Boston High School: Hoosac Valley

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?

D5 semifinal: Northbridge 29, Hoosac Valley 22

November, 23, 2013
11/23/13
9:37
PM ET
LEOMINSTER, Mass. -- After Hoosac Valley punched in the go-ahead touchdown and ensuing two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter to take a 1-point lead over Northbridge, Hurricane coaches quietly muttered to themselves that perhaps they might have left to much time on the clock for the Rams to orchestrate one final push.

Northbridge got the ball back with just over two minutes to remaining in this afternoon's Division 5 state semifinal held at Doyle Field. Starting from its own 35, the Rams, led by quarterback Koby Schofer, showed a collective calmness as they started a drive that would, one way or the other, dictate the future of their postseason aspirations.

After accumulating just two yards on its first three plays of the series, Northbridge was faced with a fourth-and-8 from his own 37. Schofer, just a sophomore but plays with tremendous poise, completed a 10-yard pass to receiver Chandler Brooks to keep the march alive. A short time later, Schofer hit Brooks again on a 15-yard crossing route to move the chains. The duo would hook up one last time drive — only this time it was Brooks hauling in a 25-yard pass in the left corner of the end zone with 30 seconds remaining to give Northbridge an improbable 29-22 victory.

"I was just hoping for us to get into field goal range during that last drive and give our kicker a shot," said Schofer, who rushed for 170 yards on 28 carries, while completing 14 of 23 passes for 112 yards. "Coach [Ken LaChapelle] made a great call with the 'back shoulder and go' route and we were able to score. That play has worked for us a lot this season when we need eight to ten yards. Chandler made a great move getting off his man and catching the ball."

The Rams (9-2) will meet Bishop Fenwick (a 35-8 winner over Abington on Friday) for the state title at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 7 -- time yet to be determined. Northbridge is no stranger when it comes to championships, as the Rams have won 10 Super Bowls since 1974.

Hoosac (9-2) was down 14-0 before finally getting waking up late in the opening half. The Rams jumped on the vulnerable Hurricanes early. Jake Wood, a sophomore tailback, scored on a 1-yard dive on Northbridge's initial possession. After getting the ball back, the Rams found the end zone once more. Marching 63-yards, Northbridge finished it off on a Brooks 7-yard scoring catch from Schofer.

The Hurricanes were in dire need of some type of spark to get them going before this one turned ugly. Defensive back Matt Braman answered their wishes. The senior picked off a Schofer pass inside the Rams 30. That would lead to Braman, also playing running back, taking a swing pass from quarterback Matt Koperniak (10-of-13 passes for 165 yards) and racing 17 yards into the end zone to breath some life into the Hurricanes, who then trailed 14-7 at the half.

Neither offense moved the ball on its opening possession to begin the third quarter. On Hoosac's second possession of the quarter, a bad snap led to a fumble that was recovered by Northbridge's Tom Smith deep in its own territory. It set up the Rams in great position to grab a two-score lead.

But Schofer again was picked off by Hurricane defensive back Brandon Tworig. Hoosac used the turnover by mounting an 88-yard scoring drive capped off by Koperniak's 3-yard bootleg around left tackle. Ian Hill's PAT deadlocked this tilt at 14 with 7:18 remaining in the final quarter.

"They started taking it to us and did a great job," LaChapelle, who has been head coach for the Rams since 1976. "We scrambled and found a way to get in at the end. We can't do anything easy. We don't try to but we do make it hard on ourselves sometimes. Schofer is someone who we have really counted on and Chandler, who is also a sophomore, is our go-to guy. We've counted on our sophomore and they've done what they had to do."

Realizing they now in a dogfight, the Rams showed no signs of panic as momentum had clearly now shifted to the side of the Hurricanes. With the ball on his own 38, Schofer ran for 14 yards and later completed a pass to receiver Jurrell Cromwell for 20 yards.

Reaching the Hoosac 18, Schofer, who had the Hurricanes' secondary off-balance throughout much of the chilly afternoon, darted around a couple of Hurricane defenders and into the end zone putting the Rams back in front 21-14 with 3:21 showing.

At that point it appeared as though the magic Hoosac found to fight back in this one affair had run out. Standing on their 20, things looked grim for the Hurricanes. Primarily a run-oriented club, what were they going to do to move downfield?

But it’s never too late to run something out of the ordinary; that is precisely what Hoosac did. On third-and-7, Koperniak allowed the Ram defense to converge toward him before tossing a well-executed screen pass to running back Tyler Mach. The junior, with a wall of blockers in front of him, busted down the left sideline 77 yards for the score with 2:36 showing.

One PAT from tying the game, Hurricane head coach Dayne Poirot decided to go for two. The gutsy decision paid off as Koperniak bounced over the goal line to put Hoosac ahead 22-21. The excitement and celebration would be short-lived however as Poirot and the rest of the Hurricanes now realize, that for a quick-strike offense the likes of Northbridge's, a couple of minutes on the clock is almost like an eternity.

"Going down 14 points early put us in a hole," said Poirot. "But our guys played an excellent second half. I felt we did a great job and left nothing on the field. Northbridge is great offensively and they made the play to beat us. We had [Brooks] covered on that touchdown but he went up and got it. I felt when it was 14-7 at the half, we came out for the second half with a lot more momentum than they did. We just left them to much time to score and they certainly have the offense to do it and they did."
Some statistical information gleaned from the last week or so of the MIAA football playoffs:

3. This is our house: Through its first year, and through the respective sectional tournaments, the MIAA football playoff system acquitted itself well in regard to its playoff seedings. Of the 138 games played through the weekend, throughout the state tournaments, the higher seed prevailed in 110 of those games — about 72 percent.

While most teams made the most of home-field advantage in the playoffs, only five divisions statewide were won out exclusively by the home teams, including (surprisingly enough) Division 2 South – which we deemed “The Group of Death” entering the playoffs.

However, again while higher seeds held a clear advantage on the greater bulk of playoff games, seven teams won their district championship game despite being the lower seed, meaning higher seeds were only 15-for-22 in sectional final games.

Here’s a look at the seven teams who pulled off “upsets” in those finals pairings:
  • Abington (Div. 5 South)
  • Bedford (Div. 4 North)
  • Central Catholic (Div. 1 North)
  • Doherty (Div. 4 Central)
  • Hoosac Valley (Div. 5 West)
  • St. John’s of Shrewsbury (Div. 2 Central)
  • Stoughton (Div. 3 Southwest)

2. Mr. Consistency: Melrose senior quarterback Malik Garrett is among the leading rushers in the state during the playoffs, running for 466 yards and seven touchdowns. But the rugged 5-foot-11, 195-pound signal caller has supplemented the ground game with a rather consistent passing result.

In fact, you can set your clock to Garrett gaining 115 yards in the air – as evidenced by his identical marks throwing for 115 in the Red Raiders’ three playoff wins over Middlesex League foes Burlington, Arlington and Woburn. Garrett has also been accurate, while completing 20 of 31 pass attempts throughout the playoffs – good for a completion percentage just a shade less than 65 percent. It’s an impressive feat, considering Garrett often throws on the roll, as part of Melrose’s spread option attack. And, if he’s not looking downfield for a receiver, he just as likely to run over you.

1. Picture Perfect? Well, Mansfield’s quarterback Kyle Wisnieski nearly was during Friday night’s win over Barnstable in the Div. 1 South final. While completing 20 of 27 pass attempts for 284 yards and four touchdowns against no interceptions, the Hornets senior quarterback registered nearly a perfect passer rating on Friday. Based on the NFL’s passer rating rubric, in which a “perfect” rating is 158.3, Wisnieski posted a 147.2 in Mansfield’s 41-16 victory. Along with a tremendous effort from the Hornets defense, in particular their defensive line, which limited All-State candidate running Hayden Murphy to just 21 rushing yards, Wisnieski and the Hornets took their game to near ... well, perfection.

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

Hoophall: Day 1 Recap

January, 15, 2011
1/15/11
1:47
AM ET



SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- A quick recap of today's action at the 10th Annual Hoophall Classic, at Springfield College's Blake Arena:

BOYS

Taconic 52, Sabis 42
Chris Bush led all scorers with 21 points, 16 of them coming in the second half, as the Braves pulled away late thanks to some clutch shooting from both the perimeter and free throw line. Senior center Mike Kalinowsky also had 10 points for Taconic. The Bulldogs (5-5) were led in scoring by Jason Hollett (17 points), while Xavier Garcia also netted 10.

Belchertown 44, Hoosac Valley 39
Pat Gooden (14 points, six rebounds, five steals) led the way as the Orioles (9-0) pulled away late on free throws, after exchanging basket for basket with Hoosac for almost the entire game. It was a gritty defensive battle no less, full of full-court presses and traps, as Belchertown came up with 21 steals -- including seven from Dan Johnson -- to force 31 Hoosac turnovers. The Hurricanes were led in scoring by Andrew Harmon (11 points, seven rebounds) and also got 10 boards from Slayter Aubin.

GIRLS

Mater Dei (Calif.) 85, Murry Bergtraum (N.Y.) 45
The Monarchs showed why they are one of the nation's premier girls basketball teams with an impressive thrashing of the Manhattan powerhouse. Two years after dropping 40-plus on defending Massachusetts Division 1 state champ Northampton in this very same building, UConn-bound senior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis went off for 17 points and eight rebounds in just 18 minutes. Meanwhile, top-five junior point guard Jordan Adams controlled the game from tipoff until the waning minutes, pouring in 17 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals while turning the ball over just twice. Mater Dei took a 49-18 halftime lead. Cori Coleman led the Lady Blazers with 19 points.

Sabis 50, Frontier 39
Jazmine Collins led the way with 15 points for the victorious Bulldogs (9-1), who had to stave off a late rally from Frontier (7-1) after going up by as much as 14 in the fourth quarter. Alexis Chappell led Sabis on the glass with 10 boards.

East Longmeadow 58, Springfield Central 34
Freshman forward Morgan Belanger came through in big ways for the two-time defending Division 1 Western Mass champs, netting 17 points on 7 of 12 shooting as the Spartans blew the game open in the second quarter. EL (3-6) outscored Central, 24-7, in that stanza, holding them without a field goal; overall, the Spartans forced 37 Central turnovers.

Hoophall Schedule Unveiled

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
4:54
PM ET
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the schedule today for its 10th Annual Hoophall Classic, to be held at Springfield College's Blake Arena from January 14-17, 2011 (Martin Luther King Day weekend).

Annually chock-full of the nation's premier high school talent, past Hoophall alumni include Kevin Durant, O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, Xavier Henry and Lance Stephenson. 2010's Classic featured high-major talents Kyrie Irving, Jared Sullinger, Tobias Harris, Cory Joseph, Brandon Knight and Austin Rivers.

Forty-seven teams from 17 different states as far away as California and Nevada are represented in this upcoming classic, among them nearly two dozen ESPNU100 talents including Michael Gilchrist, Quincy Miller, Myck Kabongo, LeBryan Nash, Andre Drummond, Shabazz Muhammad and DaJuan Coleman.

Locally, there will be several key games to look for, particularly on Monday morning when Notre Dame-bound Pat Connaughton leads St. John's Prep against Perspectives, the Chicago-based charter school that features Kentucky commit Anthony Davis.

The schedule is currently as follows:

GIRLS

Friday, Jan. 14
Springfield Central vs. East Longmeadow, 3
Sabis International vs. Frontier Regional, 4:30
Murry Bergtraum (N.Y.) vs. Mater Dei (Calif.), 6

BOYS

Friday, Jan. 14
Belchertown vs. Hoosac Valley, 7:30
Sabis vs. Taconic, 9

Saturday, Jan. 15
West Springfield vs. East Hartford (Conn.), 11 a.m.
Hillhouse (Conn.) vs. New London (Conn.), 12:30
Mount Vernon (N.Y.) vs. Taft (Calif.), 2
St. Anthony (N.J.) vs. DeMatha Catholic (Md.), 4
Morgan Park (Ill.) vs. Seattle Garfield (Wash.), 5:45
Oak Hill (Va.) vs. Milton (Ga.), 8
Chicopee vs. Columbia (Ala.), 9:30

Sunday, Jan. 16
St. Mark's vs. Life Center Academy (N.J.), 11 a.m.
St. Thomas More (Conn.) vs. Hargrave Military (Va.), 12:30
St. Andrew's (R.I.) v. Findlay Prep (Nev.), 2
Jamesville-DeWitt (N.Y.) vs. Webster Groves (Mo.), 4:30
Springfield Central vs. Newton North, 6
Sabis International vs. New Mission, 7:30
Skills Challenge, 9

Monday, Jan. 17
St. John's Prep vs. Perspectives (Ill.), 9 a.m.
Christ the King (N.Y.) vs. Westchester Country Day (N.C.), 11 a.m.
St. Patrick (N.J.) vs. Bishop Gorman (Nev.), 1
Dallas Lincoln (Texas) vs. Findlay Prep (Nev.), 3
Academy of the New Church (Pa.) vs. Boys and Girls (N.Y.), 5
East Longmeadow vs. Northampton, 7

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