Boston High School: Rick Kilpatrick

Good Sports: Lexington 49, A-B 48

January, 25, 2014
BOSTON -- It became very clear on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden during the Good Sports 2014 Invitational that the Lexington Minutemen should never be counted out.

They proved it first by surging back from a 15-point first half deficit. After climbing back into the contest, things seemed to be slipping away for the Minutemen again, as Acton-Boxborough took a four-point lead with just over a minute to go.

As the clock ticked under a minute, Hugh O’Neil made sure Lexington would once again beat the long odds as he slid beyond the three-point line and connected on his third trey of the night to cut the lead to just one point, setting up the Minutemen’s eventual 49-48 win over the Colonials.

“My brother set me an incredible screen and I came off it strong, saw the opening and I took it,” said O’Neil. “I’m a captain, that’s my job.”

Added Lexington coach Reggie Hobbs: “That’s a huge shot, and that’s a senior captain stepping up in a big way.”

After forcing a defensive turnover, Lexington took the lead for good when fellow senior captain James Laurenzi grabbed an offensive rebound and followed with a put-back lay-in for the go-ahead score.

A-B wasn’t able to get their designed offensive play off, Lexington’s pressure caused a loose ball, and the Minutemen were able to secure the ball and the improbable come from behind win at the same time.

In the early going it was all A-B, which used a 16-1 near the end of the first and into the second to open up an impressive 24-9 lead. The Colonials offense went completely cold though after the first, making just seven field goals in the second, third and fourth quarters combined.

Michael Mundowa had 12 of his 15 points before halftime for A-B, while Ryan Graziano netted nine of his 14 before the break. Only Nnamdi Udokwu had more than one second half field in the loss as he poured in all eight of his points from the beginning of the third quarter on.

“We tend to be an up-and-down team scoring, and sometimes we just struggle scoring for long amounts of time,” said A-B coach Rick Kilpatrick. “They did a good job pressuring the ball and taking some of our options away. We had some turnovers. They took a three or four point lead in the second half, and I was happy with how responded and took a lead of our own again, but they just made a few plays down the stretch than we did.”

Led by O’Neil’s game-high 15 points, his brother Harry’s 10 and David Barner’s nine were able to slowly work back into the game -- closing the gap more quickly after the half when the trio combined on 21 of their points.

Many things had to break right for Lexington to forge it’s comeback, but leaving TD Garden with a win was hardly the product of luck, but rather never giving in, especially on the defensive end.

Never was that more evident than when Mundowa picked off a pass at midcourt with just over three minutes to play. As he went in for what looked to be an easy lay-up, Barner chased him down from behind and the 5-foot-11 guard blocked the shot off the backboard to prevent the easy score.

When the Colonials grabbed an offensive rebound, Darius Mathis -- who was racing behind the fast break -- took from just inside the free throw line and swatted the ball out of bounds, allowing Lexington to set up in the defensive zone, eventually forcing a turnover.

“That was an energy play, and we talked about that a lot at halftime,” said Hobbs. “One thing we really stressed was transition defense, and that’s the epitome of it. (David) gets that block, then Darius comes down and follows with another block, and it’s just guys running the floor and sprinting the floor. Absolutely love to see them playing like that.”

Lexington improved to to 6-8 with the win, while A-B fell to 6-4.

Div. 1 Boys: A-B 63, Lawrence 58

March, 4, 2012
ACTON, Mass. — At first glance, Acton-Boxborough may look like a lumbering, big team that will only play in the half court and lull you to sleep in the post with size at seemingly every position.

But once the Colonials get into the flow of a game and move the ball inside and out, you start to realize that the size also has a little hop to its step. The Colonials put that gitty-up on display last night in the Div. 1 North quarterfinals in a 63-58 win over lightning quick No. 7 Lawrence at Regan Gymnasium.

The Colonials had three players in double figures, as Kevin LaFrancis — who added 12 rebounds — and Jake Pilecki each scored 20 points. Joey Flannery contributed with 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists, as the No. 2 seed will now face Lexington in the semifinals.

“We are versatile,” said Flannery. “It was pretty much a contrast in style, so we had to pick our spots when we were running and everything. We had to try and take advantage inside against them and try to deal with their quick guards.”

Flannery himself is the ultimate measure of versatility for A-B. At 6-foot-4, Flannery is the de facto point guard and he had to deal with the quick hands of Yadoris Arias, Franklin Martinez and Leonny Burgos buzzing around trying to swipe the ball out of his mitts all night.

“When I was playing up top with the ball they were pressuring me hard,” said Flannery. “They took the ball from a couple times, but I just had to use my size to my advantage.”

There was a stretch in the third quarter when Flannery went out with foul trouble that really could have turned the tide in the Lancers (15-6) direction. Flannery went to the bench with his third personal at the 3:39 mark, and the Colonials had trouble breaking the extended pressure in the backcourt.

The Colonials played survival for that time period without much flow to the offense and held a 51-46 lead at the end of the quarter and averted a bit of disaster.

“That was a time, late in that third quarter, we give up a basket and suddenly the momentum could change,” said Colonials head coach Rick Kilpatrick. “I thought that was big.”

Pilecki Comes Up Big Again: Kilpatrick has talked over and over again about the spark that his senior captain brings to the team in the most dire of situations, and Pilecki came up big again.

With the shot clock dwindling down to two, Pilecki fired away a deep, straightaway 3-pointer and drained it to push the lead back up to 8 with a little over four minutes left to go in the game.

“I’m just going to pull it,” Pilecki said of his mindset. “It feels good. I practice shooting it deep and I’m always screwing around from deep before practice. I throw it up there and it goes in, so I guess it works.”

Lancers Cold From Outside: Lawrence relies heavily on its speed to create a nightmare matchup for anyone trying to guard it for 32 minutes. But the Lancers also use the deep ball to open up the lanes for Burgos, Martinez and Arias to play around and use their ballhandling skills to get to the rim.

The shots just weren’t falling like they were in the first round victory against St. John's Prep. The Lancers finished 1-of-17 from behind the 3-point line, eliminating a major weapon in Paul Neal’s arsenal.

“They took that away from us,” said Lawrence head coach Paul Neal. “They really took away what we were good at. We couldn’t get anything going.”

Kilpatrick switched to a zone defense in the first half and stuck with it most of the night after starting out in a man-to-man look.

“I didn’t think we were going to play a whole lot of 2-3 (zone),” said Kilpatrick. “I thought we were going to play more man. We threw it at them in the first quarter, late first quarter, and it seemed to work. We still played some man, but obviously we played a lot of 2-3 the rest of the way. I thought we did a great job in the zone of recognizing where the shooters (were).”

Recap: No. 7 A-B 59, No. 5 Brighton 45

February, 13, 2012

ACTON, Mass. -- Expressing the feeling of many coaches in the Division 1 North district, Acton-Boxborough head coach Rick Kilpatrick mused following the Colonials' game with Brighton tonight that his bracket is "extremely" wide open.

And in this season of unlikely contenders and wild upsets, Kilpatrick's squad had just made a case for why they should be considered contenders, not underdogs, in the North. Against a Brighton lineup superior in athleticism, speed and overall skill -- even with star forward Nick Simpson done for the season due to grades -- the Colonials wore them down with careful execution and clean movement around the halfcourt, giving way to another huge night for senior center Kevin LaFrancis (31 points, 15 rebounds) in a 59-45 win.

"We wanted to schedule this, because it's a type of team we don't see often in our league," LaFrancis said. "We definitely had to get back to basics, and really box out, because they are really athletic."

The Colonials (17-1) led 13-4 after one period, and extended their lead to 20-10 in the second quarter before the Bengals (16-2) stormed back with back-to-back-to-back three-pointers from Daivon Edwards (11 points), cutting the lead to one. A-B quickly regrouped, and down the stretch were able to pull away with timely execution and steady feeds to LaFrancis and Joey Flannery (15 points).

In the third quarter, for instance, the 6-foot-6 LaFrancis continued to take the ball inside, and took hard bump after hard bump to the tune of 12 free throw attempts for the stanza. He was 8-for-12 from the line in the third, and 11-for-16 overall from the stripe.

"On pace for 48 (free throw attempts)? No, I've never had a quarter like that," LaFrancis laughed of the third quarter. "It was tough, but you just have to stay with it. I was struggling with the free throws towards the end of the quarter, but I started to get my stroke back at the end, so it was good."

The Bengals pride themselves on dictating a frenetic tempo, but the Colonials took charge of the game's pace early and made it stick. On ball reversals, LaFrancis would often step out from underneath the hoop, catch and drive, taking advantage of some lapses in help defense.

At the other end, A-B settled into a 2-3 zone and held Brighton to just a 31 percent clip from the field, including 2-for-13 in the first quarter and 1-for-11 in the final frame.

All of it comes in the absence of Jake Pilecki. The star senior forward came down with a stomach bug, and did not dress.

"It's a positive for us, hopefully it's a confidence builder," Kilpatrick said. "Jake's really important to us, especially defensively. He's a good passer, he just does a lot of good things. We told the guys, when someone's missing, it's opportunities for other guys. I thought that other guys stepped it up and did a nice job tonight."

Breaking the press: One of the ways Brighton creates a hectic tempo is with its vaunted diamond-and-one press. Dressing just eight players tonight, head coach Hugh Coleman rolled out some different permutations of the press, but the Colonials were able to break it patiently, with clean diagonal passes from sideline to sideline.

"All we talked about yesterday, and before the game today, was catch before you dribble," Kilpatrick said. "If you don't look before you dribble, you're going to dribble into trouble. So just catch and try to pass through it, and we worked on that a lot in practice yesterday. I don't know what our turnover numbers were, but I don't think they were too bad."

Outnumbered, but not outdone: For the Bengals, times like these -- dressing just eight, missing key players -- call for players to step up and make a name for themselves. Tonight, that meant a more elevated role down low for senior forward Jerard Mayes, who matched up with LaFrancis for most of the night and held his own.

The 6-foot-4 senior notched a double-double (18 points, 13 rebounds) and was 9-for-12 from the field. Coleman praised the big guy's effort afterwards.

"We knew that losing Nick was going to be big for us, but we've got other guys that can step up," Coleman said. "And Jerard stepped up today."

Recap: No. 10 A-B 59, No. 12 Westford 53

February, 11, 2012
ACTON, Mass. — Rick Kilpatrick knew his team struggled in the second half. He just didn’t realize what kind of drought his team actually went on.

Acton-Boxboro (16-1) didn’t record a field goal for 9:07 to begin the second half, but still hung on to defeat Westford Academy 59-53 last night at Regan Gymnasium in a battle of Dual County League large division heavyweights.

There was almost a look of disbelief, maybe a little shock, when Kilpatrick found out just how long his team went without a field goal.

“I did not realize that,” said Kilpatrick. “I’d say that we probably don’t win the game. You aren’t going to win many games like that. Obviously we were very fortunate. The thing that we talked about more than anything was our defense and making stops and not giving up second shots. … The fact that we went that long without a made basket means that defensively that’s what held us up.”

The Colonials got five free throws in the third quarter and held the Grey Ghosts to eight points in the period to take a 39-35 lead after three. Jake Pilecki finally broke the span with a lay-in with 6:53 left in the fourth quarter to push the Colonials lead to seven and that seemed to settle the rest of the team moving forward.

The hosts scored 11 of the next 16 points as Kevin LaFrancis got back to work on the inside to get to the hoop and get to the line.

“To be honest I didn’t know we had no field goals in the third,” said Pilecki, who finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists. “That’s a tough stat. We kind of got stagnant off the ball and weren’t moving like we were in the first half. We were taking quick shots, but we got better at the end, which is what counts.”

Seniors step up: There were two big buckets by LaFrancis (17 points, 15 rebounds) and A.J. Gotthelf that helped seal the victory for the Colonials, who can claim the DCL Large with a win over Lincoln-Sudbury.

The Colonials had a tough time establishing LaFrancis in the post during the entire third quarter, but after the drought ended they were able to get him back-to-back touches in his comfort zone.

Joey Flannery fed LaFrancis on the low left block, and the 6-foot-6-inch center moved in, took the contact and finished with the whistle blaring for a possible 3-point play. LaFrancis sank the freebie and gave the Colonials a 47-39 lead with 6:03 left in the game.

“That was big,” said Kilpatrick. “They were right on the verge and (LaFrancis) has done that for us all year. He makes the big baskets at the big times, and we wanted to get the ball inside to him and we did. It paid off there.”

Gotthelf is about a foot shorter that LaFrancis, but his bucket may have been the bigger, game-finisher with under two minutes to go. Gotthelf had an offensive rebound come right to him and he looked around for someone to feed the ball too. When he realized he was left all alone he fired up a 3-pointer and found nothing but net to help stop a 6-0 run by the Grey Ghosts.

“I was on the other side of the court and I saw the look in his eye and I was like ‘No, don’t shoot it,’” Pilecki said with a laugh. “I know coach might have yelled it too. When he pulled up I just rushed the rim in case there was a rebound, but went it went in the place just went crazy. It was so relieving.”

Slowing down Jann: The Colonials looked like they were running away with the game in the first quarter, but the sharpshooting of Ryan Jann slowly moved Westford Academy back into the game.

Jann hit 4-of-6 from 3-point range and finished with 16 points to lead all scorers in the first half. He did struggle with foul trouble in the second half, and when he was in the game, the Colonials held him to three points on 1-of-7 shooting in the final 16 minutes.

“We just wanted to get out on him a little bit,” said Kilpatrick. “We didn’t get out above the 3-point line enough. He’s such a tall kid and you really have to get your hand up to contest his shots. I thought we did a better job of getting out and trying to contest.”

Recap: No. 15 A-B 58, Boston Latin 50

January, 27, 2012
ANDOVER, Mass. — Jake Pilecki probably won’t lead Acton-Boxboro in scoring or any major statistical category with other key contributors lining the roster of the Colonials.

But that’s not what head coach Rick Kilpatrick needs him to do.

All Pilecki has to do is mimic his production from the Colonials 58-50 victory over Boston Latin (12-3) last night at Regan Gymnasium and the head coach will be happy.

Pilecki poured in five points in the final minute to help the Colonials push past the Wolfpack for the second time this season. The Colonials are now 13-1 on the regular season and Kilpatrick is getting used to seeing Pilecki come up when he is needed most.

“He’s our emotional leader,” said Kilpatrick. “He just brings a lot of energy to our team.”

The teams were locked in a one-possession game after Miles Wright hit a jumper with 1:29 left to go in the game. The Colonials were able to get the ball past the pressure defense and feed it to Pilecki in the post. He felt the defender on his back and instead of kicking it out to an outside shooter he turned and drilled a baseline jumper for a 55-50 lead.

“I wasn’t really thinking,” said Pilecki, who scored eight points on the night and grabbed seven rebounds. “I just got it and knew the shot clock was around (five seconds). I just put it up and I knew I could get over that kid.”

The Colonials came up with a defensive stop on the next possession and the Wofpack were trying to foul, but the Colonials were able to pass it around into Pilecki’s hands without getting a whistle. Pilecki saw the clock winding down, hoisted up a deep 3-pointer and drilled it with the buzzer sounding for the game-clincher.

“I knew there was five seconds and I was just going to pull that no matter what,” said Pilecki.

Pilecki’s clutch performances have not come as a surprise for teammate Kevin LaFrancis.

“He’s been huge,” said LaFrancis. “He’s been the motivator of the team and he’s been the biggest leader for us in the times of the greatest adversity. He’s just shown up in the biggest spots.”

LaFrancis Not Too Shabby: While LaFrancis praised his teammates for clutch finishes, it was the 6-foot-6 center that was the steady force that kept the Colonials afloat in the game.

LaFrancis finished the game with a game-high 27 points and 10 rebounds, with the majority of his buckets coming in the post.

“They guarded us hard, but we felt like we had the height advantage,” said LaFrancis. “We definitely had the advantage on the inside and we tried to exploit that early.”

LaFrancis finished 11-for-17 from the floor and came to life in the beginning of the third quarter. He posted the first eight points of the quarter for the Colonials with a number of post moves. More importantly, he was able to get Mike Wojewodzic and Jack Duggan into foul trouble to break into the depth of the Wolfpack front line.

“That’s what we want to do,” said Kilpatrick. “We want to try and get the ball inside and draw fouls.”

Wolfpack in the Hunt: The emotions were running high for the Wolfpack after dropping the first game of the season against the Colonials and they were in this one all the way to the bitter end.

It’s safe to say that this won’t be the last time anyone hears about Boston Latin.

The Wolfpack are a balanced team with legitimate scorers up and down the lineup. None might be more prolific than Wright. The junior finished with 20 points and showed a good inside game to go along with the lost art that is the midrange jumper.

Wright came away with five steals and nearly threw down a tomahawk dunk on the break that would have brought the Wolfpack a crucial bucket in the final moments of the fourth, but he lost the ball on the way down and it clanged off the rim.

The athleticism is there and he will be a presence that the Dual County League and the rest of the state will have to be aware of.

“He doesn’t realize how good he can be year,” said Wolfpack head coach Brendan Smith. “He’s a young junior. He just turned 16 a littte while ago and he’s not a really a big man but for us he plays big. He’s more of a small forward and he’s going to be a tough cover.”

Added Kilpatrick: “We basically felt that we were going to give him the midrange jumper and we can’t let him get to the rim, because that’s when he’s so tough. To his credit he made them.”

Recap: No. 21 Westford 68, No. 6 A-B 60

January, 7, 2012
WESTFORD, Mass. -- Friday had all the characteristics of a usual Westford vs Acton-Boxborough matchup.

A packed house? Check. Students chanting at each other from across the gym after nearly every possession in the second half? Check.

A game that came to the wire? Check. But this time, it was No. 21 Westford that came away with the win, knocking off the No. 6 Colonials, 68-60.

Everything started about as bad as it possibly could for A-B (7-1), while everything went well for Westford. The Grey Ghosts (8-2) had a 17-7 lead at the end of the first quarter due to its near-perfect perimeter shooting.

Matt Ellis was a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, and added another before the first half was over. He finished the game with 15 points and 6 rebounds.

Conversely, nothing seemed to be able to fall for A-B. Kevin LaFrancis, the team’s 6-foot-6 center, accounted for all seven of the team’s points in the first quarter.

The second quarter went as smoothly as the first for Westford, which extended its lead to 36-16. LaFrancis scored 14 of those 16 points.

“I thought the first half was the key to the game,” said Westford head coach Ed Scollan. “We came out with an intensity we hadn’t really shown for a full 16 minutes and I thought that worked well. I thought we shot the ball well and everything just seemed to click for those 16 minutes.”

As often as is the case in basketball, it is difficult to carry shooting success over to the next half. Most of the time, the shots that were finding the bottom of the net start hitting the back of the rim. Those bounces that went your way in one half suddenly don’t.

That was the case Friday, when the Colonials outscored Westford 21-11 to make it a 10-point game going into the fourth, with momentum on its side. Suddenly, what once seemed out of reach became a game again.

“We weren’t going to sit down at halftime, that’s for sure, not with the talent they have,” said Scollan. “They certainly came back in the second half and gave us a run for it. Our concern coming out of the locker room was that team of Acton-Boxborough’s quality and capability would make a run at it.”

A-B saw an increase in its second-chance opportunities, most of which were put away by the dominating inside presence of LaFrancis. The big man finished with 28 points and seven rebounds.

With 2:53 left in the game, A-B had cut the lead down to 57-53. The 4-point lead was the closest the game had been since the first quarter. Westford would not let the lead go however. After Justin Mount (12 points, five rebounds) converted a 3-point play to make it a seven-point game, A-B was forced to foul.

Ellis and Alex Preckol (19 points, four rebounds) made the necessary free throws down the stretch to secure the victory and sent the home crowd home happy.

Halftime pep talks: What does a coach tell his team at halftime when it is up by 20, can’t miss, and showed no signs of slowing down?

“I told them that we probably can’t continue to shoot as high percentage-wise as we did,” said Scollan. “We can continue the intensity, but any team like Acton-Boxborough is not going to sit back with Coach Kilpatrick, Joey Flannery (18 points, three rebounds), and Kevin LaFrancis and say this game is over. It’s not going to happen. There’s just too much pride. I told them to be ready for it. Be ready for the run.”

How about a coach that is down 20 points?

“We’re not in there yelling and screaming,” said A-B coach Rick Kilpatrick. “We just said listen, ‘We want to pick up the defensive pressure a little bit and just try to move more off the ball and try to get better looks. Basketball is a game of runs. We’re a good team. We were going to make a run at some point. There was no panic at halftime, it was just a question of working hard. We just had to stick by what we do and hopefully make a run and get there and we just came up a little short.”

Limiting LaFrancis: Westford’s defense of LaFrancis was impressive in the first half, given that he had at least a 3-inch height advantage over the Westford defenders. He had a difficult time getting clean looks in the post because there would always be someone there to knock away or get a hand on the entry pass.

He did most of his work in the post in the second half. Although he still ended the game with 28 points, 10 of those came at the foul line, evidence that even when he did get the ball down low, Westford made it physically tough for him.

“They were very tough around the basket, which we expected,” said Kilpatrick. “We talked about that that they would do that. They did a great, great job. I thought that as much as Kevin scored, I thought they did a great job defensively.”

Familiar Foes: This was the second of three times this season the two teams will play each other. The last time they played was over the holidays, and A-B came away with a 5-point victory. The rubber match is scheduled for February 10 at Acton-Boxborough.

With all the elements of the rivalry, the Dual County League Large ramifications of the game, and the schedule moving forward, Scollan was happy with the result.

“It was definitely pleasing to come back and win like that, knowing we play each other three times at least,” he said. “The bottom line is we needed this game. It may be as simple as that. If we aspire to continue, we needed this game.”

ESPNBoston's MIAA All-State Boys Basketball Team

March, 25, 2011

Guard – Samir McDaniels, Sr., New Mission
The 6-foot-3 McDaniels was the steady hand that rocked the Titans' Division 2 state championship season. He averaged 18.8 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.1 steals as the Titans became the first team in MIAA history to win the Division 4 and Division 2 titles in back to back seasons. McDaniels recently committed to the University of New Haven for next fall.

Guard – Pat Connaughton, Sr., St. John’s Prep
The Notre Dame-bound Connaughton, currently ranked No. 96 in the ESPNU 100, once again saved his best performances for the postseason as the Eagles won the Division 1 state championship for the first time in school history. Connaughton averaged 21.8 points, 17 rebounds and 6.5 assists and took home the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year award. Connaughton, who will play both baseball and basketball for the Fighting Irish next year, is ranked No. 77 in Baseball America's list of Top 100 high school prospects.

Forward – Richard Rodgers, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Considered one of the best athletes to come out of Central Mass in the last two decades, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Rodgers was a monster in all facets of the game as the Pioneers made their fourth straight appearance in the Division 1 state final. The senior, who will continue his football career next fall at Cal as a tight end, averaged 17.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.5 blocks, 4.1 steals and 3.4 assists in his final season in Shrewsbury. He is also the son of Holy Cross defensive coordinator and former Cal great Richard Rodgers, and the cousin of Buffalo Bills cornerback Jairus Byrd.

Forward – Jake Layman, Jr., King Philip
The 6-foot-7 Layman lived up to his potential high-major billing in his junior season with the Warriors, helping them end a 15-year postseason drought and set a school single-season record for wins (17) before bowing out in the Division 2 South finals. Layman averaged 24.6 points, 13.6 rebounds, 4.6 blocks, 3.1 steals and 2.3 assists; he also took home Hockomock League MVP honors. Layman's 1,196 points at KP are the most by any boy in school history. He currently holds offers from UMass, Providence, Boston College, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Brigham Young.

Center – Jimmy Zenevitch, Sr., Central Catholic
A force in the middle the last three seasons for the Raiders, the 6-foot-7 Zenevitch lived up to the hype headed into his senior season. He closed out his career with a strong finish, averaging 19 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, and stretched many a defense with his ability to post up and shoot from long distance. He earned Merrimack Valley Conference All-Star nods, and his Raiders went 39-1 in MVC play the last two seasons. Zenevitch, whose older sister Kate is a freshman forward for Boston College, will continue his career next fall at Division 2 Assumption College.


Jaylen Alicea, Sr., Lawrence
Few had as explosive a postseason as the 5-foot-8 Alicea, who averaged 30.4 points in five playoff games as the Lancers became the first No. 15 seed since 1998 to advance to the Division 1 North final. The run included a 35-point effort in a shocking first round upset of No. 2 seed Cambridge, followed up the next game with 38 on Westford. For the season, Alicea averaged 19.3 points, four assists and three steals and earned a Merrimack Valley Conference All-Star nod.

Travonne Berry-Rogers, Sr., Lynn English
The 6-foot-1 Berry-Rogers made a name for himself as one of the North Shore's best finishers in his senior campaign, which ended in a D1 North semifinal loss to Lawrence but with some Northeastern Conference recognition. The senior, who was also an NEC All-Star in football, averaged 23.5 points, five assists and five rebounds to lead the 21-3 Bulldogs. He plans on pursuing basketball at the next level, and is considering several Division 2 and Division 3 colleges.

Joe Bramanti, Sr., Andover
The 6-foot-2 Bramanti was the Golden Warriors' prized horse in 2010-11, and they rode him to a 15-5 record and an appearance in the Division 1 North tournament. Bramanti averaged 22.3 points, six rebounds and four assists in his senior season, in which he took the Merrimack Valley Conference's MVP honors by an almost unanimous decision. Bramanti is currently looking into pursuing a post-graduate season at a prep school.

Grant Cooper, Sr., Northampton
Cooper, a 6-foot-3 forward, played an instrumental role in the Blue Devils' Division 1 Western Mass championship season, and established himself as one of the premier forwards in the western part of the state. He finished his career at Hamp on a high note, averaging 11 points, 12 rebounds, 4.5 assists this season while also posting a field goal percentage of .550.

Marco Coppola, Sr., Watertown
The 6-foot-1 Coppola was instrumental to the Raiders' run to their third Division 3 state title game in six seasons, and also pitched in tremendously on the defensive end -- before losing to Whitinsville Christian in the state championship, they held their previous four opponents in the 30's. Coppola was Eastern Mass' leading scorer, averaging 25.1 points per game, and finishes fourth all-time on the school's scoring list, behind his older brother Anthony, Max Kerman and Kyle Stockmal. Coppola is currently undecided on college plans, but is leaning heavily towards Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Mark Cornelius, Sr., Westford
The 6-foot-2 Cornelius was a scoring machine this season for the Grey Ghosts, winning the Dual County League scoring title with an average of 21.1 points per game, and was co-MVP of the league. He saved arguably his best performance for last, getting 33 points and 23 rebounds in a loss to Lawrence in a Division 1 North quarterfinal. Also a standout wide receiver for the football team, Cornelius is undecided on college plans.

Alex Gartska, Sr., Westfield
One of the state's sharpest shooters, the 6-foot-1 guard averaged 19.7 points, three rebounds and two assists per game as the Bombers marched to a 20-3 record and an appearance in the Division 1 Western Mass final against Northampton. Gartska, who was recently named the MassLive/Basketball Hall of Fame's inaugural Western Mass Player of the Year, finished his career at Westfield with 1,172 career points. He is currently undecided on college plans.

Steve Haladyna, Jr., St. John’s Prep
The 6-foot-3 junior was the Pippen to Pat Connaughton's Jordan on this year's squad, but that proved to be a pivotal role in the Eagles' first basketball state championship season. In 2010-11, he averaged 19.7 points and seven rebounds as the Eagles battled through the toughest Division 1 North bracket in recent memory.

John Henault, Sr., St. Bernard’s
The Bernardians ended their season on a sour note with a shocking upset by Oxford in the Division 2 Central tournament, but the 6-foot-2 Henault ends his career on Harvard Street on a positively high one. He leaves St. B's as the school's all-time leading scorer (1,682 points) and led the state in scoring average (27.8 points) this season. He also racked up over 600 rebounds, 200 assists and 170 steals in his four-year career with the Bernardians. Henault is currently considering several Division 2 and 3 colleges.

Mike Lofton, Sr., Mansfield
With such a unique skill set, the 6-foot-4 senior played anywhere from point guard to power forward this year for the Hockomock League champions, and excelled in every role. Lofton averaged 13.5 points, 11 rebounds. 4.5 assists and 2.7 steals this season for the 24-3 Hornets, who won a wide-open Division 1 South before falling to eventual state champ St. John's Prep on the TD Garden floor. Lofton is currently considering several Division 2 and 3 schools.

Akosa Maduegbunam, Jr., Charlestown
In 25 games this season for the Townies, the 6-foot-4 slasher averaged 22 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals as they captured their first Boston City title since 2006. in his two seasons at Charlestown, he has averaged 20.5 points, seven rebounds and three assists. A two-time City all-star, Maduegbunam was also named the City tournament's Most Valuable Player.

Hans Miersma, Sr., Whitinsville Christian
Few teams in the state could match up with the Crusaders' size this season, and none was more pivotal than the 6-foot-9 Miersma. He averaged 14.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks as the Crusaders captured their first Division 3 state title since 2005. The first team All-Dual Valley Conference center will continue his playing career next fall at Gordon College.

Joe Mussachia, Sr., Manchester-Essex
The 6-foot-6, Amherst College-bound forward excelled in a multitude of roles for the Hornets, who won the Cape Ann League and advanced all the way to the Division 4 North semifinals. Mussachia averaged 25.2 points, 17 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks, and finishes as the school's all-time leading scorer (1,714 points). For his career at M-E, he averaged 20.9 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

Jarrod Neumann, Jr., Northampton
The 6-foot-3 guard/forward helped to form Western Mass's most intimidating, swarming defenses, as the Blue Devils marched all the way to a 21-3 record and the Division 1 Central/West Final, where they lost to state runner-up St. John's of Shrewsbury. For the season, Neumann averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds. Barring the unexpected, Neumann should return next fall as one of the MIAA's top 2012 prospects.

Kachi Nzerem, Sr., New Mission
As one part of the Titans' three-headed monster of a backcourt, the 6-foot-5 Nzerem was a physical force around the rim. He averaged 17.1 points and 6.1 rebounds as the Titans became the first MIAA squad in history to win the Division 4 and Division 2 titles in back to back seasons. Nzerem is considering pursuing a post-graduate season at several prep schools.

Keandre Stanton, Jr., Lynn English
It was quite the breakout season for the 6-foot-6 Stanton, a Northeastern Conference All-Star who turned in a monster junior campaign to establish himself as one of the state's best pure athletes on the blocks. He averaged 19.5 points, 12 rebounds, six blocks and achieved 10 triple-doubles on the season for the 21-3 Bulldogs, who advanced all the way to the D1 North semifinals before bowing out to Lawrence.

Jacquil Taylor, Soph., Cambridge
At 6-foot-8, the sophomore was one of the state's most imposing forces in the paint. He has started every game in his two years on the Falcons' varsity, and has only blossomed under head coach Lance Dottin; after averaging nearly a double-double as a freshman (nine points, 10 rebounds), he turned in an even more impressive sophomore season, with 13.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.8 blocks as the Falcons won the Greater Boston League outright for the second year in a row. He has already amassed 166 blocks in his young career (including over 100 this year), and is a two-time GBL All-Star.

Noah Vonleh, Soph., Haverhill
Ranked the No. 23 overall player nationally in the Class of 2013 by ESPN, the 6-foot-7 Vonleh came into the season with a load of hype, and lived up to it in spite of the Hillies' struggles to a 7-13 record this season. Vonleh averaged 18.4 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks and earned Merrimack Valley Conference All-Star recognition. Kansas, Pitt and Boston College are among the early offers for Vonleh, but expect that list to get quite lengthy over the next six months.

Yes, one of the North Shore's all-time schoolboy greats has had one of New England's top senior talents to work with the last three seasons. But this season, which culminated in the program's first state championship, was all about the role players. And between Steve Haladyna, Freddy Shove, Isaiah Robinson, Mike Carbone and Owen Marchetti, this season was about a different player stepping up every night to ease the load off superstar Pat Connaughton. For that, and to survive one of the most loaded Division 1 North brackets in recent history, Connolly deserves some credit.

1. Paul Neal, Lawrence
2. Cory McCarthy, New Mission

Bill Daley, Westfield
Paul DiGeronimo, Fitchburg
Rey Harp, Northampton
Rick Kilpatrick, Acton-Boxborough
Sean McInnis, King Philip
Duane Sigsbury, Manchester-Essex
Malcolm Smith, East Boston

G – Joe Bramanti, Sr., Andover
G – Luis Puello, Jr., Central Catholic
G – Akosa Maduegbunam, Jr., Charlestown
F/C – Jacquil Taylor, Soph., Cambridge
C – John Swords, Sr., Lincoln-Sudbury

Pat Connaughton, Sr., St. John's Prep
Marco Coppola, Sr., Watertown
Alex Gartska, Sr., Westfield
John Henault, Sr., St. Bernard's
Jake Laga, Sr., Northampton

G – Jonathan Joseph, Brockton
G – Tyler Nelson, Central Catholic
G – Damion Smith, West Roxbury
F – Drew Shea, Medfield
F – Aaron Falzon, Newton North

1. Northampton
2. St. John's (Shrewsbury)
3. Newton North
4. Central Catholic
5. St. John's Prep

(NOTE: Some headshots were provided by ESPN's Adam Finkelstein, courtesy of his New England Recruiting Report)

LaFrancis steps up, leads A-B past Andover

March, 2, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

No. 7 A-B takes rubber match with No. 8 Westford

February, 12, 2011

WESTFORD, Mass. -- The tempo exceeded full-throttle at times. Shot after shot found nylon, like heavyweights exchanging blows. One player scored his team’s first 14 points while another sank a three-point bucket to beat the halftime buzzer.

No one backed down. Just as one expected.

Friday night’s showdown between Dual County League title contenders Acton-Boxborough and Westford -- the teams’ third meeting of the season -- had almost everything. And similarly, the Colonials' diversified offensive attack proved to be the difference, as A-B silenced the raucous Grey Ghost gym en route to a 74-66 win. The victory puts A-B (15-2, 8-1) alone atop the Dual County League's Large division standings, a game ahead of the Grey Ghosts (14-2, 7-2).

Offensively, the Colonials’ distribution was textbook. Four players scored in double figures, led by versatile junior combo guard Joey Flannery, who posted a team-high 21 points to go along with five rebounds.

Facing everything from a conventional half-court man-to-man defense to a full-court zone trap, A-B received consistent production as well from senior guards Wes Schroll (18 points) and Sam Longwell (17 points), as well as junior center Kevin LaFrancis (12 points, seven rebounds), who proved instrumental in gobbling up rebounds on both the offense and defensive ends, as well as containing the Grey Ghosts' dribble penetration in and around the paint.

“I thought [LaFrancis] was terrific,” A-B head coach Rick Kilpatrick said. “I thought this was as well as he’s played all year.

“He just had a presence about him tonight, wherever he was. He was a big part of the win, there’s no doubt.”

From the opening tip, the exceedingly high levels of intensity shown by both squads were hard to ignore. The first quarter featured 15 combined field goals, with Westford’s overtly talented forward Mark Cornelius (28 points, six rebounds) taking center stage. The senior offensive wizard opened the game on a tear, taking and making his team’s first six shots, including two from beyond the arc.

“He can do so many things,” Kilpatrick said of the Grey Ghosts’ offensive catalyst. “We can put a big guy on him, and he goes and hits some threes in the first quarter. Then I put a guard on him, and he’s going inside and scoring. And he gets rebounds. And he’s so quick off the ground...He’s just a great player. He’s a matchup nightmare.”

As the first eight minutes came to completion, with A-B ahead, 21-16, all those in attendance gave a thunderous ovation for the offensive display.

The second quarter, however, proved far less explosive, with neither team establishing much rhythm.

Yet after a three-point attempt clanked off the back rim with about five seconds to go in the half, A-B’s Longwell gathered his own rebounds while almost simultaneous launching another shot from downtown, this time finding the twine as the buzzer sounded.

A-B ended the half on a 9-1 run, up 32-23 after the first 16 minutes.

The final two quarters were defined by two themes: Westford’s persistence and the Colonials resiliency. Despite never leading after losing the lead with 1:17 to go in the first quarter and trailing by double digits on five separate instances in the second half, the Grey Ghosts continued applying the pressure.

With less than six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Westford narrowed the deficit to two points, still behind 55-53.

“I just feel that we’re so even as two teams,” Kilpatrick said, “and we know each other so well, that even when one team goes up … you kind of know the other team’s going to get back.”

However, after picking up his fourth foul on a charge call while elevating for a five-foot leaner, Cornelius subsequently fouled LaFrancis on the Colonials ensuing possession, exiting the contest with about five minutes to play.

Going 13-for-15 from the charity stripe in the closing period, A-B (24-for-28 from the foul line altogether) was able to hold off a couple late threats from the Ghosts, including its full-court trap defense and six fourth-quarter points from junior guard Ryan Jann (14 points).

Being able to continually fight off the Ghosts’ attacks showed something about the Colonial team, Longwell said.

“Before every game, we talk about trust,” he said. “And we come together and we pick each other up.

“We all go out there together. If we’re all out there as individuals, it’s really hard to stay calm. As a team, we do it together.”

And earning a victory against an opponent as familiar as Westford?

“It’s amazing how every single time we play them, it’s a one-point game,” reflected LaFrancis. “I’m so proud of our team for showing confidence today. I mean, they came back and we just closed it out.”

Cakert sparks No. 20 L-S over No. 7 A-B

February, 9, 2011
ACTON, Mass. -- It’s easy to take a first glance at the Lincoln-Sudbury boys' basketball team and assume its success revolves around 7-foot senior center John Swords.

But as Dual County League rival Acton-Boxborough found out in Tuesday night’s 71-56 loss to the hot-shooting Warriors, there are plenty more reasons why this team has a chance to make a deep tournament run, even in a loaded Division 1 North.

Senior point guard Denny Cakert poured in 26 points, 15 of which came in a crucial stretch in the second and third quarters that pushed his team’s lead to 23 points, stunning the vocal Colonial supporters. As a team, the Warriors were simply on fire, making 55 percent of their shots from the floor, 45 from beyond the arc, and 83 from the charity stripe.

“That’s probably (Cakert’s) best game of the year,” said L-S head coach Patrick Callahan, whose team improved to 14-3 overall, 10-2 in the DCL. “He is, in my opinion, one of the best point guards in the state. But tonight, not only did he lead us on the floor, making sure everyone was doing the right thing, he had the ball probably 75 percent of the time. And 26 points and (six) assists is pretty intense.”

“It was really a great team win,” Cakert said. “Everyone was fired up and everyone was just doing their jobs.”

Conversely, A-B (15-2 overall, 13-1 in the DCL), typically one of the best shooting teams in Eastern Massachusetts, made just 29 percent of its field goals and 22 percent of its 3-pointers. Senior sharpshooter Sam Longwell finished with 26 points for the hosts, but they all came with L-S junior Ben Lawhorn draped all over his jersey, pestering him every time he sized up the rim.

“Longwell is a tremendous shooter and our junior forward Ben Lawhorn has been our lockdown defender all year,” Cakert said. “He brings just incredible intensity to every practice, every game, and he was in (Longwell’s) face. A couple times I tried to say I wanted to cover him but he denied me. He was really excited about covering him.”

L-S broke open a close game with a dominant second quarter, as the visitors made 9-of-13 shots from the field and extended a two-point lead at the end of the first to a 35-19 lead by the break. Cakert scored his team’s first eight points of the quarter. Mitch Perez (11 points) and Mario Payne added a pair of triples to extend the lead to 12, and Cakert hit a put-back and 3-pointer before Swords (13 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks) dropped in a layup to close out the half.

Other than Longwell, who had nine points at the break, no one on A-B had more than two points.

“They did a lot of things tonight that they didn’t do when we played them three weeks ago (an A-B win) defensively and I think it caught us off-guard,” Colonials coach Rick Kilpatrick said. “And, again, I need to make sure we’re not caught off-guard by that.

“To beat them -- and this is what we did the first time -- you have to shoot it well from outside. You can try a hundred different things, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to make jump shots unfortunately. And tonight we didn’t shoot it well from outside.”

The Warriors kept the momentum of the second quarter going in the third, as Cakert, Dominic Douglas (10 points, six rebounds, three assists) and Swords sparked a 7-0 run that made it 42-19. A-B was able to rally in spurts after that, but L-S made 15-of-18 free throws in the fourth quarter to effectively lock down the win.

“This is the happiest I’ve ever been,” Cakert said. “This is an incredible feeling. I’ve never been this happy. I’ve never beaten A-B at their place. So it’s a big win.”