Boston High School: Joel Berroa

Our MIAA All-State Boys Hoops Team

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
4:58
PM ET
THE SUPER TEAM

All-StateG – Malik James, Jr., Brighton
The 6-foot-1 point guard was named ESPN Boston’s “Mr. Basketball” last week after an explosive playoff campaign that saw him average 20 points in six games and deliver the Bengals the MIAA Division 2 state championship, their first state title in school history. James is expected to finish up his high school playing career at a prep school next season.

All-StateG – Darien Fernandez, Sr., Wareham
One of the state’s flashiest lead guards, the 5-foot-7 Fernandez once again took the South Coast Conference by storm with his no-look passes and rainbow jumpers. He averaged 23 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals as the Vikings went unbeaten through the SCC for the second straight year, and returned to the D3 South title game for the third time in four seasons.

All-StateF – KayJuan Bynum, Sr., Springfield Putnam
The 6-foot-3 Bynum was a physical presence on the boards, leading the Beavers in rebounds in the MIAA Division 1 state title game as they downed Mansfield in an overtime thriller. For the season, Bynum led the Beavers in scoring (15.7 points), ranked second in steals (2.5) and rebounds (9.6), and shot 39 percent from three-point range (40-for-103). Bynum is headed to Southern Connecticut State in the fall, where he will play linebacker on the football team.

All-StateF – Chris Bardwell, Sr., North Andover
In one of the most remarkable transformations in years, the 6-foot-5 Bardwell went from a benchwarmer on Central Catholic as a junior last year, to MVP of the state’s most competitive league, the Merrimack Valley Conference, as a senior at North Andover. For the season, Bardwell averaged 21 points, nine rebounds and 1.5 blocks as the Knights reached their first Division 2 North title game in six seasons.

All-StateC – Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland
The 6-foot-6 senior lived up to the hype garnered after an explosive summer, leading the Bulldogs to a South Shore League title and D3 South semifinal appearance. He averaged 21.4 points, 15.3 rebounds, 4.8 blocks and 2.1 assists per game while seeing many a double-team. That includes at least eight games with 20 points and 20 rebounds. Gibson is signed with UMass-Lowell for next season.

BEST OF THE REST

All-StateRiyadh Asad, Sr. G, West Springfield
One of the most talented lead guards outside of the Eastern Mass. region, Asad led a deep and talented West Side backcourt to one of the top seeds in Division 1 West, where they lost to eventual state champion Putnam in the semifinals. For the season, he averaged 19.4 points per game.

All-StateJaleel Bell, Sr. G, Wayland
One of the most decorated players in school history, the 6-foot Bell leaves Wayland as a two-time Dual County League Small MVP, and three-time DCL Small champion. The four-year starter led the state in scoring average this season (27.4 points per game), and leaves Wayland with 1,244 career points.

All-StateZack Berman, Sr. G, Wachusett
The Mountaineers won respect around the state with a challenging non-conference slate, taking down squads such as Cambridge and Brockton, and leading the way was the 6-foot Berman. The two-time Mid-Wach A MVP and three-year captain averaged 14 points, six assists and four rebounds as the Mountaineers reached the semifinals of the Division 1 Central tournament.
All-StateJoel Berroa, Sr. F, Central Catholic
One of the state’s premier rebounders, the 6-foot-5 Berroa picked up the slack as injuries piled up for the Raiders, helping them to a second Division 1 North title in four seasons. He averaged 14.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks this season. Berroa is currently considering Northeast-10 interest as well as post-graduate options.

All-StateA.J. Brodeur, Soph. C, Algonquin
The 6-foot-8 Brodeur is one of the most promising young stars in Massachusetts, and played a big part in the Tomahawks capturing the No. 1 overall seed in Division 1 Central this season. He averaged 17.5 points, 14.4 rebounds, 8.5 blocks and 4.5 assists; that also includes four triple-doubles of points, rebounds and blocks. Brodeur is headed to NEPSAC powerhouse Northfield Mount Hermon next season.

All-StateStevie Collins, Soph. G, Lynn English
The Bulldogs were one of the state’s most fascinating teams to watch in the second half, and the 5-foot-9 Collins was the catalyst in their run. English’s run to its first D1 North Final since 2009 included a monster 38-point performance from Collins in the semifinals against Everett. For the season, Collins averaged 14.5 points and six assists per game.

All-StateBrendan Hill, Soph. F, Mansfield
Playing in the competitive Hockomock League, the 6-foot-5 Hill came away as the league’s MVP as just a sophomore, as the Hornets made their first Division 1 state final appearance in school history. He averaged 13.4 points and was the league’s leading rebounder. Hill is also a standout wide receiver on the Hornets’ football team.

All-StateFreddy Hogan, Jr. G, Lynn English
The Bulldogs’ most consistent player from the get-go, he averaged 20 points per game over the first 12 games of the season before English hit full throttle en route to the D1 North finals. For the season Hogan led the team in scoring (16.9 points), and also averaged six assists.

All-StateJameilen Jones, Sr. G, BC High
Another returning All-Stater, the 6-foot-3 Jones navigated the Eagles through a tough Catholic Conference en route to one of the top seeds in Division 1 South. For the season, Jones averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the Eagles took a surprise first round exit in the playoffs. Jones will be pursuing post-graduate options for next season.

All-StateEric Martin, Sr. G, Danvers
One of several point guards making the list primarily for their distribution, the 6-foot Martin was the Northeastern Conference’s MVP this season after averaging 8.8 points, 7.2 assists and 3.7 steals per game. The two-time NEC All-Star led the Falcons to their second straight MIAA Division 3 state championship this season, and also has over 100 career goals for the Falcons’ soccer team, good enough for best all-time in the school.

All-StateTommy Mobley, Soph. G, Newton North
One of the state’s premier shooters made headlines throughout the season for his marksmanship, hitting 94 three-pointers and twice hitting nine in a game. He was named MVP of the Bay State Conference’s Carey division after averaging 18.4 points and five rebounds per game. He was also named to the All-Tournament Team of the Comcast IAABO Board 27 Classic.

All-StateBrian Mukasa, Jr. G, Sharon
The 6-foot Mukasa navigated the Eagles through a wide-open Division 2 South, losing to district champ Scituate in the semifinals. For the season, he was the Hockomock League’s leading scorer at 18.1 points per game, to go along with 4.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.9 steals.

All-StateDavid Murrell, Jr. F, Springfield Putnam
An athletic slasher, the 6-foot-3 Murrell was another defensive stalwart for a Beavers squad that earned their first MIAA Division 1 state championship in school history. For the season, he averaged 14.9 points and a team-best 10 rebounds, and also shot 53 percent from the field.

All-StateIsaiah Nelsen, Sr. F, North Andover
The 6-foot-6 post leaves North Andover as a two-time All-Star, and one of the program’s all-time leading scorers and rebounders. For his senior season he averaged 18.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocks as the Knights made their first D2 North Final appearance since 2007. Nelsen is signed with St. Anselm College for next season.

All-StateTyler Nelson, Jr. G, Central Catholic
Another one of the state’s premier shooters, and one of several returning All-Staters, Nelson shot 41 percent from three-point range as the Raiders captured their second Division 1 North title in four seasons. For the season, he averaged 17.2 points and 4.7 assists, and shot 89 percent from the free throw line.

All-StateFrantdzy Pierrot, Jr. G, Melrose
The Red Raiders were the state’s final remaining unbeaten before they fell to state champ Brighton in the D2 North semifinals, and the 6-foot-3 Pierrot was the catalyst. He was named MVP of the Middlesex League after averaging 21 points, 11 rebounds and five assists; that number includes averages of 18 points, 10 rebounds and four steals in the playoffs, with an injured ankle. Pierrot is also a highly-regarded soccer player for Melrose during the fall.

All-StateKamari Robinson, Sr. F, Springfield Central
Another returning All-Stater, the 6-foot-5 Robinson slid over to the wing position after leading the Golden Eagles to a Division 1 state championship in 2012 as a power forward. The move produced dramatic results, as he averaged 20.8 points per game and was named the Western Mass. Player of the Year.

All-StateElijah Rogers, Jr. G, Brookline
The 6-foot Rogers controlled everything for the Warriors in surprise blowouts of New Bedford and Marshfield, en route to the program’s first Division 1 South semifinal appearance since 2004. For the season he averaged 14.9 points, 5.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds. Rogers has been receiving varied amounts of interest across Divisions 1 and 2.

All-StateNick Simpson, Jr., Brighton
In his first run through the Division 2 playoffs, the 6-foot-5 Simpson was instrumental, helping the Bengals earn some dramatic wins throughout the tournament. For the season, he averaged 25 points, eight rebounds and three assists as the Bengals won their first Division 2 state title in school history.

All-StateJustin White, Jr. F, Holyoke
Also a star quarterback for the football team, the 6-foot-3 White brought that toughness underneath to impressive results, as the Purple Knights reached the Division 1 West semifinals. For the season, White averaged 16.3 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
All-StateJoel Berroa, Central Catholic
As injuries to key frontcourt players continued to pile up, Berroa saddled up and took on the brunt of the duties down low, marking the best forwards and keeping them in check. He was one of the Merrimack Valley Conference’s leading rebounders (9.4 per game) as the Raiders reached their second Division 1 Eastern Mass. Final in four seasons.

COACH OF THE YEAR
Mike McVeigh, North Andover

Long a Cape Ann League stalwart, the Knights began their first season in the state’s best league, the Merrimack Valley Conference, and made their presence felt immediately by capturing a share of the MVC Large title. The Knights also reached their first Division 2 North final since 2007 in the process, putting a nice bow on what has been a storybook career for the long-time coach. After 31 years on the sideline, one of the truest class acts in the game is calling it a career, with an overall record of 497-176 and a playoff appearance in every season.

All-Defensive Team
Lucas Hammel, Sr. G, Central Catholic
Joel Berroa, Sr. F, Central Catholic
Prince Unaegbu, Sr. F, Brighton
Tyler Gibson, Sr. F/C, Rockland
Obi Obiora, Jr. C, Brookline

All-Shooters Team
Tommy Mobley, Soph. G, Newton North
Tyler Nelson, Sr. G, Central Catholic
Tim Dufficy, Sr. G, Whitinsville Christian
Tyler Desrosiers, Sr. G, Agawam
Daivon Edwards, Sr. G, Brighton

Justin White photo is courtesy of MassLive.com and the Springfield Republican

Brian Mukasa photo is courtesy of HockomockSports.com

D1 EMass: Mansfield 55, Central Catholic 50

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
1:49
AM ET


BOSTON -– For Mansfield sophomore forward Michael Boen, this was by far the biggest game, and biggest stage he’s ever been apart of.

Playing against one of the best teams the state as to offer in Central Catholic, on the historic parquet floor, before a large crowd at TD Garden one would imagine a 16-year-old would be extremely nervous, especially shooting two free throws with seven seconds left and the game on the line.

Boen certainly didn’t show those nerves as he calmly sunk two free throws to seal Mansfield’s 55-50 win over Central Catholic in the Division 1 Eastern Mass. Championship game Tuesday night.

[+] EnlargeMansfield Hoops
Brendan Hall/ESPNKevin Conner (14 points) led an even score sheet for Mansfield, which will advances to its first Division 1 state final in program history.
“I was definitely nervous, but I didn’t try and show it,” Boen said. “That is what we do in practice, we shoot our free throws and it pays off. It really does.”

In a wild last two minutes of the game, Central’s Tyler Nelson canned a three-pointer with a minute to play tying the game at 50. Mansfield junior Kevin Conner then responded with 40 seconds left, putting the Hornets up 52-50. Central turned the ball over on their next possession and then was forced to foul Mansfield’s Brendan Hill with 20.4 seconds left on the clock.

Hill made one of two, giving Mansfield a three-point lead, 53-50. Electing not to have Central attempt a three to tie the game, Mansfield fouled Central’s Jamahl Lopez with seven ticks left setting up a one-and-one situation.

Lopez missed the front end, where Boen grabbed the rebound and was fouled, setting up his two clutch free throws to clinch the win and an EMass championship for the Hornets.

“I was begging for the clock to run faster,” Mansfield head coach Mike Vaughn said. “I knew they were going to make a push and throw everything at us as possible. We just had to weather it. I thought the guys had great composure and we got some key stops when we needed them.”

The game would not have had such a dramatic finish if it weren’t for the dominant fourth quarter from Central junior Tyler Nelson. Nelson scored 12 of his 15 points in the fourth, including two three-pointers. His jumper with 2:19 left actually gave his Red Raiders a 47-46 lead, but Mansfield’s Conner responded on the very next possession.

“He is a tremendous high school basketball player and he does it by working his butt off,” Vaughn said of Nelson. “We were literally chasing him running around, holding a little, bumping a little, doing everything we humanly could to try and get him off the three-point line...Talk about a special high school kid. I don’t want to play him next year.”

It was actually an off night for Nelson, who struggled in the first half, going 0-for-9 from the field and recording zero points. He didn’t record his first points, until a three-pointer two minutes into the third quarter.

“He’s an outstanding player and does so much for us,” said Central coach Rick Nault. “I think he was 0-for-9 in the first half and part of the reason we were down seven. He usually doesn’t shoot like that. They did a tremendous job on him.”

As a team Central struggled offensively in the first half only scoring 17 points and shooting just 26 percent from the field. The Red Raiders trailed 24-17 at intermission. Much of that was because of the outstanding defense Mansfield played.

“It is good team defense -- just team basketball,” Vaughn said. “Just a resilient group that knows how to get stop after stop.”

The Red Raiders came back in the second half shooting 63 percent from the field, but just couldn’t get over the hump after tying the game on a few occasions. They knotted the score at 43 with 5:32 remaining, but Mansfield responded with two straight baskets.

Central took the lead, 47-46, but once again Mansfield responded on the next trip down, and finally Nelson’s three with a minute left tied the game at 50, but the Hornets scored the games’ last five points.

“Every time they needed a play they seemed to respond,” Nault said of Mansfield. “Give their coaching staff all the credit. They made the plays at the end of the game and we didn’t. It seemed like we’d make a play, hit a shot and feel good. We were content with being tied; we didn’t dig in and get a stop. Obviously it is disappointing.”

Central was led by Nelson’s 15, but also got a strong game from senior forward Joel Berroa who finished with 10.

Mansfield had eight players in the scoring column with Conner leading the way with 14. Junior Rocky DeAndrade finished with eight, while Boen and senior Greg Romanko added seven apiece. The balanced scoring is something Vaughan is accustomed to seeing.

“It is kind of how we’ve been all year,” he said. “A kid like (Brendan) Hill, who gets a lot of press only gets five points, but a kid like Kevin (Conner) got in double figures. Last week it was (Kyle) Wisnieski. We’re getting a lot of contributions from different guys and that makes us unique. It is why I think we’re here and why we are able to win.”

With the win Mansfield will move on to play Springfield Putnam for the Division 1 state championship Saturday night at the DCU Center. For the Hornets, they will aim to treat it just like any other game this season.

“We need to come in and play every game like we have, play our best, work our hardest and hopefully we come up with a win,” Boen said.

NOT AT FULL STRENGTH
Central Catholic played the last portion of their season not at full strength, missing two starters down the stretch. Junior forward Nick Cambio was out with an injured hip, while senior Doug Gemmell was dealing with symptoms from a concussion, which just wouldn’t go away.

Nault acknowledged after the game being without those two players made a difference, especially in game like Tuesday, but is still proud of his team for winning four state tournament games.

“Yes, no question, he said. “Not having the two forwards up front, and playmakers around the rim is a big thing. To be without those guys, be in the game and have this run they have nothing to be ashamed of. It was a tremendous run by a team that overcame a lot of adversity.”

The Red Raiders finished the year 21-6 and will return key contributors in Nelson, Cambio and Aaron Hall.

D1 North: Central Catholic 61, Andover 48

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
11:37
PM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- For the past two weeks, there has been a reemergence of the Central Catholic team most prognosticators expected to be a serious contender for the Division 1 Massachusetts State Championship.

It has been the team that shocked the state back in January when it came within four points of beating national power St. Anthony (N.J.) in a game it was not expected to win.

Tuesday, Central continued its run by beating Merrimack Valley Conference foe Andover 61-48 to advance to the Division 1 North final Saturday.

Central (20-5) smothered Andover (16-7) defensively, forcing 19 turnovers and holding it to 10 points in the entire first half. Its only points in the quarter came on a David Giribaldi (15 points) three-pointer.

“They totally took us out of everything we were trying to do,” said Andover coach Dave Fazio. “We couldn’t turn the corner, couldn’t make shots. You’d figure with the season that we had that we wouldn’t play tentative, but their defense just locked us down. We couldn’t get to the rim, we couldn’t make shots, it was just a tough, tough night at the office.”

Conversely, everything seemed to go well for Central. It got scoring where it needed it (31 points from Tyler Nelson), rebounded well (20 combined rebounds from Joel Berroa, Aaron Hall, and Mike Barry), and got quality defense (4 steals by Nelson, 3 blocks from Hall).

“I’ve had a lot of great wins in my short seven years, had state championship wins, tournament wins, conference wins, but this might be one of the best wins we’ve ever had,” said Central coach Rick Nault. “I don’t know how many teams in the state can be without two of their top four players and win three games in the tournament and beat a team that just beat the No. 1 seed. For me, in my eyes, this is one of the great wins I’ve had in seven years.”

Hall fills role: Since two of Central’s five starters, Doug Gemmell and Nick Cambio, have been out with injuries, the team has relied on 6-foot-6 junior Aaron Hall to fill one of its starting forward positions. The team is used to playing without Gemmell -- who suffered a concussion earlier in the season, and is now dealing with a recurrence of symptoms -- but it is not used to playing without Cambio. The junior injured his hamstring in a Feb. 20 loss at Lowell.

Hall and Joel Berroa (11 points, eight rebounds) were tasked with defending Andover’s post pair of Sam Dowden and Connor Merinder. To say they succeeded would be an understatement, as they held them without a point each in the first half, and they finished with 12 and 1 point respectively. Eight of Dowden’s points came at the free throw line.

“We said to Joel that it was going to come down to who wins the battle of the two forwards, him or Dowden,” said Nault. “Is he going to outplay Dowden? If he does, we’re going to win. Or is Dowden going to get the better of him? If he does, we’re in trouble. Without Nick and Doug, Joel has to do so many more things than he’s used to doing, and he won that battle tonight.”

Hall may not have lit up the scoresheet (seven points, six rebounds, three blocks), but he made life difficult inside for Andover. Its guards had difficulty finishing at the rim off the dribble, and Dowden was unable to muscle his way around the post like he wanted to. Because they were unable to work the ball inside effectively, it had to rely on outside jump shooting to score, and it was one of those nights where the shots were just not going in.

“People don’t give him enough credit,” said Nelson. “He plays his heart out, he really does. He boxes out, rebounds, does all the little things for us. He was a key player for us tonight. We wouldn’t have played as well as we did the last three games of the year if it wasn’t for him playing and rebounding as well as he is right now, especially with Doug and Nick out.”

As the games continue, the stage is getting bigger and bigger, but Hall is showing no signs of inexperience or nerves.

“I know I just have to push, even if I’m tired, just give 110 percent the whole time,” he said. “If you don’t, it could be your last game, and you just have to try hard.”

Rapid Rebound: It is strange to believe a team can cruise through a state sectional tournament with two of its starting five gone with injuries, but that is what Central has done so far this postseason. When it was without Gemmell in February, it had its ups and downs, most notably a 22-point loss to Lowell 8 days before the tournament started. But now here it is, one win away from a sectional title and three wins away from a state championship.

How?

“I don’t really have an answer for that,” Nelson said. “My best guess would be that we’re just playing really hard right now and real good team basketball. That’s what’s making us win and score a lot of points. We’re all working hard, especially on defense. A lot of our defense is causing a lot of offense, and me, Joel, and Lucas are playing really well together. Every guy that plays is stepping up right now.”

Nault credits focus and intensity for his team’s recent performance.

“We’re fighting and clawing every possession, and I think it showed that in the first half tonight,” he said. “Every possession, you have to fight and claw. You have to bump guys, be active, you gotta be talking. We’ve got to bring everything we can to the table every defensive possession, without those two guys, our two bigs.”

Embracing Hostility: Tyler Nelson has long drawn the ire and attention of Andover’s fan section, nicknamed "Jack’s Jungle". Such was the case Tuesday night, when they got into a tit-for-tat throughout the game. Any prolific scorer on any team is bound to hear chants of things like “Overrated!” when they walk into opposing gyms, but it is up to the player on the court to acknowledge them.

During one possession in the first half, Nelson was standing on the wing, directly in front of the Andover student section. After receiving a pass, he drove to the basket and hit one of the few fallaway jumpers he hit throughout the game. When the shot went in, he turned around, looked at the fans, said something, and ran back up the floor with his palms up.

He even heard negative chants later in the game, after Central had pulled away. When the game was over, he acknowledged he takes those chants and taunts and helps him use them to fuel his play.

“I definitely use it as fuel,” he said. “The first two times we played them, especially the first time, I didn’t have too good of a game and I got an “overrated” chant. So I kind of kept that in the back of my memory, and I made sure I got my revenge back in the end.”

Saturday Showdown: With the win, Central Catholic moves on to face Lynn English Saturday at the Tsongas Center for the Division 1 North title. The two teams did not play during the regular season, but English did play in the IAABO Board 130 Classic, which Central hosted. There, Nault was able to get a glance at his future opponent.

“They’re a very good defensive team, they trap all over the place,” he said. “The last time we played them in the Tsongas Arena, we got whacked, back in 2009. We have to prepare for them. They have a very athletic group, with two big guys up front, so it’s going to be an absolute challenge for us.”

IAABO 130: No. 2 Prep 64, No. 3 Central Catholic 62

February, 18, 2013
2/18/13
1:29
AM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. –- Sean Connolly’s hands shot up in near disbelief as Drex Costello pulled up for a 22-footer with the game tied and six seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Costello’s three-point attempt swooshed, pushing Prep (18-1) to a 64-62 victory over Central Catholic (16-4) in front of a standing-room only crowd at the IAABO Board 130 Classic.

After the game, Connolly candidly described his thought process as he saw his captain pull up for the shot.

“Uh, what are you doing?” he said with a laugh. “It wasn’t a great shot, but he’s hit big shots for us all year...He’s been our guy at the end of shot clocks and the end of games all year. Kid hits tough shots all the time.”

Costello -- who was 0-for-4 from three-point range through the first 29 minutes of the game -- hit two deep treys in the final two minutes, including the aforementioned game-winner.

“I really didn’t know how much time was left, I thought it was going to be a buzzer-beater,” Costello said. “Then I looked up at the clock and there was five seconds left. If I didn’t hit the [three-pointer] before, I wouldn’t have took that shot. I felt the confidence, I felt like I could make it.”

Costello, who has been known all years as Prep’s go-to offensive player and key defensive stopper, finished with 16 points in all. Junior guard Quentin Bullen also added 16 for Prep, doing so on just six shots from the field.

Bullen comes out strong: Bullen wasn’t even sure he’d be ready to play against Central on Sunday night. He hasn’t practiced for the past few days because of an ankle injury, but said he couldn’t miss out on an opportunity to help his team beat Central on their own floor.

“I figured I’d throw on the brace and go out there and try, this was a big game,” he said.

Bullen provided the spark that helped Prep develop a 17 point halftime lead. He scored 14 points in the first half, it was a confidence booster that the sharpshooter needed.

“That was the first time that he really felt the confidence that he could score like that,” Costello said. “It was awesome to see him do that, he’s one of my best friends, it was just great to see him do that.”

He’s known as a shooter who can heat up at any point in time, but Bullen has uncharacteristically had some trouble shooting the ball this year. He said he never got down on himself though, and the support from his captain was a big reason why.

“I haven’t been shooting too well this season, but Drex keeps telling me ‘keep on shooting, keep on shooting’,” Bullen said.

On Bullen, Connolly added, “He’s a guy we’re going to need if we’re going to make a run in the tournament. We need him to give us those big minutes like he did tonight.”

Switching to zone: Staring down a 17-point halftime deficit, Central coach Rick Nault had some inspiring words for his team in the locker room at halftime, especially as Prep had already beaten Central one other time this year.

“I said that considering we lost to them in the first game, I thought [our guys] would have more pride in their performance than what we had in the first half," he said. "They came out in the second half with a different approach, and brought us back in the game.”

A big reason why Central was able to close down the lead was because of the extended 2-3 zone that Nault integrated for the majority of the third quarter and the first couple minutes of the fourth. Bullen hit two threes in the first half for Prep, while sophomore Ben Judson hit one of his own, but Nault thought that Prep was having far too easy a time with getting open shots.

“[It was] just to give a different look, we were kind of struggling for a bit," Nault said. "I thought it helped us tonight, it changed the tempo of the game a little bit. It allowed us to creep back in [the game]. We had a chance to make a play and get the win, but unfortunately we weren’t able to do so.”

Central appeared to be gaining momentum after junior guard Tyler Nelson hit a three-pointer at the end of the third quarter to bring the Raiders within five. Minutes later, Nelson hit another three-pointer to tie the game at 53 with just under five minutes to go. The Raiders led until Costello hit the first of his two threes in the last two minutes.

At moments in the second half, Connolly said the zone put his guards into a funk.

“It’s just a little different look, you’re not running your man sets," Connolly said. "They just changed it up to get us out of our rhythm a little bit, but I thought we did an alright job attacking it. When they went man again, I thought we were too stationary--dribbling the ball around a little too much instead of moving it.”

Berroa doesn’t quit: It was a bittersweet senior night celebration for Joel Berroa. The 6-foot-4 forward came out and played perhaps the best game of his career, but even behind 25 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocked shots, he was not quite able to lift the Raiders to a win.

Nelson (15 points) was unable to do much scoring in the first half because of all the attention Prep’s defense was giving him, while forward Nick Cambio (eight points, 12 rebounds) was often forced out of his comfort zone by Prep’s interior defenders. Through it all, Berroa’s effort was probably the only consistent one that Central saw all night.

“He’s a man, he played like a man," Nault said. "The kid is so passionate in everything he does, he plays with so much intensity and wants it so bad.

“I said to him in the locker room that I was extremely proud of our comeback, but [also] the way he played for 32 minutes. He tried to make every play to help us win on the offensive end, and he had some huge blocks on the defensive end. My heart hurts for him right now.”

Costello saw firsthand the amount of second and third chance opportunities that Berroa gave Central over the course of the game. After Costello hit the three to put Prep up 64-61 with five seconds left, the Eagles fouled Tyler Nelson to put Central at the free throw line with under three seconds to go.

Nelson made the first, and Berroa got the rebound after Nelson intentionally missed the second attempt. Berroa’s putback attempt, however, was off the mark. After squeezing out the win, Costello had nothing but complimentary words for his opponent.

“Joel Berroa is an animal," Costello said. "He’s one of the hardest kids to box out that I’ve ever seen. Our big guys did their best on him, but he killed us on the boards.”

Central Catholic will take on Springfield Central on Monday at 3:45 p.m. in the consolation game, while St. John’s Prep will play Lynn English at 7:15 for the IAABO Board 130 Classic title.

Recap: No. 9 N. Andover 58, No. 1 Central Cath. 52

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
12:10
AM ET
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Down goes number one.

North Andover surprised everyone at Howard Crozier Gymnasium with a comeback for the ages after being down 18 points in the third quarter to stun Central Catholic, 58-52, in a battle of Merrimack Valley Conference Large division heavyweights on Tuesday night.

Isaiah Nelsen led the way with 20 points, while Derek Collins started the downward locomotive that was the Scarlet Knights in the fourth quarter with a halfcourt buzzer-beater to cut the lead in half to nine at the end of the third quarter.

Nelsen was 5-of-6 from the floor in the fourth quarter and banked in a deep 3-pointer to put North Andover up 55-52 with less than a minute remaining on the clock, and the Scarlet Knights scored the final 14 points of the ballgame to get to within a game of the Raiders in the MVC Large.

The Scarlet Knights roll to 11-2, while the Raiders drop to 13-2 on the season. This marks Central's first loss to an in-state opponent since last March, when they fell to Charlestown in the Divsion 1 North semifinals.

“We had two great days of practice beforehand and tonight we just wanted it more than they did,” said Nelsen. “We had a great fan section, coach (Mike McVeigh) did a great job tonight and we came to play. That’s why we got the W.”

Things were bleak for the Scarlet Knights when the Raiders went up 18 after a Doug Gemmell lay-in late in the third quarter. But North Andover rattled off nine straight points to cut the lead to nine and give itself a chance at a comeback.

The Raiders were throwing all kinds of pressure at the Scarlet Knights in the first three-plus quarters in the backcourt with Tyler Nelson, Joel Berroa and Mike Barry disrupting the ball-handler. In the fourth, the Scarlet Knights just found a way around it, instead of fighting a great stretngth of the Raiders.

Nelsen and the rest of his teammates shot 80 percent from the floor in the fourth quarter, while the Raiders struggled with turnovers down the stretch as well as their shots, finishing 3-of-11 from the floor in the deciding quarter.

Collins drove the baseline and muscled in a basket to tie things at 52 with about two minutes remaining in the game. Nelsen was unsuccessful on a straightaway 3-pointer with more than a minute on the clock, but guard John Enright snuck in for the offensive rebound —- a place the Raiders held a 15-6 advantage -— to keep possession.

Brett Daley found Nelsen deep behind the three-point line on the right wing, and Nelsen just had to let it fly with the shot clock winding down, and it was true off the glass (even though there was no way of knowing if he called it or not).

“I try to make that part of my game,” Nelsen said of the outside shooting. “Coach tells me to keep shooting it and I’ve been working on my shot all throughout the summer. I’ve always been a good 3-point shooter. Obviously they weren’t falling in the first half, but I definitely take them again.”

COLLINS CHANGES MOMENTUM
It might not have looked like much in a nine-point game with Central Catholic seemingly in charge, but the Collins heave at the end of the third changed the complexion of this game.

Sometimes all you have to do is see a ball go through the hoop, no matter how much luck was involved, to get a team going. That certainly was the case last night for North Andover.

“That just completely changed the momentum of the game,” said Nelsen. “(Collins) hit that shot and the fourth quarter was ours the whole way.”

“That’s the way it goes sometimes,” added Central Catholic head coach Rick Nault. “Sometimes it bounces for you and sometimes it doesn’t. They were outstanding tonight, so you have to give them all the credit.”

HAMMEL SIDELINED
Nault was missing one of his best perimeter defenders on Tuesday night, as Lucas Hammel sat out with a right thigh contusion. Nault said he is hoping to get Hammel back in the fold within a week.

Hammel won’t grab all the attention, but he is a critical part to what the Raiders want to do defensively. He consistently pressures the ball, much like Berroa and company did tonight, and allows Nelson to play off the ball a little more when they are teamed up in the backcourt.

Recap: St. Anthony (N.J.) 54, Central Catholic 50

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
11:34
PM ET


BOSTON -- It wasn’t supposed to happen like that.

Central Catholic was not supposed to be in a game until the final minute with national power St. Anthony (N.J.), a team going for its national record 70th straight win. But tonight, it was.

Central’s Tyler Nelson (12 points, five assists, two rebounds) was fouled on a put-back with 1:04 left in the game to make it a three-point game. St. Anthony’s got the ball over halfcourt and drained the shot clock and scored to add to its lead.

Nelson rushed down the court and hit a three-pointer with 2.5 seconds left to cut the lead back to two. Lucas Hammel committed a foul before the ensuing inbounds pass could occur, and St. Anthony’s Hallice Cooke hit both free throws to put the game out of reach. Central lost 54-50, but made a statement to the rest of MIAA basketball in the process.

[+] EnlargeCentral Catholic's Lucas Hammel
Jon Mahoney for ESPNSt. Anthony coach Bob Hurley praised Central Catholic guard Lucas Hammel, who provided some defensive spark for the Raiders.
“We said in the locker room that there were certain things we needed to do,” said Central Catholic coach Rick Nault. “We felt like we needed to outwork them, and out toughen them. We definitely weren’t going to be more athletic or have more ability. We definitely weren’t going to out-coach them. So we needed to do those specific things, and our guys answered the bell right from the beginning. I thought we fought the entire 32 minutes and am incredibly proud of our group right now.”

Central (5-1) matched the Friars' (7-0) intensity on both ends of the floor for the entire game. Its defensive pressure was difficult for St. Anthony’s to handle at times, and allowed it to create 14 turnovers.

The Raiders' play drew high praise from St. Anthony’s Hall of Fame coach.

“I think they could’ve won the game,” said Bob Hurley. “I know they can play with anybody. As long as they don’t get in foul trouble in and around the basket, where they have to go to the bench. The guards are terrific, Lucas Hammel [5 rebounds, 4 assists] does a real good job with the ball and doesn’t get flustered, he’s grown up in the gym. Tyler Nelson is a very effective player, he hit some big shots in the game. I think Nick Cambio (15 points, 5 rebounds), by the end of the season, is going to be a real good option for them. Then you still have those kids inside.”

St. Anthony’s Josh Brown, a Temple commit, was just 3-13 from the field. In his place, Hallice Cooke, an Oregon State commit, stepped up and scored 19 points, including 6-of-8 from the free throw line.

The team from Massachusetts wasn’t afraid of the St. Anthony mystique, and it showed with the way it attacked the basket, getting 22 points in the paint and 11 second chances points against a team that was noticeably taller than them.

“We knew their coach is a great coach and they were going to get after it just like us,” said Cambio. “So it was a battle, but it was really fun today.”

Turning up the pressure: Central was only down 25-23 at halftime ,when those in the gym started seriously wondering whether the upset could happen. The talk got louder when it came out and started the third on a 7-0 run to take a five-point lead. Then coming out of a timeout, St. Anthony switched to a full-court press, which flummoxed Central.

Hurley’s squad went on a 16-4 run over the next five minutes. Still, Central hit a few big shots, including a Nelson three to end the quarter, and was only down three going into the final frame. It did not help that Central’s starting forwards and energy players, Joel Berroa, picked up his fourth foul with 7:32 to go in the third quarter.

“The biggest plus for us in this game was that Berroa was in foul trouble,” said Hurley. “If he had played, Berroa’s got a motor. I don’t know what we would’ve done with him out there, with the way Cambio played and with the kid inside (Doug Gemmell, 10 points, nine rebounds, three assists), he’s a horse.”

No rest for the wicked: Friday marked the second hard fought game in a row for Central Catholic. After narrowly beating Andover 64-63 Thursday night in the semifinals of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament, the Red Raiders turned around and played St. Anthony Friday in Boston. Saturday, they head back to Lawrence to play the finals of the Christmas Tournament against a foe they know all too well: Lawrence High.

When the cross-town rivals square off, it’s always a special atmosphere. It is a game Lawrence always has circled on its calendar, and now it has the added dimension of being on its home court, with Central playing for the third time in three days.

“That’s going to be the challenge now,” said Nault. “Three games, three nights, three very emotional games for us. This is the mental challenge of it, trying to get it done tomorrow night. It will be a huge task against Lawrence.”

The Central players know full well what to expect and are up for the challenge.

“We know what we have to do,” said Cambio. “We have to get good rest, because tomorrow is a big game. We know they’re going to come after us, because it’s on their home court. We just need to be careful with what we do and we’ll get after it tomorrow.”

Hit the ground running: Because his team was so occupied with preparing for Andover, Nault knew next to nothing about St. Anthony coming in to Friday. As a result, he and the coaching staff had to do a lot of adjusting on the fly to get the matchups they wanted.

“We came in with scratch, with nothing,” he said. “As the game wore on, we felt that we could try to go up and down with them, despite their athletic ability, and try to expose some of their weaknesses in terms of post play and things like that. I thought we did a nice job with that tonight.”

Roundtable: Preseason MIAA hoop primer

November, 25, 2012
11/25/12
1:34
PM ET
With the first MIAA-sanctioned practices of the 2012-13 season set to commence tomorrow, today we're looking at the top storylines and top players from across the state.

Check back with us later in the preseason for our first Top 25 poll and our Preseason All-State Teams. But for now, here are the storylines to watch, and our projected Super Teams.

***

Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools editor


Reading Machine Rages On
Had it not been for Andover and superstar Nicole Boudreau, the Division 2 state champ Reading Rockets would have been garnering far more attention last season. The Rockets were one of the state's most dominant forces from wire to wire, going 25-0 en route to the program's first state title. They were one of the state's most explosive offenses (64.3 points per game), and blew out nearly everyone -- their average margin of victory was 27.1, with their only threats coming in the North final (49-46 over Arlington Catholic) and Eastern Mass. Final (71-64 over Scituate, in overtime).

The conversation in Reading starts with Richmond-bound guard/forward Olivia Healy, a two-time ESPN Boston All-State and one of the early favorites for our Miss Basketball award. The 5-foot-10 senior can play any position on the floor, excels on the boards, and is as physical as they come. But every superstar needs a supporting cast, and you can't do much better than Assumption-bound guard Morgan O'Brien in that regard.

With Andover expected to level off following the graduation of one of the MIAA's best ever (Boudreau), we're most likely looking at Reading starting the year at No. 1 in our statewide girls' poll, which will be released later this preseason.

Fierce, Fierce City A
Over the offseason, the Boston City League voted overwhelmingly to split into three tiers for boys basketball, based on competitive balance. And with it, the city's "A" division instantly becomes the state's toughest league. City A is comprised of Brighton, New Mission, Madison Park, Charlestown and East Boston -- all teams expected to start the season in our statewide Top 25 poll -- and with the new scheduling setup, we're looking at appointment viewing in the city nearly every night.

Charlestown-Eastie, Mission-Brighton and Eastie-Madison are the city's three fiercest basketball rivalries. Now, on top of those series, we're getting two installments of Mission-Madison, Brighton-Eastie, Charlestown-Mission, Madison-Brighton, and so forth. Brighton and MP figure to be the favorites here, but this is going to be an absolute grinder of a league. Of the highest degree.

Swat Team
Anyone that watched the University of Kentucky last season can tell you how valuable Anthony Davis was despite an unpolished offensive game. Heck, he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four despite going just 1-for-10 from the field in the championship game.

Last year our Defensive Player of the Year award went to a guard, Stoughton's Marcus Middleton, but I'm looking at a number of frontcourt shot-blockers to contend for the award. Any conversation about swatters in the MIAA has to begin with New Mission's Isshiah Coleman, but keep an eye on Cambridge's Fredens Deneus, a 6-foot-6 junior who is expected to have a breakout season. Rockland's Tyler Gibson, a UMass-Lowell commit, will alter many a shot in the South Shore League. Also keep an eye on Holy Name's Dan Kegbeh, only 6-foot-1 but blessed with some impressive ups.

On the girls' side, Holy Name's Brianna Frias is my early favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-foot junior committed to Providence over the summer, and averaged six blocks per game last season as the Naps went 20-0 in the regular season and captured the No. 1 seed in Division 1 Central.

Sizzlin' Sophs
Across the state, there are a number of Class of 2015 players to get excited about. Springfield Central's Chris Baldwin has yet to play in an MIAA game, having played his freshman season down the street at Hillside School, but he is already garnering significant hype. Wakefield's Bruce Brown showed freak athletic ability at times during his freshman campaign for the Warriors, and figures to be regarded as one of the state's elite by season's end. Same for Mansfield's Brendan Hill and St. John's of Shrewsbury's Davon Jones.

Central Catholic junior Tyler Nelson is on the short list as everyone's favorite shooter, and deservedly so, but Newton North sophomore guard Tommy Mobley is as automatic as they come. He plays a different role for the Tigers than his older brother, 6-foot-8 Yale forward Greg Kelley, did several years ago. But when you talk about the elite shooters in the state, Mobley has the potential to be in that conversation.

Also keep an eye on Falmouth guard Craig Green, a three-sport star who's already on the radar for track and field. He turned many heads last June, when he placed third in New Englands in the 100-meter dash. He has run as fast as a 10.6 in the event so far in his young career.

On the girls' side, we all know the capabilities of Braintree's Molly Reagan. The 6-foot-1 center was a key cog in the Wamps' run to the Division 1 South title last March, and she already holds Division 1 offers. On the flip side, Archbishop Williams' Jaylen Williams committed to Penn State this past summer despite playing limited minutes for the Bishops.

But the potential speaks for itself. For one, Williams is 6-foot-3 and long. For another, there is plenty of pedigree. She is the daughter of former New England Patriots defensive lineman Brent Williams, and the younger sister of two high Division 1 college football players -- North Carolina offensive tackle Brennan Williams, and Ohio State linebacker Camren Williams.

Open Waters in the North
I'm not sure which will be the more interesting race in the North -- Division 1 girls, or Division 2 boys.

In Division 1 girls, we're looking at a number of contenders in the North. Nobody's counting out Andover in spite of the talent graduated, but it should be an interesting race in the Merrimack Valley Conference with Central Catholic and Billerica figuring to start the year high in many polls. Lincoln-Sudbury will be another contender, led by Lafayette-bound forward Ashley Lutz, as will be Lynn English and reigning Northeastern Conference MVP Catherine Stinson. The ultimate wild card might be Cambridge, led by Georgia Tech-bound guard Donnaizha Fountain. And don't count out Somerville, either, with Indira Evans in the fold.

Division 2 North will be an interesting bracket. New Mission returns a strong core, but so does Brighton, behind returning All-State guard Malik James, forwards Nick Simpson and Prince Unaegbu, and one of the state's best shooters, Daivon Edwards. Ditto Wakefield, with Bruce Brown expected to have a breakout year alongside seniors Kendall Hamilton and Mikol Blake-Green.

SUPER TEAMS

Boys
G - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
G - Malik James, Jr., Brighton
F - Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central
F - Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland

Girls
G - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge
G - Sarah Hope, Sr., Medway
G/F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
F - Ashley Lutz, Sr., Lincoln-Sudbury
C - Molly Reagan, Soph., Braintree

***

Ryan Kilian
Editor-in-Chief, New England Prep Stars


Central Reign
Can Central Catholic represent Eastern Massachusetts in the state finals this season in Division 1? Central returns a battle tested and veteran group that represented EMass Division 1 as the top seed in last season’s MIAA tournament. Central boasts key returnees Tyler Nelson, Joel Berroa, Doug Gemmell and Nick Cambio.

Veteran Sophomore Talent
Mansfield’s Brendan Hill and Wakefield’s Bruce Brown are two of the top returning players in Massachusetts. They are also only sophomores. Both sophomores started and lead their respective teams deep into tournament play as freshman and we can expect even bigger seasons from both this year.

Best Frontcourt?
Massachusetts has a very strong group of point guards this season but the depth in the frontcourt is down in part of the continued flood of players to prep schools. New Mission (Nate Anderson and Isshiah Coleman) and Central Catholic (Gemmell and Cambio) are at the top of the frontcourt ranks but look out for North Andover and Charlestown to also have improved front lines with the development of returning veterans as well as additions of new talent to the mix.

Replacing Boudreau
It will be impossible to replace two-time Miss Basketball Nicole Boudreau (Boston College), but Andover does return senior Devon Caveany, and the glue of the squad in top defenders Jackie and Rebecca Alois. Expect some more classic Central Catholic and Andover battles for years to come in the MVC.

Special time for City of Braintree
The city of Braintree boasts some the best young female talent in the state, with Braintree High School and Archbishop Williams sharing city quarters.

Braintree returns Coach of the Year Kristen McDonnell and a lineup featuring returning senior Rachel Norton, and sophomores Ashley Russell, Bridget Herlihy, and Molly Reagan. Archbishop Williams returns Southern New Hampshire commits Olivia Conrad and Sara Ryan along with Alana Gilmer and Penn State commit Jaylen Williams.

SUPER TEAMS

Boys
G - Bruce Brown, Soph., Wakefield
G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
G - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
F - Brendan Hill, Soph., Mansfield
F - Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central

Girls
G - Kayla Burton, Sr., Newton South
G - Donaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge Rindge
G - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading
G - Tajanay Veiga-Lee, Sr., Fenway
F - Saliah Serrette, Sr., Weston

***

Chris Bradley
ESPN Boston correspondent


Springfield Central Is Back
Saying that Kamari Robinson and sophomore transfer Chris Baldwin are the best frontcourt in the state is no stretch. Robinson helped lead Central to last year’s division 1 state title, averaging a double double while the Golden Eagles went undefeated against MIAA opponents. The 6-foot-7 Baldwin is already drawing in interest from high major division 1 college programs. A strong, athletic forward who is known for his rebounding and sky-rising dunks, he’ll make quite a duo with Robinson, a member of last year’s ESPN Boston All-State Team.

Senior Cornelius Tyson could be primed for a big year as well. The 6-foot-1 guard made quite a showing in last year’s state championship game against Brockton, knocking down four 3-pointers in the second half to lead Central to the Division 1 title.

Can anyone knock off St. John's of Shrewsbury?
The Inter-High has two legitimate Top 25 teams in Worcester South and Doherty. Will this finally be the year that St. John’s doesn’t run away with the Division 1 tournament in Central Mass.? The Pioneers have won five consecutive Central Mass. Division 1 championships, and return yet another talented core from last year’s team. Sophomore point guard Davon Jones has already asserted himself as one of the best guards in the western half of the state, juniors Charlie Murray and TJ Kelley will be a tough duo on the post, and 6-foot-5 senior Ken Harrington is one of the best shooters in central Mass.

Brighton looking for revenge
Last year’s loss to Mahar in the Division 2 state title game was demoralizing to say the least for the Bengals, but another year of maturity should help Brighton come tournament time this year. Junior playmaking guard Malik James will be one of the very best in the MIAA, and he’ll have plenty of weapons around him with forward Nick Simpson and guards Theo Oribhabor and Daivon Edwards. The Boston City League will be a rock fight this year, but battle-tested Brighton will reap the benefits of a tough schedule come tournament time.

New Mission young, but talented
Sophomore guards Greg Bridges, Randy Glenn, and Juwan Gooding will make for quite a show this year when put together with 6-foot-5 forward Isshiah Coleman and 6-foot-7 forward Nate Anderson. The Titans will be young, with less experience at the guard position than many of their opponents, but when all is said and done this could end up being the most talented team in the state this year.

Who will emerge in D3?
Picking favorites in Division 3 is like splitting hairs. Wareham has Darien Fernandez, a waterbug considered one of the best point guards in the state. Danvers returns four starters from last year’s state title team. Quaboag has one of the best inside-out duos in D3 with Thomas Jankins and sophomore Jake Wisniewski. Hopedale has a deep, versatile lineup. Whitinsville Christian has won three straight central Mass. championships. Out in Pittsfield, St. Joseph Central returns the majority of their core from last year’s state finals team—including scoring guard Taverick "Tank" Roberson. Any of these teams could emerge and make a deep run into the tournament in February and March.

SUPER TEAMS

Boys
G - Malik James, Jr., Brighton
G - Tyler Nelson, Jr., Central Catholic
F - Jameilen Jones, Sr., BC High
F - Kamari Robinson, Sr., Springfield Central
F - Tyler Gibson, Sr., Rockland

Girls
G - Kayla Burton, Sr., Newton South
G - Sarah Hope, Sr., Medway
G - Donnaizha Fountain, Sr., Cambridge
F - Casey McLaughlin, Sr., Central Catholic
F - Olivia Healy, Sr., Reading

Behold the Future: MIAA hoop teams to watch

March, 28, 2012
3/28/12
6:49
PM ET
With the unveiling of our MIAA All-State Teams for Boys and Girls late last week, the 2011-12 basketball season has come to close. But before we officially slam the book on another exciting season of hoop, and move on to spring sports, I wanted to get out a few thoughts on the landscape for next season.

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

BOYS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GIRLS

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

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

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

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

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

IAABO Board 130: Central, Pentucket win finals

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
11:37
PM ET



LAWRENCE, Mass. — If this was a potential preview of what's to come in the MIAA Tournament, then fans of high school basketball in the area are in for a treat.

Central Catholic nipped St. John’s Prep, 59-58, on a lay-in by Nick Cambio with six seconds left to claim the IAABO Board 130 Basketball Classic last night on its home floor.

Joel Berroa, who made the pass to Cambio on the determining bucket and who finished as the tournament MVP, played sparingly in the first half due to foul trouble but came on with 13 points and three tide-changing 3-pointers in the fourth period.

Cambio (four points) also picked up three quick fouls in the first half and only finished with two field goals, but got the one when it mattered most.

“When they got in the flow a little bit in the second half I felt like it was the difference for us with (Berroa) hitting some big shots and (Cambio) finishing in the paint,” said Raiders (20-1) coach Rick Nault.

The Game-Winner: The Eagles (13-7) got the ball back down a point after a costly turnover by the Raiders with 33.6 seconds on the clock.

Mike Carbone drove down a crowded lane and his shot bounced out, but Steve Haladyna (25 points, 10 rebounds) tipped the ball twice to himself over a couple of Raiders, and he was fouled sending him to the line for a 1-and-1 situation.

Haladyna sank the first free throw to tie things at 57 and nailed the first for the one-point lead with 18.5 seconds remaining in the game. Central Catholic decided against a timeout after the made bucket, but Nault quickly changed his mind when the ball got stuck at halfcourt with several Prep defenders in good position.

Nault knew exactly what play he wanted to run out of the timeout with 11.5 seconds left, but Cambio jokingly said that his coach had a little bit of trouble communicating exactly what X’s and O’s were going to be drawn up.

Apparently all of those hours of practice can build silent communication between coaches and players.

“He was too nervous writing down the play and he forgot what it was,” Cambio said with a big smile on his face. “We ran the play and that’s what the play was, an up top handoff and back screen pick over the top, and I got the lay-up.”

Berroa got the ball at the top of the 3-point line and Cambio was able to slide wide open on backdoor cut and finish with about six seconds remaining on the clock. Haladyna had an opportunity at the buzzer to take back the win, but his shot from just inside the free throw line hit the back iron and bounced out.

“It was something that we know what it is side-out,” said Nault. “I kind of forgot who was supposed to come to the ball and I was telling my assistant to help me out with it. But the kids knew exactly where to go.”

The foul that didn't come: Prep had three fouls to waste with 11.5 seconds left and the players went for the foul on Berroa and Cambio at the top of the screen that got the latter open, but the contact wasn’t enough to draw a whistle.

“We slapped him a little, but we should have fouled harder,” said Prep head coach Sean Connolly. “I told the refs to look for it, but I guess they didn’t think it was much of a foul.”

PENTUCKET 59, CENTRAL CATHOLIC 41

Before the girls final, Pentucket head coach John McNamara said his team would be in for a tough task to get a win over Central Catholic on the home floor.

The game was decided after maybe the strongest 16 minutes of defensive basketball by the Sachems.

Pentucket held the Raiders to 12.5 percent shooting and 10 points in the first half to run away with a 59-41 victory.

“We just came out and played defense the way we are capable of,” said McNamara. “We did the things that we had to do.”

The one-two combination of Sarah Higgins (17 points) and tournament MVP Tess Nogueira (19 points) helped carry the offensive load for a team that was 3-3 and one point, but ended the season 18-4.

BOYS CONSOLATION

Westford Academy 85, Lynn English 68
Westford - Alex Preckol 22 points, Matt Ellis 21
English - Keandre Stanton 19 pts, Fred Hogan 18, Ben Bowden 14

GIRLS CONSOLATION

Archbishop Williams 61, Revere 38
Williams - Michaela Flanagan - 13 points, Sara Ryan 12
Revere - Caitlyn Caramello - 14 points

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

February, 17, 2012
2/17/12
12:51
AM ET



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. 1 Central Cath. 80, No. 10 SJP 56

January, 23, 2012
1/23/12
12:18
AM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- Last season's two meetings between Central Catholic and St. John's Prep -- once late in the regular season, and again in the Division 1 North semifinals a few weeks later -- can be summed up in short as epic. The two games, both wins for Prep, were decided by just five points total, and featured last-minute heroics from ESPN Boston Mr. Basketball and Notre Dame freshman Pat Connaughton.

So what to say of this, then, an 80-56 win over the Eagles that was polished from start to finish? The Raiders (11-0) never trailed in this one, and strung together runs of 12-3 and 9-0 in the second and third quarters, respectively, to maintain control throughout.

"It feels great," said senior Luis Puello, a major player in both of last year's battles, who came off the bench tonight in recovering from an ankle injury. "There's not a better feeling than that, you know. They come to our house, and we beat them by however much we beat them. But they're a good team, you know, we're going to face them again [next month, in Central's host tournament], and we've just got to bring it again."

Prep (9-2) cut Central's lead to 25-20 midway through the second quarter on a three-pointer from the corner by Freddy Shove, but the Raiders answered with a Nick Cambio (16 points, eight rebounds) three from the opposite corner, off a Joel Berroa kickout pass, that made it 30-23. After Central head coach Rick Nault was called for a technical foul, Lucas Hammel finished off the 12-3 run with a steal in the open court and breakaway layup.

Central led 37-24 at the half, and the Eagles never came within eight the rest of the way.

"That was probably our best 32 minutes of basketball all season," Nault said. "We lost to these guys twice last year, they ended our season. And since March now, we've talked about that feeling we had in the locker room last March, and it stuck with these guys. They were pretty fired up all week, and it showed tonight in terms of their energy and effort."

The junior Berroa poured in a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds) in the winning cause, while Hammel and Tyler Nelson added 11 points each. Prep was led in scoring by Mike Carbone (17 points) and Steve Haladyna (10).

Cambio climbing: After earning some hype with a strong summer campaign, it has been a breakout season for the sophomore Cambio to say the least. The 6-foot-5 forward had some crucial minutes in the Raiders' 69-67 overtime thriller over Lawrence last weekend, totaling 16 points and 12 rebounds.

This afternoon, it was more of the same for the stretch four-man. In the second quarter, he kick-started the 12-3 run with a baseline three off a kickout pass from Berroa. In the third quarter, he sparked another run with a momentous two-handed slam that made it 53-36, taking a diagonal pass from Berroa across the paint and gathering just under the left block.

On the next trip down, Cambio hit a three from the left corner off a kickout pass from Nelson, before closing out the third quarter with a dagger three from the opposite corner, just before the buzzer sounded.

"I like that penetration," Cambio said of his affinity for playing close to the baseline. "Then I kick right out, when I can either step out and get the three or go in for the layup with a dunk. I like that."

Said Puello, "I've liked Cambio since the beginning. He was always in the gym in the summer, and seeing his development has been great. It's an asset to the team, it's good. As long as he's playing well, we're all playing well."

Easing back into it: Since Puello went down with a high ankle sprain in the first minute of the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament semifinals last month, the Raiders coaching staff have erred on the side of caution. After all, the Raiders have a rough next month of a schedule that starts next weekend with Rhode Island powerhouse Bishop Hendricken and continues with rematches against Lowell, Andover, Lawrence and Prep. The Raiders are going to need a fully-healthy Puello come February; with the 6-foot-1 senior's relentless marking defense, the Raiders are one of the state's toughest outs.

Puello cringed from the sidelines as he was held out of games against Andover, Lawrence (twice) and Springfield Cathedral (at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield), but knows it's for the best interest of both him and the team. This afternoon's performance, though, had to be encouraging.

Coming off the bench, Puello first entered the game with 1:39 left in the first quarter and immediately got to work. On one of his first possessions, an Eagles inbound play, Puello hip-checked Shove out of bounds as he came around the baseline on a backdoor cut, eventually leading to an out-of-bounds violation. At the other end, Hammel hit a layup that extended the lead to 19-13. The next trip down, Puello notched a steal in the open floor.

"He's just so active, and his athleticism alone makes plays for him," Nault said. "You could still see he's rusty, he's hobbling a little bit, and I think it's affecting him more on the offensive end than the defensive end. When we get him back full-speed, I think defensively we're going to be pretty tough."

Puello

"It's a process," Puello said. "But little by little, we'll get healthy and I'll get back to where I need to be."

Hoophall: No. 1 Central Cath. 72, Cathedral 66

January, 12, 2012
1/12/12
10:16
PM ET



SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — It seemed like it was a matter of time before Tyler Nelson’s hand regained its magic touch Friday night at the Spalding Hoophall Classic at Springfield College.

After continuously being the thorn in the side of the Springfield Cathedral’s zone defense for three quarters it appeared the Panthers finally had found a way to slow down Nelson. Yet after being held scoreless for most of the fourth quarter, Nelson drilled a three-pointer when it mattered most.

The sophomore extended his arms from the left side of the key with just under 1:30 remaining to give Central Catholic (8-0) a 66-62 lead over the Panthers (5-2), and delivered the Raiders their first win at the historic high school showcase in school history, 72-66.

“They were playing a 2-3 zone and mostly they kicked it from the corner, I squared my feet, shot it and luckily made it,” Nelson said.

“I just wanted to go out there and get a win,” he added. “Central has been here four years and probably had better teams in the past and still hadn’t won.”

Nelson finished with a team-high 19 points and was 5-of-9 from behind the arc. Overall, the sophomore guard was 6-of-12 from the field while also grabbing seven rebounds.

“As a young player, he does so many good things for us,” said Central head coach Rick Nault. "We run a lot of things for him. He’s a very confident kid and we definitely feel comfortable with the ball in his hands. He is willing and ready to take the big shot and he did that for us tonight.”

Nault preached to his team all week the opportunity they had to become the first in school history to win at the Hoophall Classic, and he couldn't be happier.

“It’s a long ride for us to come up here,” Nault said. “But to get a win against a real good team is a great feeling.”

An Expected Play: After Cathedral’s Lou Garcia stole a poor Central Catholic inbound pass and made a lay up to cut the Raider lead to 66-64 with 55.4 seconds remaining, Central Catholic senior captain Shawn McCoy grabbed a tough offensive rebound underneath the basket at the other half of the court, and went up strong to give the Raiders a two-possession lead.

“For us to have such a young group, and for him being the only senior captain, to come up with a big play [like] that is expected of him,” Nault said. “The tip in was huge.”

McCoy expected to have to fight for a rebound.

“Joel [Berroa] made a nice pass to Doug [Gemmell] underneath the hoop and I knew there was going to be some kind of rebound with a lot of people down there, fouling and hacking and stuff,” McCoy said. “I was hoping I could get the rebound and I got it.”

McCoy (14 points, 5 rebounds) started the game on a tear, scoring the Raiders' first eight points in a fast-paced first quarter.

A Bigger Advantage: One of the biggest difference-makers in the game was Central Catholic’s interior presence on both ends of the court. The Raiders outrebounded Cathedral 48-23, and the Raiders used 18 offensive rebounds to register 21 second-chance points.

“We always pride ourselves on rebounding and we do that in practice all the time,” McCoy said. “We pride ourselves on a physical defensive presence and that comes hand in hand with that.”

Joining McCoy on the glass was Gemmell’s game-high nine rebounds and Berroa’s seven.

Slow Starting Trends: For the fourth time in the last five games the Raiders have struggled in the first half.
Friday, Cathedral used a tough, gritty defense to open up a 18-17 first quarter lead and battle neck-and-neck against the best in the state. The Panthers scored 18 of their 23 points off turnovers in the first half and trailed 32-31 at halftime.

It was the most points allowed by the Raiders in a first half this season according to Nault and he believes the Raiders are still struggling to adjust to playing without star guard Luis Puello, who has been out with a high ankle sprain.

“I think guys have to realize Louis isn’t here and they have to realize they can’t rely on him and have to be ready to step in right away and make plays,” he said.

Puello 'day to day': Puello was on the bench in dress clothes after missing another game due to an ankle injury suffered in the Raider’s 56-39 victory over Pinkerton Academy (N.H.).

Nault said he hopes to have the 2011 ESPNBoston All-Defensive Team selection back within seven to 10 days, but is also calling Puello “day-to-day.”

A Valiant Effort: Cathedral’s Lou Garcia went shot-for-shot with Nelson and finished with a game-high 23 points and five steals. The junior made some big three’s to help the Panthers come back from a 10-point third quarter deficit.

“This year we moved him into the point guard spot and he’s kind of taken on that role and he found his shot earlier and made some huge shots for us," said Cathedral coach Justin Dalessio. “He kept us in the game which is great to see. He played great.”

Garcia said he and his teammates were not intimidated by the top-ranked team in the state but said the game was a good reminder.

“It’s a wake-up call because we were on a winning streak and we were getting too high on ourselves,” Garcia said. “This brings us down to reality and we have to work even harder every single game.”

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

January, 7, 2012
1/07/12
12:27
AM ET



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.”


No. 1 CC blows away English in 2nd half

February, 22, 2011
2/22/11
12:16
AM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. –- If the second quarter was the only quarter that counted, Lynn English would have knocked out the number one seed. Central Catholic broke Lynn broke the Bulldogs’ full court press in the third quarter and walked away with a double digit victory in the Board 130 Basketball Classic championship, shocking Catholic Central captain and tournament MVP Jimmy Zenevitch.

“Definitely surprising,” said Zenevitch, ”to win by 26. I was expecting a four point game, eight point game because we lost to them by 20 two years ago in the states.”

Zenevitch (22 points, six rebounds) scored four points in the final quarter for the Raiders (19-1) before fouling out, but the few minutes he had, he did not play with his ordinary potency. “Defensively, I played a little more conservative. I didn’t go for any blocks, and when kids drove the lane, I didn’t reach; I just put my hands up.”

Stepping in for Zenevitch down low for a decisive edge over the Bulldogs (19-2) were sophomores Joel Berroa (nine points, four rebounds) and Doug Gemmel (nine points, nine rebounds).

“Berroa’s been key for us all year,” Central Catholic head coach Rick Nault said. “He was with us last year and won the state tournament with us. He’s an experienced guy. I thought the key guy that was huge for us was… Doug Gemmel off the bench. When we made that run in the third quarter, he was a big part of that in terms of he hit his shot, made a couple of free throws (four-four), he got us a couple of huge rebounds. When we can get contributions like that from our bench guys, it’s so helpful.”

“At practice, I’m always looking for my shot. When I got it and I was open, I just fired,” Gemmel said of his scoring. On the boards, play begins before the ball is in the air, especially against more developed and taller opponents. “I find the man first, box him out, and then go for the rebound. I just thought o myself every ball needed to be mine.”

Lynn English head coach Buzzy Barton had in mind to stifle the main scorers for Central Catholic, and it kind of worked. Captain Luis Puello only had two points, but Evan Sheehan woke up and snapped his shooting slump, dropping 20, including four 3-pointers, and contributing on the defensive end with four steals.

“I’ve been missing a lot of threes, haven’t had my hot hand,” said Sheehan. “I didn’t have the confidence to shoot it. I’ve been working on my three the last couple of days and coach told me to keep shooting it. Once I hit that first one [in the first quarter], found that corner shot, he said keep shooting. I tried keeping it the same shot every time, it kept going in, so I kept doing it.”

“When kids step up like that… it’s a confidence boost to the team,” said Zenevitch. “It shows that if everyone plays their role, we’ll win by even more.”

“It’s one game,” added Barton. As the regular season winds down and the postseason is within view, his focus is on the next time they may see the reigning champs. “Luckily, it’s not the state tournament, and we live to fight another day.”

English was led in scoring by senior Travonne Berry-Rogers (16 points), who fouled out in the fourth quarter, alnng with Josh Castillo (12) and Keandre Stanton (13), the latter of whom also added three blocks.

Freshman Nelson seals round two for Central

January, 8, 2011
1/08/11
10:47
PM ET
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.

Why?

“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.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES