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Biddeford victory emblematic of population shift

Sport: Hockey (Boys)  Posted: March 9th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Biddeford victory emblematic of population shift

Sunday, March 9, 2008

LEWISTON - In this year of mixed reviews for unbeaten high school heavyweights, it would have been easy for a visitor to drop in from exile in Siberia and fail to correctly identify the slugger and the sparring partner Saturday night at Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

Twenty-three straight encore wins after it finally earned a place in the Class A history book, Biddeford High School played with the barely measurable pulse rate of a team that was given all the chance of Ron Paul in the Texas primary.

What, us worry? With everything to lose? In your arena? Phooey.

Biddeford shook off the persistent, underdog Lewiston Blue Devils, 4-1, with a late, simultaneous flourish and fade that made it Zamboni-water clear whom the pressure was on.


The streak that triggered sweaty palms and butterflies on this evening wasn't the one in the black-and-orange column, but the one on the blue-and-white ledger.

This makes six consecutive seasons of state championship famine for the Devils. At a school that basically never goes seven years without one, in a city heavily populated by older fans who don't understand why it isn't as easy to win a title as it was when there were eight teams in the entire bloody state, that time frame might as well be the Paleozoic Era.

No shame in losing to Biddo. The better team nine-times-out-of-10 in a neutral arena survived this game. But I'll bet the home half of the overflow crowd is unconvinced that the better team at 6 p.m. on March 8 won it.

OK, so I see their point. Lewiston outshot, at times outhustled, and often outplayed Biddeford. The Devils simply were undone by the little mistakes that a tense, frustrated team commits, and the Tigers are a foe that will transform your molehills into mountains.

Biddeford scored on the power play. Biddeford struck short-handed. And Biddeford stuffed home a pair of 4-on-4 goals in the final two-and-a-half minutes after the Devils' spirit was broken.

That was all. And that was more than enough.

Boasting the best player on the ice by a bundle in Brian Dumoulin (he had a stick - no, make that a magic wand - in all four goals) and the experience of breaking the state championship glass ceiling here a year ago, Biddeford played with disarming calm.

Three 5-on-3 opportunities went awry for the Devils. Again, one came at the bitter end, after a thousand fair-weather locals left their only high school hockey game of the winter three minutes early.

Two were legit, though. And when the Blue Devils weren't fanning or fouling off agonizing opportunities at the goalmouth, Biddeford goalie Tony Dube was stealing the show like the Travis Roy Award winner he should be.

Dube saw plenty of reasons to panic, facing a baker's dozen shots at close range with the scoreboard reading 1-1 and 2-1 in the second period. He didn't.

Relative youngsters such as Tyler Audie and Derek Reny had an engraved invitation to lose their mind after multiple, early invitations to the penalty box. Not a chance.

Funny, this is what Lewiston, St. Dom's and Waterville used to do. One of the Big Three - for 60 years, with apologies to that Dixfield bunch Justin Pelletier and Bob McPhee so eloquently profiled last week, the Only Three - would tease some interloper for a period or two before dragging a blade through that team's dream.

Well, guess what, folks? The population and the power have shifted south, perhaps forever. And the skate is on the other foot.

Until the Maine Principals' Association reclassifies and redistricts high school hockey on the Twelfth of Never, we can look forward to schools from Cumberland and York counties hoisting that trophy over their collective head and adding crooked numbers to their growing championship banners.

Lewiston need not feel the specter of every ghost in this venerable rink or carry a torch for every school north of Exit 48. Shame on any of us who might have put that unspoken pressure on them.

These Blue Devil seniors - Matt Letourneau, Jon Roy, Jordan Bourgoin, Casey Poussard, Justin Nadeau, Andrew Marden and Alex Lafreniere - were 4-0 in Eastern Maine championship games in their career.

In this new hockey economy that too few of us are willing to accept, that's a hell of an accomplishment.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His e-mail is koakes@sunjournal.com.

Power plays were Achilles' heel for Devils

Sport: Hockey (Boys)  Posted: March 9th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Power plays were Achilles' heel for Devils

By Randy Whitehouse , Staff Writer
Sunday, March 9, 2008

LEWISTON - The box score will read 0-for-10, but to the Lewiston Blue Devils, it won't tell the whole, painful truth.

Not only did the Devils not cash in on any 10 of their power plays in Saturday's Class A state championship against Biddeford, they went 0-for-3 with the two-man advantage, although one of those opportunities came in the final seconds, when the outcome was decided.

Lewiston's penalty kill was up to the task for much of the night, too. Aside from Trevor Fleurent's goal to tie the game at 1-1 midway through the first period, the Devils turned aside seven Biddeford power plays, including a pair of 5-on-3s.

That won't make the loss any easier to swallow. If anything, the bitter pill will go down harder because what proved to be the game-winning goal came on the fifth of Lewiston's 10 power plays.

With 1:08 remaining on Biddeford captain Shawn Grover's hooking penalty late in the second period, junior defenseman Brian Dumoulin cleared the puck out of his own end, then stalked Lewiston goalie Cam Poussard and one of Lewiston's point men, Matt Letourneau, to the right corner after Poussard placed the puck out in front. Dumoulin muscled it out and found Nick Reny all alone in front of the net for the goal that put the defending champions in front for good.

"I felt I could beat them to the net and their freshman goalie looked a little skitterish when playing the puck, so I charged at him and he got a little nervous and put the puck out hoping the defenseman would beat me to it," Dumoulin said. "I beat him to it and I got the puck in the corner and came out and there was Nick Reny coming right down the middle for me."

"I think Matty was a little tired," Lewiston coach Norm Gagne said. "He'd been out there awhile. Sometimes, you make those tired mistakes."

Reny came off the bench for a shift change sensing an opportunity might be developing.

"(Dumoulin) dumped it in and he just went through two guys, looked up and fed me. It was a great pass," Reny said.

Dumoulin's hustle and Reny's timing weren't the only reasons Biddeford ended up +1 in the short-handed column. Biddeford goalie Tony Dube (32 saves) turned aside about a dozen Lewiston power play shots.

"You know what, we have the best penalty kill in the league with some of the best defensemen," Dube said. "I can't ask any more than they gave me tonight."

Dube was on an island for the game's other key turning point, though. Lewiston's shot at short-handed redemption came early in the third, when it was trying to kill off Biddeford's second two-man advantage. Robbie Leeman had a breakaway bid knocked away at the near post by Dube's arm.

"I thought he had me, for sure," Dube said. "The last swipe of the arm saved me."

"That could have been the change in the whole game, right there," Gagne said. "Even though we didn't score, we killed the 5-on-3. When we killed that second 5-on-3, I thought we had the game."

CLASS B HOCKEY: Deja vu with a better ending for Raiders

Sport: Hockey (Boys)  Posted: March 9th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

CLASS B HOCKEY: Deja vu with a better ending for Raiders

LEWISTON -- It's so rare in life to get a second chance. Usually, and only after the fact, you'll know what you should have done differently, but that knowledge is all you'll get.

On opening night this season, the Winslow hockey team led Messalonskee by three with eight minutes left in the third period. In a game the Black Raiders would remember all season, Messalonskee won 4-3, scoring the winning goal with just 12 seconds left.

On Saturday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, Winslow played York in the Class B state championship game. Again, Winslow led by three well into the third period. Again, that lead disappeared, as York forced overtime with three goals in less than six minutes.

That overtime period was a second chance for the Raiders, and they buried it -- just like Nick Thorne buried the game-winning goal between the goalie's pads 3 minutes, 46 seconds into overtime for a 4-3 victory and Winslow's first state title since 2000.

Winslow coach Corey Lessard said the Messalonskee game never entered his mind. But as York scored with 6:20 to play and again with 4:48 left to pull within 3-2, the Winslow players thought back to that agonizing December night at Sukee Arena.

"I thought about that, actually," Winslow senior defenseman Derek Lizzotte said. "I was like, 'Oh my God. We're not going to blow it again, are we? We better not blow this again.'"

York pulled its goalie with 1:04 to play. The Wildcats got a faceoff in the Winslow end, and Devin Zucker scored to tie the game just 31.6 seconds from a Winslow victory.

"You cannot underestimate any team," said Winslow senior forward Sean Bourgeois, whose goal had given Winslow its seemingly safe 3-0 lead. "They came out hard. They fought. They put the puck in the net. We just had to react to it."

At this point, some York fans were jumping up and down in the stands, some were hugging, and the rest were doing both. For Winslow, it meant a second straight overtime game -- the Raiders knocked off Gardiner 5-4 in the Eastern B final -- against a fired-up team riding a huge wave of momentum.

"Those kids work so hard," Lessard said. "Yeah, the last two games, my hair's getting grayer and grayer. But I had a lot of confidence in those kids. I could see it in their eyes. They could have stopped and just let them jump all over us. But they went right back up."

The Raiders dominated the overtime, the one they didn't get to play back in December against Messalonskee. The Winslow players, especially the seniors, knew there were two possible outcomes -- win the state title, or begin and end their season by losing 3-0 leads.

"We set this goal at the beginning of the season," Thorne said. "All eight of us seniors didn't want to give up. So we sucked it up and got the job done."

Early in the overtime, York ominously had trouble clearing the puck out of its own zone. Jeffrey Browne kept the puck in twice, and Bourgeois ended up with it. Bourgeois passed to Lizzotte, who fed Thorne, and moments later the Raiders were celebrating.

"Sean passed to me, and then all I heard was out of my left ear Nick Thorne yell for the puck," Lizzotte said. "I looked over, passed it over. I didn't even see it from then. I saw it in the back of the net and just dropped. I couldn't even breathe. I was done."

Within a few seconds, every stick, glove and helmet belonging to a Winslow player was on the ice. The Raiders were in one big pile, a bunch of young men who will always believe in second chances.

"I thought we were just going to end up giving up, and York was going to take it in the overtime," Lizzotte said. "But we stuck with it. We actually outplayed them in the overtime, and we got that win."

Matt DiFilippo -- 861-9243

CLASS B HOCKEY: Winslow survives, wins in OT

Sport: Hockey (Boys)  Posted: March 9th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

CLASS B HOCKEY: Winslow survives, wins in OT

LEWISTON -- Sticks, helmets, shoulder pads, gloves and orange mouth pieces littered the ice from end to end. A hill of bodies piled up just inside the blue line on the quick Colisee ice, where moments earlier the Winslow hockey team transformed a monumental collapse into championship ecstasy.

Nick Thorne scored 3 minutes, 46 seconds into overtime to give the Black Raiders a blood-tingling 4-3 victory against York on Saturday for their 11th Class B state championship and first since 2000.

The goal sparked a wild celebration by the Winslow faithful, most draped in orange and black. Some sang. Some chanted. Some even danced. All exhaled, because in victory came not only euphoria but relief after York forced bonus time with three goals in the final 6:20, the last coming with 31 ticks left on the clock.

"I'll remember this for the rest of my life," said Thorne, one of eight seniors for Winslow.

Winslow senior captain Ben Grant, who after joining the pig pile embraced coach Corey Lessard at center ice, said he felt a lot of everything when a seemingly convincing victory was stripped away in the bedlam that was the final seven minutes of regulation.

"I was thrilled and I was scared," said Grant, who scored a goal and assisted on another. "Everything was going through my mind -- the best, the worst."

Thorne ended an entertaining, up-and-down game when he called for a pass from senior defenseman Derek Lizzotte from the high slot by the right faceoff circle. Lizzotte was going to shoot the puck, but Thorne called him off.

"I was coming down the slot and Derek heard me talking," he said. "He slipped me the puck and I put it through the goalie."

Sean Bourgeois, whose third-period goal gave the Raiders a 3-0 lead, set up the play when he came in wide and fed Lizzotte the puck.

"I spun around and gave it back to Derek," said Bourgeois, whose team reached the state title game with a 5-4 overtime victory against Gardiner in the Eastern B semifinals. "Derek was going to take the shot, but Thorne had the angle."

Lizzotte then dished the puck to Thorne, who had ample room to shoot.

"I was looking for the special shot," said Thorne. "It was a big relief off my shoulders."

York senior goalie Andrew Loane stopped 28 shots, but couldn't get to this one.

"There was a lot of pressure down low," he said. "(Thorne) made a nice shot. He beat me down low between the legs as I was coming across."

The Wildcats, who were making their first trip to a state championship game, fell behind 3-0 after Bourgeois blasted a high rocket past Loane on a mini breakaway with 2:22 left in the second period.

But York sprung to life in the third and began its comeback when senior captain defenseman Dan Powers scored a power-play goal with 6:20 left in regulation.

Then 1:42 later, Jake Posternak buried a shot past Winslow goalie Jesse Little (37 saves) to cut the lead to 3-2. With 31.6 seconds remaining and their goalie pulled for an extra attacker, the Wildcats capped the comeback when Devin Zucker tipped a Powers shot from the point past Little by the near post.

"It was an unreal feeling," Powers said. "In the third period we did exactly what we had to do."

"It was like a slap in the face for our seniors," added Thorne on York's scoring barrage. "But coach told us to keep our heads up."

Lessard said he knew York wouldn't go quietly.

"My biggest fear was that we got the lead and after that think we had it won," said Lessard, who won a state championship as a player for Winslow in 1991. "I just had to make sure we were relaxed."

The teams were playing their fourth game in three seasons, and the Raiders hadn't scored in the last two.

But that streak snapped like a rusted-out garage door cable when Grant took a centering pass from Chad Guptill and buried it past Loane to the blocker side with 5:41 left in the first.

Loubier set up the goal with a nice play at the right point to keep the puck in the York zone. After stopping the puck in the blue line, Loubier fired a shot on net that went wide into the corner.

Guptill collected the puck and centered it to Grant, who popped it into the open net.

The Raiders scored twice in the second on goals by Jeff Browne and Bourgeois to pull ahead 3-0.

Browne staked Winslow to a 2-0 lead with just under three minutes into the period when he stole the puck from a defenseman by the right boards, skated into the circle and wristed a low shot on Loane, who couldn't squeeze the puck with his pads.

Bourgeois capped the scoring with 2:22 left in the period. He took a pass behind his back from Nick Bourgoin at center ice, pulled the puck in front of him and then raced in on Loane untouched.

"The pass was behind me a little bit and I pulled it between my legs, went in, and wristed it top corner," said Bourgeois.

The Raiders didn't score again until Thorne sent them home as state champions.

"I won it 1991 as a player and I never thought I'd get that same feeling again," Lessard said. "But I feel it again tonight. They all told me after the game, 'Now I know what it feels like.' It's awesome."

Bill Stewart -- 623-3811, ext. 515


Black Bears have some work to do

Sport: Basketball (boys)  Posted: March 9th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Black Bears have some work to do

The University of Maine men's basketball season ended with a 73-65 overtime loss to Stony Brook in the first round of the America East tournament Friday night. For Black Bear fans, March Madness lasted just about two hours.

Maine closed the season with a 7-23 record, the team's worst record since it went 7-20 and finished last in the conference in 1997-98. We could pull our hair out and scream about the Black Bears' slide from mediocrity to obscurity all day if we wanted to, but we don't want to.

What we want is to see where this team needs to improve so that next season, March Madness takes more time than a long lunch break.

It's not hard to find reasons for the Black Bears' poor record. Maine is last in the league in turnover margin, coughing it up nearly four and a half times more per game than their opponents. Against Stony Brook, the Black Bears had 20 turnovers. The Sea Wolves had 13. That's 20 possessions that go nowhere.

Say Maine was able to keep turnovers to 15 on Friday. Then say the Black Bears score on just two of those extra five chances. Maybe they don't need a Mark Socoby 3-pointer to send the game to overtime. Maybe the Black Bears win the thing in regulation.

Speaking of 3-pointers, on Friday the Black Bears made 11, and that's something that possibly bodes well for next season. In a league that loves to chuck up 3-pointers, Maine made just more than five 3-pointers per game. Only Stony Brook made fewer, and the teams are tied for the worst 3-point percentage in America East at .328.

Maine went 11 for 29 from 3-point range Friday, just less than 38 percent. It's not much better than what the Black Bears shot all season, but we'll measure improvement in baby steps.

What Maine did well, or better, anyway, was rebound. Throughout the season, the Black Bears grabbed more boards than their opponents. They were third in offensive rebounds in the league, with 11.76 game.

Then again, Stony Brook was first in offensive rebounds with 13.11, so it looks like all the Black Bears and Sea Wolves did with their second chances was miss more shots.

The Maine bench scored as many points against Stony Brook as you scored sitting on your couch. Zero. None. The Black Bears had less depth than a Paris Hilton movie, and coach Ted Woodward juggled the lineup all season. Four reserves combined to play 29 minutes, with no points, four rebounds and two assists. Somebody has to be able to come off the bench and do more than take up space.

After shooting 42.3 percent from the field in the first half of Friday's game, Maine shot a paltry 26.1 percent in the second half (6 for 23). Three starters -- Mark Socoby, Sean McNally and Junior Bernal -- played 40 or more minutes in the game. Socoby played all 45.

Do you think fatigue had something to do with those missed shots?

The Black Bears were 1-10 in their last 11 games, including seven straight losses to end the season. They gave up at least 70 points in seven of last eight games. That sounds like a tired team, but maybe experience will keep the Black Bears from wearing down in the future.

Eight players started at least 11 games. Of those, only Valley graduate Brian Andre was a senior this season. Maine had six freshmen and three sophomores on the roster.

Two guys to look to as leaders next season are Socoby, who scored 30 points in Friday's loss, and Gardiner's McNally, who appeared to be coming into his own a little down the stretch.

The thing about young teams is, they don't stay young. You can chalk up one bad season to inexperience. The Black Bears could have much of the same cast back next season.

If they don't improve, you have to ask what changes, from players to coaching staff, need to be made.

Travis Lazarczyk -- 861-9242

Freshman goalie holds back Mules

Sport: Hockey (Boys)  Posted: March 9th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Freshman goalie holds back Mules

WATERVILLE -- Every few minutes, it seemed as if the Colby College men's ice hockey team was about to grab momentum from Trinity. Every few minutes, it seemed as if the Mules were on the verge of seizing control of the game and putting the Bantams squarely in the rearview mirror.

Thanks to Trinity freshman goalie Wes Vesprini, Colby was left grasping at momentum rather than riding it into the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship game.

Vesprini made 37 saves, including 15 in the third period, to lead Trinity to a 2-1 win against Colby at Alfond Rink.

The No. 6 Bantams (14-10-2) will face No. 2 Middlebury, which beat No. 4 Amherst 2-1, at 1 p.m. today in the final at Alfond Rink. Colby, the tournament's top seed, finished 15-9-1.

Vesprini stopped Colby's Mike Butler with just more than two minutes left in the game, then kept his pads on the ice to prevent a Josh Reber rebound try from going in with 1 minute, 37 seconds to play. Vesprini held off a Colby flurry with three seconds left before his teammates were able to clear the puck out of the zone.

"It was a tough game. Oh my God, Colby was pouring it on," said Vesprini, who also beat the Mules 2-1 on Feb. 15. "We had them the first five minutes, then they just kept pouring it on. The shots, I mean, I had to be on top of my game. And my defense played amazing."

Added Colby coach Jim Tortorella: "We had some tremendous Grade A chances. Give credit to (Vesprini). Their kid played extremely well in some tight situations."

After falling behind 2-0 in the first period, Tortorella thought his team did a good job of controlling play for much of the last two periods. Even as the Bantams bottled up play in the neutral zone, Colby was able to generate scoring chances.

"When they bottle it up, you've got to get it deep, and I thought when we got it deep we started to generate some offense," Tortorella said. "I thought the game had some tremendous momentum for us, but we couldn't get the momentum to a point of getting the goal.

"It's like a storm. It generates energy and grows and grows and grows ... we couldn't get to that point. We had it, it was growing, then all of a sudden we couldn't get that goal to make it happen."

Vesprini controlled the puck and limited Colby's second chance opportunities.

"I just wanted to be focused. I wasn't thinking too much about rebounds and stuff like that. If I'm focused, that takes care of itself," Vesprini said.

Trinity took a 1-0 lead 3:35 into the game when Adam Houli broke in on Colby goalie Cody McKinney (28 saves). Christopher Diozzi's power play goal at 13:59 of the first pushed Trinity's lead to 2-0.

The Mules got on the board with a Joe power play goal 4:53 into the second period. After Arthur Fritch misfired on a shot, he passed to Rothwell, who beat Vesprini with a high, hard shot from the point.

Travis Lazarczyk -- 861-9242


Bates, Reny deliver underdog Headers first-ever North title

Sport:   Posted: March 8th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Bates, Reny deliver underdog Headers first-ever North title
By Matt Williams
Staff writer

NORTH BILLERICA — If a picture is worth 1,000 words, the look on Marblehead senior Eric Fader's face as he hoisted the Division 3 North championship trophy might as well have been worth one million.

Simply put, one thousand words aren't enough to describe the joy Fader and the 12th-seeded Headers (14-10-0) felt when, against all odds, they dropped No. 2 Concord-Carlisle, 1-0, to win the first sectional title in school history at the Chelmsford Forum last night.

"This is something special, something that I've never felt in my life. Ever," said Fader, who dislocated his elbow in the second round against Boston Latin Academy. Though he didn't skate, a brace allowed the senior to don his No. 7 jersey and participate in warm-ups and the post-game celebration.

Andrew Bates broke a scoreless tie with 8:31 left in regulation when he hammered home a perfect pass from Chris Donahue. It was all the offense the Headers needed with junior goalie Aaron Reny (30 saves) holding the fort to earn his second straight shutout win.

"This is unbelievable," said Bates. "No one picked us to win anything and now we're North champs. It's a great feeling because our locker room has always been positive. It's awesome."

On the winner, Bates passed back to Donahue at the blue line and skated around the cage. Donahue fired towards the net and found Bates on the door step to complete a beautiful give-and-go behind C-C goalie Jon Nessa. Sophomore Anders Gunderson earned the second assist.

"Chris made an awesome pass. He just slid it right back to me and the goalie didn't even know what hit him," Bates said.

The Header defense was exemplary against a Concord-Carlisle team that came in having totaled 15 goals in their two tournament wins. Gunderson, who double-shifted as a center and defenseman, as well as Mike Cohn and Ben Koopman stayed with the fast and dangerous Patriot skaters and stopped them from cutting to the front of the net.

"Concord-Carlisle was scoring anywhere from four to seven goals in most of their games," said Marblehead coach Bobby Jackson. "We wanted to get them in uncharted waters a little bit because they hadn't been in many 0-0 games."

The strategy worked. Once the Headers went on top 1-0, the Patriots were frustrated and generated little offense aside from a P.J. Fulton bid that hit the post with 3:30 to play. The backchecking of centers Jackson Barber, Gunderson and Chris McLeod was instrumental in shutting down C-C.

"We have a system that does a lot with the third forward," explained Jackson. "He helps keep the opposing cycle deep and our three centers did a great job of picking up their third guy. That made a big difference."

Not to be forgotten was Reny, who stoned two breakaways in the third and made a highlight-reel glove save as time expired in the second. The junior — who Jackson called the Rock of Gibraltar after the tourney opening win over Swampscott — extended his personal shutout streak to an amazing 98:11.

"Aaron made some huge stops; he's been unbelievable the entire tournament," said Bates. "We're a great defensive hockey club and that's our number one goal. We're playing great hockey right now."

The Headers thought they had scored the game's first goal with 12:27 to go when McLeod's bid from the blue line appeared to sneak through Nessa's pads. The officials denied that the puck had crossed the line, though, despite adamant protest from the Marblehead bench.

"From our angle it looked like it was in. The referee was adamant that he was there and it didn't cross," said Jackson.

Thankfully for Marblehead, Bates' goal made it irrelevant and put the exclamation point on an incredible run through the Division 3 North bracket highlighted by 1-0 wins over the No. 1 (Trinity Catholic) and No. 2 (C-C) seeds.

"I always believed in us," Bates said of his underdog squad. "I always believed we could get there and stayed positive and everybody else believed in each other, too."

As the squad took the traditional victory lap around the Chelmsford Forum ice with the Div. 3 North hardware in tow, and Fader among them where he belonged, the team unity and trust that lifted them to these heights were obvious.

"I couldn't play but I knew I could help them get motivated and it felt great to hold up that trophy," said Fader. "I just told them that we have nothing to lose and we have to prove that we're champs. We did."

Mt. Alvernia can't handle Manchester-Essex trio

Sport:   Posted: March 8th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Mt. Alvernia can't handle Manchester-Essex trio
By Nick Curcuru

SALEM — Big players come to play in big games.

The saying may be a bit of a cliche, but for Manchester-Essex girls hoops players Danni Ciccone, Lizzy Ball and Elsa Keefe, it's indicative of their performance in the Hornets' 59-56 overtime win over Mt. Alvernia in the Division 4 North final.

Ciccone (22 points, 19 rebounds), Ball (20 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals), and Keefe (13 points, 11 rebounds) took the game over in the second half. The trio accounted for all 16 of the Hornets' fourth quarter points. Ciccone and Ball would then compile all 10 overtime points for Manchester-Essex.

Ciccone had a particularly frustrating first half. The 6-foot center found herself double teamed by a tough Mustangs' front court, led by fellow 6-footer Mary O'Donnell. The Hornets' senior captain, however, made the second half adjustments needed and scored 19 of her 22 points after intermission.

"We were a little unlucky in the first half and we weren't getting many shots to fall," Ciccone said. "But in the second half we were able to regain our composure and everything started to come together."

Hornets head coach Lauren Dubois had nothing but praise for the trio, and expected them to come up big when the Hornets needed them most.

"Those girls have done so much for us all season," Dubois said. "They played so well tonight. They went above and beyond. They want this and they will do whatever it takes to get it."

The Hornets found themselves down 47-41 with 2:30 to play when Keefe made her presence felt. The junior forward then single-handedly led the Hornets on a 5-0 run to cut the deficit to one. Keefe also made a number of key offensive rebounds on missed Hornet free throws, and had nine of her 13 points in the fourth quarter.

"I don't even know what to say," said an elated Keefe about her late buckets. "I just threw the ball up and hoped it would go in. It's amazing."

Dubois wasn't surprised. According to the Manchester-Essex coach, making big shots has become part of Keefe's repertoire.

"She's worked so hard all year," Dubois said of Keefe. "That's her game, making big shots under pressure when they count most."

Not to be outdone, Ball, a freshman point guard, saved her best play for late in the game. After being visibly rattled in the first half, the 5-5 guard wanted the ball in every clutch situation. Ball hit a number of tough runners in the lane and got to the foul line regularly, attempting 20 free throws.

"I was rattled in the first half," Ball said. "But we wanted this so much more than they did and we came out and played our game in the second half."

Overall the Hornets' game plan was simple. They used Ciccone on the inside, and Ball to attack the basket to get Mt. Alvernia in foul trouble. Both O'Donnell and Mustangs' point guard Olivia Joyce fouled out in overtime. Combine that with the clutch shooting of Keefe, and you have a Division 4 North champion.

"We knew we had to get the ball to the hoop and get them in foul trouble, and we did," Dubois said. "It's amazing how far these girls have come. They play a great team brand of basketball. It's just great to be a part of it."

Marblehead's magical hockey ride continues with D3 North title

Sport:   Posted: March 8th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Marblehead's magical hockey ride continues with D3 North title

By Joyce Erekson / The Daily Item

BILLERICA - There was a point this season that the Marblehead High hockey team had to think its chances of qualifying for the state tournament let alone going anywhere fell dangerously close to the slim to none category.

The Headers were 1-4 in their first five games and around the midway point, they sported a not so stellar 3-8 record. Fast-forward a few weeks and this year's Cinderella team is heading to the Division 3 state semifinals after defeating Concord-Carlisle, 1-0, in the North final at Billerica.

Marblehead will play the winner of Scituate/Westwood next Thursday at the DCU Center in Worcester (6). The winner of that game will play for the Division 3 state title at the Boston Garden.

"The guys did a tremendous job," Marblehead coach Bob Jackson said. "They reached down deep."

Jackson said the tough schedule his team faces in the Northeastern Conference, with Division 2 tournament teams like Peabody, Danvers and Gloucester, served as good preparation for the tournament. The battle-tested Headers needed nerves of steel in all four tournament games, beginning with an overtime win over rival Swampscott, a shootout win against Latin Academy and a 1-0 win over Triton.

"That's kind of what we tell the kids. We need to play our game. We face tough foes on a regular basis," Jackson said. .

After scoreless first and second period, a sense of urgency set in for both teams in the third. It looked like Marblehead had finally found a chink in the Patriots armor when freshman forward Chris McLeod got off a slap shot from outside the blue line that found its way through Concord-Carlisle keeper Jon Nessa's pads and slid to the goal line. A Concord-Carlisle player swooped in and swatted the puck out of the crease just as it was about to go over the line. The Marblehead coaches argued that it had gone in, but to no avail.

The controversial call loomed large until four minutes later, when Chris Donahue let go a slap shot from the point that Andrew Bates tipped in for the game-winner. Anders Gundersen also picked up an assist on the play.

The final 8 1/2 minutes were wild, with Marblehead goalie Aaron Reny turning into the rock of Gilbralter as the Patriots went into assault mode. Reny turned back three tough shots around the six-minute mark and there was a mad scramble in front of the Marblehead net with about a minute left, after the Patriots had pulled their goalie. Concord-Carlisle missed the net a couple of times on point-blank shots that went high, side and everywhere but where they were suppose to go.

"It was a great feeling," Reny said about being in net during that intense final few minutes, "but I was more happy that we won the game. Our defense did a great job. I was seeing every single shot squarely. Even though they're young, they're very talented group."

The Headers were without one of their top guns, senior forward Eric Fader, who injured his elbow against Latin Academy. Fader, whose are is in a sling, was able to dress for the game after having a special sling fashioned for him that allowed him to wear the jersey. He didn't play, but was there for moral support.

Jackson said one of the keys in the win was depth.

"I think we have a little more depth than them. We've been able to go with four lines (the first two tournament games) and six defensemen," Jackson said, adding that he has eight freshmen dress and with 1:14 left in a 1-0 game, he had four of them out on the ice.

Jackson said one of the other reasons the team has done so well after getting off to such a shaky start is that the players bought into the system the coaches were selling.

"These guys have done a great job of drinking the Koolaid, as (assistant) coach (Tom) Colby talks about, drinking the Koolaid and having everyone row in the same direction. I think the last four games, we've been doing that."

Winthrop's boys hoop run ends in D4 North final

Sport:   Posted: March 8th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Winthrop's boys hoop run ends in D4 North final

By Gordon Vincent / For The Item

Winthrop's Jonathan Murdock, right, tries to shoot over North Cambridge Catholic's Allen St. Surin during last night's game. ITEM PHOTO / REBA M. SALDANHA

SALEM - It's a lot easier to beat one player than an entire team.

While the Winthrop High boys basketball was able to handle Lynnfield and Mike Kennedy on Tuesday, the Vikings couldn't come up with an answer for a balanced North Cambridge Catholic squad and lost the Division 4 North final, 67-50, Friday night, at Salem State's Twohig Gym.

While Paul Rose (22 points) and Clyde Francis (12) were the only two players in double figures for the 6th-seeded Panthers (17-9), nine different North Cambridge players scored, including six who got at least one 3-point field goal, and there were contributions from everyone on defense and under the boards.

"It's really been a team effort all year long," North Cambridge Catholic coach Daniel Salazar said. "These kids don't give up. We don't have a lot of height or size, but we have great lateral movement and quickness. I don't think a lot of the teams we've played in the tournament have seen our level of quickness during the regular season."

Dino Mallios (20 points) was the only player in double figures for the 5th-seeded Vikings (15-9), and no other player had more than seven. The Panthers swarmed Winthrop's two big players - Andrew Visco and Jonathan Murdock - at times even quadruple-teaming Murdock in the low post.

"They really hurt us on the backboards," Winthrop coach David Brown said. "That was really the difference. They're a very athletic team and they're quick to the ball."

North Cambridge broke the game open late in the second period with a 12-2 run, with all the points coming on 3-pointers, from four different players. The Falcons led, 21-18, when Francis started the run with a bomb from the right wing with 2:34 left in the first half.

After a couple of free throws for Winthrop by Mallios (10-for-11 from the line), Rashawn Morris, Andrew Felix and Rose buried 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and North Cambridge suddenly led, 33-20.

"We knew (Rose and Felix) were good shooters, but once those other guys starting hitting, it was really pick your poison," Brown said.

Winthrop got the lead down to seven early in the third quarter, but then went 5:12 without hitting another field goal while Brandon Bowman and Felix combined offensively to give the Panthers a lead of as many as 14 points (46-32) before Mallios hit a runner with three seconds to go in the period.

A 7-0 run early in the fourth period peaked North Cambridge Catholic's lead at 53-36, but the Vikings made one last run and trailed by just nine when Mallios buried a 3-pointer from the left elbow with 4:52 left.

Eddie Maiben and Francis answered with threes and a slashing layup by Rose gave the Panthers their largest lead of the game at 65-46 with 2:56 remaining. "He's just a tremendous player," Salazar said, of Rose. "He's always the toughest kid on the court. Last year, he struggled, but this year he's become a complete player."

North Cambridge Catholic led by as many as six points early in the game, but Winthrop rallied behind five points each from Visco and Mallios to tie the game, 12-12, at the end of the first quarter. Rose gave the Panthers the led for good when he coverted a hoop off a steal and then made long 3-pointer from the left elbow early in the second quarter.

"This team had a great year," Winthrop's Brown said. "Six years ago, we were 2-18, and every year we've improved a bit. We've got nothing to hang our heads about, and even though we're losing a couple of seniors, we plan on being back here."

Terriers back after 68 years

Sport:   Posted: March 8th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Terriers back after 68 years 
Saturday, March 08, 2008

West Springfield has a perfect record in the Western Massachusetts high school boys basketball championship game.

So what if that 2-0 record happened in the first four years of the tournament's existence.

The fifth-seeded Terriers (16-6) are back in the final for the first time since 1940 and will take on No. 3 Longmeadow (18-4) tonight in the Division I title game at the Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst.

West Springfield, which upset top-seeded Central 67-65 in the semifinals, last played in the title game 68 years ago, beating Northbridge 47-35. The Terriers also won the inaugural championship game in 1937, 28-20, over Worcester Classical. The tournament included teams from central Massachusetts back then.

Longmeadow's championship game history is a lot more recent, but less successful. The third-seeded Lancers, who knocked off Cathedral 55-51 in the semis, are 0-4 in the finale, most recently a 63-48 loss to Commerce in 2004.

The history between the two combatants is much more recent. The two sides met on Dec. 21 of this season with the visiting Terriers prevailing 68-60.

"We played them in the third game of the season and they were still in football season," West Side coach Chris Gerber said. "We've had two battles with them the last two years."

West Springfield won the meeting last season as well, but that didn't mean the Terriers were confident of three-peating against the Lancers.

"I was terrified of getting them in the 4-5 game before the seedings came out," Gerber said. "I had no interest in playing them in the first round of the tournament."

The Lancers have their own concerns with the Terriers, who seem to have their number.

 "It seems like they make every three they shoot," Longmeadow coach Tim Allen said. "They're the best shooting team I've ever seen and they shoot it with confidence."

The contest pits the two top scorers in Division I against each other in West Side's Joe Ragland and Longmeadow's Pat Donnelly.

Ragland led the region in scoring at 26.9 points a game while Donnelly was tops in the Valley Wheel and second overall at 21.8.

The Lancers are hoping to slow down the game and play halfcourt basketball, using their size advantage around the basket.

"They're incredibly fundamental and their five starters are very strong," Gerber said of Longmeadow. "They run more set pieces in their halfcourt set than anybody in Western Mass."

The Terriers will look to push the pace, with Ragland setting the tone with his ability to penetrate and score, or drive and kick.

"I don't know what to do with him, he's such a phenomenal talent," Allen said of Ragland.

The team that is able to dictate the style of play will have the edge in this one, and the last two years that has been West Side.

"I don't think our guys get discouraged (by that)," Allen said. "They see it as a challenge."

Quaboag coach stresses rebounding, togetherness for Division III final

Sport:   Posted: March 8th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Quaboag coach stresses rebounding, togetherness for Division III final
Saturday, March 08, 2008

Quaboag Regional High School girls basketball coach John Vayda had a full agenda yesterday for his team's only practice before meeting Sutton High School today for the Central Massachusetts Division III championship.

But nothing was going to be more important than a couple of reminders.

Vayda, whose team toughed out a dramatic 43-40 semifinal victory over Hopedale Thursday night, said yesterday morning that rebounding and the team's being on the same page as him would be among his top practice priorities.

Quaboag, which will be going after its sixth consecutive Central Mass. championship, and Sutton, which rolled over Whitinsville 41-24 in the other semifinal, will meet for the championship at noon at WPI.

"Sutton is a different style team than Hopedale was," Vayda said before yesterday's practice. "It's a very big team: three girls 5-11 or taller. They're very well-coached in boxing people out, and they try to control the boards against every team they play.

"What scares me is that we occasionally get lazy on the boards. Usually it's because we're bigger than the team we're playing, but we can't do that against Sutton."

The good news, according to Vayda, is that Sutton's guard play is not as good as Hopedale's, which featured senior Lekia Cowen, who had an off night from beyond the arc, but still put up half her team's points against Quaboag.

"I think we're quicker and more athletic than Sutton, but if we let them control the boards and slow it down, we could run into some problems," Vayda said.

When Vayda and his staff are not working on rebounding, or other things basketball, the coach planned to talk to his charges about one of the reasons he believed the Cougars didn't play well against Hopedale.

"We weren't all on the same page and that can't continue," Vayda said.

Even in that situation - which was likely rooted more in the Cougars' desire to win than anything else - Vayda had nothing but praise for his team's character.

"I liked that we didn't crumble in the fact of adversity," said Vayda, whose team outscored Hopedale 11-2 in the fourth quarter to erase a six-point deficit. "We could have been down 10 or 12, but we didn't let that happen.

"And, I liked the fact that when (sophomore guard) Meghan Burns got upset at a couple of very questionable charge calls, the rest of the girls rallied around her. She could have been devastated, but the girls really picked her up." That done, it was Burns, living one of those done-it-in-the-driveway-a-thousand-times moments, who tossed in the game-winning 14-footer and then made one of two clutch free throw attempts in the final minute.

"It's the number one thing in my life so far," the 16-year-old Burns said.

All-Stars set

Sport:   Posted: March 8th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

All-Stars set
Saturday, March 08, 2008

SPRINGFIELD - The Basketball Hall of Fame released the Western Massachusetts boys basketball seniors selected to play in the inaugural All-Star Game March 20 on Center Court at the Hall of Fame.

There will be two games featuring the region's best seniors. Division II will square off against Division III at 7 p.m., Division 1 will play a mixed game at 8:30.

The Hall of Fame has asked all players in Divisions II and III to arrive at 6 p.m. Division I All-Stars should arrive at 7.    

For more information, including RSVP, contact Greg Procino at the Hall of Fame at 231-5522.

Division I All-Stars: Alex Berthiaume, Cathedral; Jon Rimondi, Cathedral; Preye Preboye, Central; Victor DelRosario, Central; Mario Hornsby, Central; Derrick Jones, Commerce; Adrian Welch, Sci-Tech; Mike Kelly, Amherst; Mike Rohan, Holyoke; Pat Donnelly, Longmeadow; Alex Frazier, Westfield; Adam Rivera, Westfield; Ben Lewis, Chicopee Comp; Brian Gernux, Minnechaug; Mikhail Babbs, Chicopee; Joe Ragland, West Springfield; Evan Walkwitz, West Springfield; Brennan Cooper, Northampton; Mike Moynihan, Northampton; Nick Kellogg, Northampton; Nick Ahmed, East Longmeadow; Tim Mickiewicz, East Longmeadow; Derek D'Amours, Agawam; and Kyle Borowiec, Ludlow.

Division 2 All-Stars: Ed Carter, Mohawk Trail; D.J. Bailey, Palmer; Adam Consedine, Palmer; Tom Marsh, Belchertown; Mike Afflitto, Holyoke Catholic; Kevin Engwer, Drury; Travelle Spratling, Taconic; Kirt Goines, Taconic; Ryan Garvey, South Hadley; Colin Lacey, South Hadley; Jake Rand, Taconic; and Jeric Tyler, Taconic.

Division 3 All-Stars: Jamie Bell, Frontier; Dan Clark, Frontier; Brian Clark, Frontier; Cody Snow, Pioneer Valley; Alex Klepadlo, Pioneer Valley; Quinton McMillian, Sabis; Zach Nunnally, New Leadership; Nick Petrisis, Monson; Jeremy Lapointe, Granby; Brendan Wyand, St. Joseph's; Evan Jobst, Turners Falls; and Pat Hopewell, Easthampton.

Skippers enjoy healthy edge

Sport:   Posted: March 8th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Skippers enjoy healthy edge
By Maggie Cassidy
March 8, 2008

BRAINTREE - Over the past few days, second-seeded Cohasset remained one of the few teams to lace up for practice as others were ousted from the MIAA state tournament. But Tori Lehr, the Skippers' 6-foot-2-inch center, was forced to stay off the court, suffering from a mild stomach virus.

The hiatus didn't appear to hamper the sophomore last night, though, as she led all scorers with 17 points in Cohasset's 42-30 win over 16th-seeded Millis in the Division 4 South final.

"She came in and played with a lot of heart tonight," said Cohasset coach John LeVangie. "We didn't even know if we'd have her, let alone play her as much as we did. That was great."

Despite feeling a little under the weather, Lehr said the decision to play was a no-brainer.

"Waking up this morning, I just knew I had to suck it up," she said after the game. "I just needed to do this for my team."

While Lehr put up the points, the Skippers (22-2) worked on shutting down Millis's offense. Both teams had a hard time sinking baskets, but managed to force timely turnovers that kept the score low.

Meredith Kelly and Samantha Crough traded shifts shutting down Millis's Amy Ingraham. The junior guard drained six 3-pointers in a 31-point performance against Chatham Monday, but was held to 7 points last night.

"We usually just man up on the really good player and just try to shut her down so they can't start her offense. Everyone helps out," said Kelly, who said the team was ecstatic about its unexpected success this season.

The Cinderella squad from Millis (13-12) hung with Cohasset and was down 4 points at halftime and 6 after the third quarter, and threatened to pull off the upset in the final frame. After Lehr opened the quarter with a layup to put Cohasset up, 31-23, Millis's Molly Breen responded with a field goal and two free throws to bring Millis within 31-27 with five minutes to play. But Lehr answered with a field goal and free throw, and Kelly, Kayla Farren, and Crough piled on points to put the game out of reach.

Cohasset will play Manchester Essex for the Division 4 state title Tuesday at TD Banknorth Garden.

Mt. Alvernia feels Hornets' sting in OT

Sport:   Posted: March 8th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Mt. Alvernia feels Hornets' sting in OT
By Steve Crowe
March 8, 2008

SALEM - There's something magical (perhaps lucky) about the Division 4 North girls' basketball tournament for Manchester Essex. Last season, as the 15th seed, the Hornets made it to the North final before losing to New Mission.

This year they've gone a step further. Despite hitting on 15 of 39 foul shots and missing all 18 of its 3-point attempts, the ninth-seeded Hornets upset third-seeded Mt. Alvernia, 59-56, in overtime at Salem State's Twohig Gymnasium. Manchester Essex (16-8) will play Cohasset in the state final at TD Banknorth Garden Tuesday at 2:30. The Hornets lost at the Garden in 2000 (Sacred Heart) and 2001 (Hopkinton).

"We stepped it up at the end and hit the free throws when they counted," said coach Lauren DuBois.

Dani Ciccone, a 5-foot-11-inch senior center, recorded her fourth consecutive double-double (22 points, 17 rebounds) for the Hornets, and freshman guard Lizzy Ball added 20 points, including 5 in overtime.

Michelle DeRoma scored a game-high 27 points for Mt. Alvernia (20-5), including 20 after halftime. She finished 7 of 20 from the floor, hitting the only four 3-pointers of the game.

DeRoma buried a 3-pointer with 2:50 left in the fourth, giving the Mustangs a 47-41 lead. Elsa Keefe scored 5 quick points for the Hornets, getting them within 47-46 with 2:04 left.

After the Hornets regained possession by forcing a jump ball on an inbounds pass, Ciccone hit one of two free throws with 6.4 seconds left, sending it to overtime tied at 49. Ball hit a layup off the opening tip, setting the pace as Manchester Essex outscored Mt. Alvernia, 10-7, in the extra frame. She was 6 of 19 from the stripe, but she nailed three in overtime, punching the Hornets' ticket to the Garden.
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