Boston High School: Wes Schroll

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.”

As Hayes rolls, so does No. 14 Chelmsford

September, 17, 2010
CHELMSFORD, Mass. -- As a lifelong Chelmsford resident, Zach Hayes has seen many a loss by the local high school to nearby rival Acton-Boxborough, both in good years and bad. So when the handshakes had ceased and his Chelmsford teammates took a knee around head coach Bruce Rich, Hayes, like everyone else, merely exhaled. Two years, no loss.

"It feels great that we can finally get a win streak," he smiled. "Teams before us, Super Bowl teams, never did it. We're just trying to build off that and make a run with it this year."

Hayes, by virtue of a fumble recovery in the Colonials' end zone, started the scoring late in the second quarter. The Lions then added another score with another lucky bounce in the third to cushion it, got some mileage out of feature back Joe Gennaro (27 carries, 204 yards), and then Hayes sealed it late with an inteception. They went on to win, 13-0, and mark the first win streak by Chelmsford (2-0) in this annual series (the Lions also won 2009's contest, 28-21).

"Twelve years in a row losing? Yeah, I remember it," laughed junior linebacker Tim Joy (12 tackles), another Chelmsford lifer. "It feels really good, but you can't get over-confident now. It's like every other game to me -- 100 percent, relentless every single play."

After taking a downed punt at their own four midway through the second quarter, the Lions marched 95 yards in 15 plays, with quarterback A.J. Rotella (9 of 17, 100 yards, TD) keeping the drive alive with darting scrambles and light pop passes over the middle. On fourth and goal at the Colonials' one yard line, Rotella was stuffed on a sneak over center, met at the goal line by Matt Marcotte, Brendan Spangler and Collin Shaughnessy.

It took all of one play to reverse that fortune. On A-B's first play of the ensuing drive, Eric Apgar came off tackle right only to be met at the line of scrimmage by Brett Harrington. Hayes then popped the ball loose from Apgar's grip, and fell on it in the end zone for the game's first score.

Hayes followed through just as he does in the Lions' strip-and-rip drills in practice.

"Our coach Sal (Lupoli), he does the drill, and he's very intense with it," Hayes said. "He just teaches us to punch it and rip it."

Said Joy of the Hayes' fumble recovery, "I'd say he's probably the best defensive player in the MVC right now, and he's my best friend. So that feels good."

The Lions gave themselves some cushion in the third quarter when, on fourth and 10 at the Colonials' 13, Rotella rolled right and flicked a fade to the far right corner of the end zone. The pass was originally intended for Arron Witkus; but Witkus, falling out of bounds, smartly tipped it up instead, and Anthony Andre came down with it for the 13-0 lead.

A few more observations:

-- At halftime, the Colonials had mustered just 46 yards of offense. And really, they didn't get going until the fourth quarter, down two scores. A-B head coach Bill Maver deflected the blame unto himself -- "The whole game we had no life to us, we were flat from the beginning, but that's on me, that's my fault," he said -- but I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt here and credit the Lions defense.

In eight quarters so far this season, the Lions have yet to give up a point. Head coach Bruce Rich said he installed a 3-4 scheme this season to match up better with the many spread teams he'll face the rest of the way, but that's not to discount his depth at linebacker. Juniors Ryan Decoste and Joy (who's already receiving great Division 1 interest) were very active tonight at the two middle backer positions, and provided tremendous run support.

"We really like our defense," Rich said. "We've got some youth over there, most of those kids are juniors, including (Corey) Everleigh. With Decoste, Tim Joy and on the other side Joey Christopher, they're just great athletes. They all play two or three sports. We installed a 3-4 defense this year, hope I'm not jinxing it but...we were able to apply it tonight against a Wing-T offense.

"The kids worked it well. So, we're putting most of our good athletes on that side of the ball, and they can run to the ball. Tonight, they did a great job."

-- That isn't to say the Colonials are running with flat tires, either. After years of wearing defenses out with the Wing-T, Maver has diversified his playbook a bit. A-B ran some spread packages tonight, and used it to put together a solid drive in the fourth that came up empty when Hayes jumped a route over the middle for the pick.

Wes Schroll (four catches, 48 yards) is their best vertical threat and go-to guy in hurry-up mode -- the 6-foot-3 senior kept the chains moving with great sideline routes. But Maver was most pleased with Schroll's pursuit of Gennaro on the Lions' game-ending drive; the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Gennaro burst up the middle on the first play following Hayes' pick, and was chased down by Schroll 52 yards later.

"That was impressive in my book. That means you want to play football," Maver said.

-- For all the talk about Billerica and Central Catholic, here's my case for Chelmsford as the team to beat in the MVC Large. Not only are they a sound, balanced defense, they have the capability to wear down teams in the second half with monster drives.

Speaking specifically to Gennaro, the Lions kept the chains moving tonight without having to rip off too many big plays, thanks to the run game. Gennaro follows his blockers well, and looked elusive against A-B. One particular play that comes to mind is his second carry of the third quarter, a nifty little 33-yard scamper: out of the I, Gennaro plunged up the middle, cut 45 degrees to the right sideline, reversed direction at the right sideline, and evaded several more tacklers with two quick cuts to the left before being wrapped up at midfield.

"I think he's one of the best running backs in the state," Hayes said of Gennaro. "Just how he plays, he's one of the toughest runners...(his big runs) just lights our team up. He did it alot last year, we get psyched for him and we just try to build off that."

Chelmsford 13, Acton-Boxborough 0

AB 0 0 0 0 --- 0
CH 0 7 6 0 --- 13

C - Zach Hayes 0 fumble recovery (Charlie Calenda kick)
C - Anthony Andre 13 pass from A.J. Rotella (kick failed)

Maver moving Acton-Boxborough forward

August, 27, 2010
ACTON, Mass. -- Throughout longtime Acton-Boxborough Regional High head coach Bill Maver’s tenure calling plays for the Colonials, he has rarely heard his team dubbed as the biggest or fastest. Maver dismisses those terms because he knows that as long as he has a good group of football players that believes in family, the team will succeed.

"With most of my teams, we'd probably get our butts kicked in a street fight," said Maver about his time at Acton-Boxborough. "But before each game I tell them play hard, play smart, play together and have fun."

That message has bred a lot of success for A-B in the last 25 years. However, the Colonials are coming off of a 6-5 year that most players deemed "disappointing", and the team doesn't have a lot of experience on either sides of the ball.

Sounding a bit cliché, Maver believes that the experience and talents of this team don’t matter in the end.

"Every year is different," said Maver. “You do the best you can with what you’ve got and take it one game at a time.”

Except this year, it appears things are drastically different. Maver — an old school Wing-T proponent — has altered the playbook so quarterback Mike Morris will take snaps in the shotgun while running the offense. The coaches hope that will allow him to get the ball to receivers Wes Schroll and David Immerman on the outside.

Senior co-captain and starting running back Eric Apgar showed plenty of talent last year before his season was cut short due to a fractured pelvis. With the transition of the offense, Apgar has bought into the family attitude at A-B, and doesn’t think the change in playbook is a sleight against him.

"I like the transition," said Apgar. "I won't get the ball as much but it’s fine with me as long as we're winning."

This kind of attitude has rubbed off on Maver's players for years. In fact, players have liked his coaching style so much that he now has six former Colonials on the coaching staff — including two of his own sons.

"It really says a lot about the coaching staff here and tradition at Acton-Boxborough," said Schroll. "The family part of it is awesome and Coach balances the good with the bad."

For right now though, A-B is trying to get back to that winning tradition. With a lot of holes to fill on the offensive and defensive lines, Maver believes his players just need to develop the intangibles.

"We have to get our 'mojo' back," Maver said. "I think we lost that last year. The intensity that we had in practice, and the leadership we saw from all of the kids — not just the captains — I think we lost that and need to get it back."

2009 record: 6-5
Coach: Bill Maver (25 seasons, 200-61-1)
Players to watch: Wes Schroll, Sr., WR/FS, 6-3, 200 lbs.; David Immerman, Sr., WR/DB, 6-0, 190 lbs.; Devin Santilli, Sr., WR/DB, 6-0, 195 lbs.; Rob Gougen, Sr., RB/DB, 6-0, 185 lbs.; Colin Shaughnessy, Sr., OL/DL, 5-7, 195 lbs.; Ethan Dukes, Jr., RB/LB, 6-1, 195 lbs.; Mike Morris, Sr., 6-0, 175 lbs.; Eric Apgar, Sr., RB/LB, 5-10, 200 lbs.
Strengths: Discipline, skill positions
Weaknesses: Lack of size, offensive and defensive lines
Outlook: The Colonials have fast wide receivers and a few talented running backs but will have to sure up the offensive line in the coming weeks. They return one starter on the offense and defensive line combined, so they may be exploited up the middle. Apgar is the lone returning starter from a year ago in the entire defensive front seven. While the team is confident in Morris at quarterback and the speed it has in the defensive backfield, Acton-Boxborough will have a challenge early on in the season as they gain experience in the Dual County League.