Boston High School: Justin Dalessio

Recap: No. 8 Central 87, Cathedral 78

January, 23, 2012
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Intimidating? The No. 8 Springfield Central High School boy’s basketball team won’t admit it, but the Golden Eagles are growing an armored layer of invincibility with every convincing Western Mass win.

Some old-timers say there hasn’t been a better high school team in the region since Springfield Cathedral won the state title in 2002. Others say this Central team is the school’s best since former NBA guard Travis Best lit up the scoreboards.

“They win most games before they even step on the court. They just intimidate the piss out of people,” said Springfield Cathedral coach Justin Dalessio before his team lost 87-78 at Central on Monday night.

But there was nothing scared or timid about Cathedral.

“We know you don’t put fear into those guys. They come to play hard every night, especially against us,” said Central coach Mike Labrie.

The players in the cross-town rival know each other well. They had tied for the Valley League title last season. Many of the players play AAU basketball, summer league basketball or pickup basketball with each other. The level of familiarity bred a certain amount of respect. But it also brought a scrappiness that was evident in both teams.

“We knew exactly what we were going into. I call [Central] my brothers. I love them to death on and off the court,” said Jordan Monts, who led Cathedral with 27 points. “But on the court, I want nothing more than to beat them.”

On Monday, Monts would not be so lucky.

The two teams raced back and forth so quickly in the first quarter that spectators seemingly resembled like tennis fans, their heads whipping back and forth to follow the ball. Central hit four threes in the quarter, but Cathedral countered with quick ball movement to beat the famed Central press, and the Panthers trailed just 21-19 after one.

Central had been steam-rolling teams from Western Mass., its closest game entering Monday out of nine in the region being a 19-point victory against Putnam a week and a half ago. The Eagles were beating Western Mass teams by an average of 34.8 points heading into Monday’s meeting against Cathedral, although they did lose to Connecticut power Windsor High School by six points in the Hoophall Classic.

“The scores we’re beating people by are intimidating them. It’s not us. It’s the scores,” said guard Chris Prophet, who led Central with 20 points. But when pressed, he added, “We have great guard play, when we get Tyrell Springer going he’s a great player and Kamari (Robinson) -- our whole team is really good.”

The Eagles weren’t perfect Monday night, but they were good enough. Cathedral primarily uses five players and brings very little depth off the bench (although Cullen Burke did provide a lift Monday, especially in the second half), and the second quarter saw Central’s depth begin to make its impact.

The Eagles held Cathedral to just two points in the first five minutes of the second quarter, forcing turnovers and turning them into transition buckets to open a 41-32 halftime lead. But Cathedral would not go without a fight. Almost literally.

The game turned into a whistle-fest. Five technical fouls were called, including a double technical foul that occurred when Marquez Collins (who scored 21 points for Cathedral) finished an and-one, screamed in a Central player’s face and then got shoved for his antics. Cathedral shot 23 second-half free throws. Central shot 28.

“The refs really favored us,” said Prophet.

“The game lost its flow,” added Dalessio, “and my players -- we have four senior starters -- need to have more composure.”

Central led by as many as 18 points after halftime, and Cathedral never cut the lead closer than six. But every time it seemed as if Central would put the game in its back pocket, Cathedral revived itself with a run.

Three minutes into the third quarter, Cathedral trailed by ten points when the crowd started chanting for Springer, who had been mostly kept in check before then.

“Ty-rell, Spring-er” came the home crowd chants, and the jumping jack Springer, as if on cue, bounced into action. He leapt and caught a pass, then streaked in for a two-handed tomahawk slam. Central stole the following inbounds pass and Springer exploded to the hoop, catching a bounce pass and rising in one motion for his second dunk in ten seconds. When Cathedral was called for a technical foul 20 seconds later, Springer hit both free throws for his fifth and sixth points in a 30-second span, and the 52-36 lead seemed insurmountable.

“I didn’t notice the crowd until someone pointed it out. When the game is going, I’m not focused on anything but the court,” said Springer, who finished with 14 points but fouled out midway through the fourth quarter.

Even after Springer’s surge, the win wouldn’t come easy. Monts and Collins attacked the hoop repeatedly as Central’s taller defenders struggled to stay in front of Cathedral’s five-guard lineup. Cathedral would cut the lead to single digits, Central would seize control again and Cathedral would dig itself out of yet another grave.

The Panthers made one final charge to cut a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to 79-73 with two minutes left. But on the ensuing possession, Lee Turner drilled a three-pointer from the corner and Central could finally put Cathedral into its rearview.

“Nothing comes easy against Cathedral,” said Prophet. “They just play really hard.”

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

January, 12, 2012

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.”