Boston High School: James Costello

Recap: No. 3 Central Cath. 72, Andover 54

February, 17, 2012

LAWRENCE, Mass. -- In this MIAA basketball season of constant surprise, one of the few guarantees was that Central Catholic would live up to its preseason No. 1 billing and head into the Division 1 North tournament as a bona fide favorite.

So maybe this next part is anticlimactic.

Before a capacity home crowd, the Raiders hosted archrival Andover in the finale of its Merrimack Valley Conference slate, and as typical of intense rivalries, the Golden Warriors made a run at them. But the Raiders never trailed from start to finish, eventually rolling away in the fourth quarter to a 72-54 win.

With the win, Central improved to 17-1 and wrapped up its league slate at 14-1 -- the Raiders have already clinched their sixth straight league title. In the last five seasons, the Raiders have lost just three MVC contests -- twice to Lowell (2008, 2012) and once to Andover (2010). The Warriors fell to 11-7 on the season, and finish their league schedule 9-5.

"It means a lot to us," sophomore Tyler Nelson (17 points) said of the league championship streak. "We have a lot of goals this year, and we really want to go out there and make a statement, and try and reach our ultimate goal of reaching the tournament and making a run."

The Raiders led 44-32 at the break, thanks to a perfect first half from Nelson. The point guard was 5-for-5 from the field, including two 3-pointers, and 5-for-5 from the foul line in one of his better first-half performances of the season.

"They didn't play box-and-one like the first time we met them," Nelson said. "So it was a little bit easier getting my shot off, and I was just knocking them down. I felt good from the start, and I knew I was going to keep making them."

But Andover came storming out of the gates to start the third quarter, opening with an 8-0 run. Chris Dunn (20 points) capped the run with a three-pointer that cut the Central lead to 44-40, pulling up to the right wing and letting loose.

That was as close as the Warriors got the rest of the way. Over the final 12 minutes, Central outscored the Warriors 28-14 behind some tough interior play facilitated by junior Joel Berroa (14 points) and sophomore Nick Cambio (11 points, seven rebounds).

"It wasn't the way we wanted to start the second half," Central head coach Rick Nault said. "I don't think we adjusted properly to start that second half. Then I thought we just went inside, and dominated the paint -- not only in scoring, but getting the ball in the post."

Max Silveira also chipped in 15 points for Andover in the loss.

Foul trouble: Central poses many a matchup problem on any given night, particularly when they go with a lineup that has all three of its true bigs -- Berroa, Cambio and junior Doug Gemmell -- on the floor. That was evident tonight against the undersized Andover front, drawing them out of position on plays around the rim, especailly in the first half. Central went to the line for 19 free throw attempts in the first half, making all of them, while Andover attempted just five and made four.

"We feel like when we have the three bigs on the floor together, we feel we've always have a mismatch somewhere," Nault said. "Our focus point is to try to get them the ball, and the fact that we can get fouled and knock them down from the free throw line is huge for us. That's always been the case in the past."

Andover head coach Dave Fazio chose not to say much on the matter, stating simply, "They shot 19 free throws, we shot five. End of statement. It is what it is. Whatever."

Puello on the mend again: It took nearly a month for star senior guard Luis Puello to get back to full strength after going down with a high ankle sprain during the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament in late December. Now, it appears the Raiders will continue to learn how to do without.

Puello, widely considered the state's best on-ball defender, was in street clothes on the bench tonight after re-injuring the same ankle in a 74-46 win over Haverhill last Friday. Nault said there is "honestly no timetable for a return", and estimates a "50-50" chance Puello returns at the starter of the Division 1 North tournament.

In the meantime, junior Lucas Hammel has taken on Puello's familar role of picking up the ballcarrier immediately and marking the best shooters all around the halfcourt.

"We'll take it day by day," Nault said of Puello's injury. "It took him four weeks to come back last time, and he's re-injured that same foot. So, I really don't know."

Dowden down as well: The Warriors have also been missing 6-foot-4 junior forward Sam Dowden, one of their top players, since spraining his ankle in a Feb. 7 win over Lowell. In Tuesday's 54-38 loss to Lowell, Dowden played less than eight minutes, and wasn't getting much push out of the foot.

Fazio considers Dowden "day to day", and has been erring on the side of caution with his recovery.

"If we're playing for a league title tonight, we probably give him a shot and let him run," Fazio said.

Fazio declares team will be 'dangerous': Answering questions about Dowden, Fazio noted the team's upcoming schedule -- a host tournament during February vacation, followed by the Division 1 North sectional -- and declared, "We're going to end up being a dangerous team."

"We're going to put all our pieces together," Fazio said. "We haven't put all our pieces together. The kids are hungry. A lot of teams are winding down in February, they're tired. These kids are hungry, and that says a lot about these guys."

And just what makes them so hungry?

"We've just got great kids, man," Fazio laughed. "We've got great kids like (senior captain) James Costello who pour their heart and soul into it. Sam Dowden's a warrior. We've just got a bunch of great kids who love basketball."

Recap: No. 2 Central Cath. 61, Andover 51

January, 7, 2012

ANDOVER, Mass. –- Andover gave it the good old college try, but their archrivals No. 2 Central Catholic dominated the third quarter and shattered the Golden Warriors hope of an upset, winning 61-51 tonight.

“They kept giving us different looks and we were out of wack a little bit,” said Central-Catholic coach Rick Nault. “Trying to get Tyler [Nelson] into the offense, he’s been our leading scorer all year. Tonight, they did a tremendous job on him.”

Andover’s Sam Dowden opened up the game with two free throws and from there until the end of the first half, Andover and Central Catholic would play follow the leader. Tied at 25 late in the second quarter, James Costello made two of his five first quarter free throws to put Andover up 27-25 at the half.

In fact, 13 of Andover’s 27 points in the first half came from the free throw line, the only missing coming on the last of three shots taken by junior guard Max Silveira after being fouled behind the arc.

In the third quarter, the Raiders got busy. Scoring 17 straight points, Central Catholic opened up a substantial lead for the first time in the game, a wound from which Andover could not recover.

“They’re a good team,” said Andover coach David Fazio. “They’re tough man-to-man. They get up in you.”

The Golden Warriors closed out the third quarter down by nine at 45-36, and twice in the fourth quarter they were able to come within eight at 49-41, Central Catholic turned up the heat on defense and would not allow Andover to get within striking distance, remaining undefeated at 7-0.

Going Hard in The Paint… And Behind the Arc: Doug Gemmell scored 22 points, with 15 of those coming from behind the three-point line. Although Gemmell grabbed six rebounds, made two steals and with his wide frame helped to slow down traffic in the lane on defense and take up space on the offensive end, allowing his teammates to out rebound Andover, his stroke from deep was smooth, showcasing a very diverse talent on both ends of the floor.

Four Quarters: Central Catholic won the game, but as the number three team in the state, the defensive showing in the first half was not indicative of their potential. Free throw opportunities that Andover was able to capitalize on in the first quarter kept them in the game, and Central continued to foul the Golden Warriors, allowing them to keep the game close.

In the third and fourth quarter, aggressive and craftier defensive play by Central Catholic kept Andover away from the line (5 opportunities in the second half compared to seven in the first half) and the ball out of the basket to maintain their winning lead.

Doug Gemmell didn’t have an explanation for why the Raiders picked up the defense and how they could manifest that same effort in the first half to definitively put some distance between teams early on, but that doesn’t mean he is not going to focus on it in the future.

“It starts with our defense,” said Gemmell. “We have to come out in the first half, just denying everything. One pass away and help side defense.”

LaFrancis steps up, leads A-B past Andover

March, 2, 2011

ACTON, Mass. -- Twenty-four hours before his Acton-Boxborough squad was set to host Andover in a first-round battle between two Division 1 North sleepers, Colonials head coach Rick Kilpatrick had some sound advice for his 6-foot-6 junior center. Namely, with at least a three-inch height advantage over anyone else on the floor, he was going to have to step up and dominate.

Suffice it to say, with the Golden Warriors doing everything they could to shut down star guard Sam Longwell, Kevin LaFrancis seized the moment. He turned in arguably his best performance of the season, with 21 points and 16 rebounds, as the Colonials held off a furious Andover rally to win going away, 68-54, in this D1 North first round game.

The No. 6 seed Colonials (19-3) move on to the quarterfinals, where they will visit No. 3 Lynn English (20-2) at a date to be determined. English knocked off Everett tonight, 68-57.

"We did a really good job of getting the ball inside to Kevin," Kilpatrick said. "We work on post feeds every day. We knew we were going to have a size advantage in this game, and I thought our guys responded, took care of the ball and got it to him."

Asked what his reaction would have been had he been told before the game that they'd win going away, with star guard Sam Longwell (eight) bottled up most of the night, LaFrancis smiled and took it in stride.

"I would have said Wes [Schroll] had 42 points," he laughed, referring to the Colonials' other dynamic playmaker who finished with 18 points and six boards. "No but, they focused their gameplan on Sam, so when they do that, other guys have got to step up. And I think Wes and I did that tonight. Dana Flood came up with some big three's. We all just came together."

Trailing 14-13 after one quarter of play, the Colonials outscored the Warriors 20-6 over the next stanza to take a 13-point halftime lead, aided by back-to-back three-pointers by Longwell and Joey Flannery (10 points).

But the biggest facet keying the run was unquestionably their ability to deliver seamless entry passes to the paint. On some possessions, it was LaFrancis moving out to the wing and hitting a player right on his hands as he came off a screen. Other times, LaFrancis merely backed down his defender in the post, diverting attention in the Warriors' 2-3 zone or simply going up with it to draw contact.

The Colonials also helped their first-half cause on the glass, outrebounding the Warriors 21-9 -- including eight from LaFrancis.

"We were just getting every rebound," LaFrancis said. "Our guards did a great job boxing out. I think we had five on the glass, and they weren't making their shots. That was the key to our run.

Indeed, it was a miserable first half for Andover star Joe Bramanti (26 points), to say the least -- the Merrimack Valley Conference MVP went a pedestrian 2 for 9 from the field in the first 16 minutes. But a player with Bramanti's talents doesn't stay cold forever.

The 6-foot-3 senior exploded for 13 points, hitting 4 of 5 from the field, nailing all five of his free throws, and throwing down one monster one-handed running dunk that put the Andover supporters on their feet. Bramanti's resurgence, along with a series of turnovers caused with various presses -- 1-3-1, 1-2-2 and man the most prevalent -- eventually cut A-B's lead to five at several points early in the fourth quarter.

All this, in spite of many of its players in foul trouble -- especially James Costello, who sat with three in the first half before fouling out, and sophomore Sam Dowden, who faced similar struggles.

"I just told the kids, if you're going to go out like that, after playing 20 games against the perennial powers of Massachusetts, that's a sad way to go out," head coach Dave Fazio said. "You know, it's a sad way to go out. We didn't even swing the bat in the first half. And then in the second always, these kids are warriors. They fought, they kept coming back...I'm proud of the fact my kids didn't roll over in the second half. I knew they wouldn't, I just didn't know if we'd have enough legs."

Bramanti's two free throws cut the Colonials' lead to 51-46 with 5:30 to go, but that was as close as the Warriors would reach. With time running out, they resorted to a slew of errant long-range perimeter shots, which A-B players rebounded and took a foul to go to the line.


Bramanti put the exclamation point on his revamped scoring touch with the most electric play of the night. From halfway down the paint from the free throw line, the hard-charging senior -- sometimes nicknamed "The Bull" -- lifted off and dunked the ball home with authority, letting out a war cry and flexing his arms to the crowd. While it only cut the lead to 41-29 in the third, it proved a pivotal point in momentum for Andover as it mounted a comeback.

And once again, it goes to show the 6-foot-3 all-everything's potential has at the next level. Bramanti has drawn interest from Division 1 schools such as The Citadel and Dartmouth, while a handful of Northeast-10 schools are also recruiting his services.

"He's gonna be a great college player, there's no doubt about that," Fazio said. "This is going to sting him for a while. But the sky's the limit, and as a coach you want to win a state title, do all the great things, but more importantly you want to do right by the kids. And that kid has gone from a boy to a man in four years at Andover High School, and all in all that's probably the most important thing."

Brendan Hall is a High School Editor for Follow him on Twitter.

Bramanti delivers in Comcast consolation

February, 20, 2011
DORCHESTER, Mass. –- It just didn’t feel like a consolation game at the Comcast IAABO Board 27 Tournament, at Boston College High School's McNeice Pavilion. Andover coach Dave Fazio even said it himself.

“You play in this tournament and it’s all about pride,” said Fazio. “So any game you play in any tournament against a quality team like Newton North is all about pride. We try to instill in our kids that it doesn’t matter whether its checkers or chess, it doesn’t matter, if you play in something competitive, you always play to win. That’s what it’s all about.”

And they did indeed play to win. The Golden Warriors bounced back from Saturday’s tough loss against St. John’s Prep to beat Newton North in a 75-66 win.

In the first 45 seconds of the game, sophomore Sam Dowden knocked down two three-pointers to give Andover a solid six point lead for the entire first quarter. Then, in the second quarter, Andover’s star Joe Bramanti scored 15 of his team’s 21 points to put his team up by 13. At this point, it looked as though it was Andover’s game for the taking. It was not, however, even close to being over.

After a Tevin Falzon basket with a foul to finish the second quarter, and a Luke Westman dunk to start the third, Newton North took the momentum back. Powered by Michael Thorpe’s 19 third-quarter points -- including three acrobatic three-pointers -- the Tigers went on a 20-6 run to take the lead at 51-46.

“That’s the player that I’ve been waiting for all season long,” Newton North head coach Paul Connolly said. “Michael has only averaged 13 points per game this year. He hasn’t shot the ball well. We’ve been a different team this year. That’s the level he’s capable of playing at. That’s what we need. Your leading scorer needs to play like that in the tournament. Mike had a period there where he was phenomenal but you know, they have Joe Bramanti, and he took over the game."

Said Bramanti, who only scored two points in the third, “After [Thorpe] hit the third three-pointer, coach put me on him just to contain him and keep him out of his rhythm. Once someone catches fire like that, they are just going to keep going and going and going so you just put the clamps on him and hope he doesn’t keep going.”

Andover decided to then take a page out of Newton North’s book. Coach Fazio told his team to get the ball to Joe, and it turned out that was the right decision. Bramanti went off for 21 fourth-quarter points on various drives, three-pointers, and 11 free throws.

“[Getting to the line] is definitely a big part of my game," Bramanti said. "I was really trying to facilitate early on, but when we got down to the fourth quarter it was necessary for me to get to the line. We needed a break, and those are easy points."

Bramanti finished with 38 points, going nine for 16 from the field (including three 3-pointers) and stayed perfect from the line by sinking 17 free throws.

“This is a big win for us. This is a big win for our program,” said Fazio. “You’ve got to remember, the last two we lost was probably to the number one team in the state and the number two team in the state. Those two losses were against two really good teams. I think we have the best schedule in New England. We play against everyone. It was another great fight by our kids.”

Future Reference

-- While Bramanti may be known as the star for Andover right now, keep your eyes on junior James Costello. Costello finished with 20 points. Whether he was using his mean jab step to get by his man or jumping over defenders for offensive rebounds, there is no doubt that Costello is a unique player. At 6-foot-3, he does not have a true position but is the type of athletic player that every team could use. His coach and teammate would agree.

“I think these past few games, [James] has been tremendous,” said Bramanti. ”He’s been stepping up big time. He’s definitely progressed exponentially. I think it is good for him to have two good games for our game Thursday night against Brockton.”

“He is playing better and better," Fazio said. "He is going to be phenomenal. Hopefully, he’s going to carry the torch from Bramanti.”

-- For those of you making your predictions for the MIAA playoffs, coach Connolly shed some light on who he thinks will be the most successful teams. After having a surprisingly early exit last year, Connolly thinks the teams with the best guards are the most dangerous.

“Hurley took over the game against us yesterday," Connolly said. "Pat Connaughton is capable of taking over games. When you have a player who can take over a game with the ball in his hands, you are dangerous. We had Greg [Kelley] last year but it’s different when you have a big guy. Those are the guys who will make the big tournament runs."

Freshman Nelson seals round two for Central

January, 8, 2011
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- What is the difference between the Central Catholic and Andover boys’ basketball teams? On the year, six points, advantage Central Catholic on the heels of their 64-55 win tonight. The victory was retribution for the Raiders, as the Warriors served them with a 55-52 loss during the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament last week.

“There’s not a whole lot that separates these two teams right now,” head coach Rick Nault said. “We’ve got them one more time, and we’ll find out in round three who’s on top” he added, referring to the February 17th matchup at Andover.

With 2:00 left in the game and down by 10, Andover’s Sam Dowden (nine points, eight rebounds) missed his first free throw and made the second, leaving the score at 55-46. On the following possession, Central Catholic (7-1) freshman Tyler Nelson threw one up from behind the line and missed.

“Why did he do that?” yelled a Central supporter from the stands.

Andover’s James Costello got the rebound and down the other end, Joe Bramanti (11 points, five rebounds) went to the rack, was fouled as he scored, and made the free throw to bring Andover within six at 55-49.

With the Andover (6-2) crowd reinvigorated and having scored on the last two possessions, the making of a comeback was in the air. Up six, against their biggest rival, the Raiders give the ball back to Nelson.


“He’s our second leading scorer on the team as a freshman,” said Nault of Nelson, whose trey, his only score on the day, made it a nine point game, the difference in the game at the buzzer. “He really has a ton of confidence in himself… that may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“They have faith in me,” said Nelson of his teammates. “And they know that I can hit a shot when they need someone.

“I’m a shooter.”

Senior captain Jimmy Zenevitch led the Raiders with 18 points and added eight rebounds.

“Last week, we came out with no intensity,” said Zenevitch. “This week, today we did our best to deny the ball and finish on defense. Defense is what sets us off.”

Andover coach Dave Fazio was very clear on what he thought the difference was.

“Defensive rebounds. That’s the game,” said Fazio. “We gave up probably 20 defensive rebounds and that’s our biggest deficiency. Until we can figure that piece out, we’re going to lose those tight games.”

Central Catholic's 6-foot-4 sophomore Joel Berroa was one of the culprits, grabbing 11 rebounds and adding seven points, including a three pointer in the first half.

“I was actually just playing my game,” said Berroa, who felt no pressure, even though coach Nault advised him to get 17 points and 13 rebounds. “The shots weren’t going in, and I was like, ‘Let me just get my rebounds, play some defense and do the best I can.’”

Junior Luis Puello, who scored five of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, was pleased with the outcome in tonight’s game.

“The difference between the last two minutes over there and the last two minutes over here is that we thought we could go for a win and everything was going to be OK,” said Puello. “Here, we made it happen.”