CLICK HERE.

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

Pentucket jumps into Top 5: Following its 59-39 win over Billerica last Wednesday, Pentucket jumps up three spots to No. 5 in this week's poll. That gives us three Division 3 schools in the Top 5 of the poll: Archbishop Williams (3), St. Mary's of Lynn (4) and the aforementioned Sachems. The Sachems have a slew of quality shooters in their arsenal, but as usual it's John McNamara's press defenses that are the calling card of this year's squad, led by 6-foot senior Tess Nogueira.

Wachusett makes a splash: Debuting the poll this week is Wachusett, at No. 16, following a whirlwind week of three wins in four days. The Mountaineers took down No. 14 Holy Name in overtime on Jan. 2, then followed up with wins over Leominster and No. 20 Westford Academy on Friday and Saturday, respectively. That gives us three Central Mass. teams in the poll this week; joining Holy name and Wachusett is Algonquin at No. 23.

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

Merrimack Valley - 4
Catholic Central - 3
Bay State - 2
Cape Ann - 2
Dual County - 2
Mid-Wach A - 2
Bi-County - 1
Central Mass. Conference - 1
Eastern Athletic - 1
Hockomock - 1
Independent - 1
Middlesex - 1
Northeastern - 1
Old Colony - 1
Suburban - 1
Tri-Valley - 1

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