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Driscoll developing into major weapon for Williams

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Driscoll developing into major weapon for Williams
By Drew Bonifant
The Patriot Ledger
Posted Mar 13, 2008 @ 02:47 AM
Last update Mar 13, 2008 @ 02:56 AM

Val Driscoll, center



In the days preceding the Archbishop Williams High School girls basketball team’s Division 3 state semifinal game with Pentucket, coach Jim Bancroft described the key to the game. It wasn’t, however, the players on the court, wins and losses or postseason experience.

It was game tempo. Play fast, he said, and all is good. Play slow, and the Sachems get the advantage.

Lo and behold, there was Williams on Tuesday, playing the half-court game, after Pentucket robbed it of its favored transition style.

But when you’re funneling the ball in to a 6-3 center who scores 14 points and grabs 10 rebounds, you don’t complain. When you win, 59-53, and return to the state championship, game pace becomes irrelevant.

That’s what Val Driscoll brings to the defending champions, and Bancroft said the sophomore has become a crucial part of the team fabric.

“She’s huge for our success,” Bancroft said. “Her size, and her ability to play the game. We wouldn’t be the same team without her.”

Driscoll’s effectiveness is made more remarkable by the speed with which she developed. She has only been playing four years, and got her start due to basketball’s prominence in her family.

“My family’s always been involved in basketball,” she said. “My brother is very good, so I thought I’d give it a try. I tried out, and I made it.”

The team she made was the Bay State Magic Elite, an AAU squad coached by Bancroft and featuring current Williams teammate Vicki Kennedy. Driscoll continues to play for that team, and credits Bancroft with helping her develop her skills and become a standout post player.

“Coach Bancroft has been a huge help in the process,” she said. “I’ve gotten better due to him.”

The next step was high school, and despite playing for an experienced Williams team, the freshman gelled quickly. Playing with current standouts Christine Duffy, Casey Capello, Courtney McNamara and Meghan Black, Driscoll started and got a championship in her first year.

“I didn’t feel pressure,” she said. “The team walked me through it and told me not to be nervous, to just relax and play my game.”

Driscoll’s game includes, by her admission, blocking and rebounding as strengths, though Bancroft said the best is yet to come offensively.

“Early in the year, she was four, five, six points (a game),” Bancroft said. “She started really coming around, and built her average up to about 12 points a game. She’s averaging a double-double a game.”

The evolution from defensive presence to all-around standout generally reaches one major breakthrough.

In Driscoll’s case, it was the South Sectional semifinals, when Williams put its hopes for a title repeat on the line against top-seeded Westwood. Veterans Capello (19 points) and Duffy (14 points, seven assists, five steals) came through, but Driscoll dominated, grabbing 18 rebounds and scoring 20 points.

“After that game, I got more confident in myself, knowing I can score when I want to,” she said.

Next year, the Bishops will defend their consecutive South Sectional titles with a revamped roster. Six players are graduating after this season, including co-captains Duffy, Capello and McNamara.

That leaves quite a load to be carried, but Bancroft said Driscoll is becoming more and more capable of shouldering it.

“She’s developed her game quite a bit,” he said. “She’s learning every game. Her offense is coming around, and as she builds more and more confidence, she’s just going to get better and better, and tougher to stop.”

Drew Bonifant may be reached at dbonifant@ledger.com.

Constellation of coaches helps Marblehead boys hockey succeed

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Constellation of coaches helps Marblehead boys hockey succeed

By Joyce Erekson / The Daily Item

Marblehead head hockey coach Bob Jackson, center, stands with assistants Mark Tarmey, left, and Tom Colby at practice Wednesday at Connery Rink. Missing from photo are assistants Gary Conn and Pat Flynn. (ITEM PHOTO / REBA M. SALDANHA)

MARBLEHEAD -- The Marblehead High hockey team is fighting for a chance to play for a state title tonight, but win or lose, the Headers have served notice that Marblehead hockey is back.

Although the players make it happen out there, the guys who cracked the whip at all those 6:30 a.m. Salem State practices this season are also seeing their master plan come to fruition, and they're enjoying the ride as much as anyone.

Head coach Bob Jackson said his assistants, Tom Colby, Gary Conn, Mark Tarmey and Pat Flynn, have all brought something different to the mix and their individual strengths have helped pave the way to the Division 3 state semifinals against Scituate tonight at the DCU Center in Worcester (6).

Jackson, Colby, Conn and Flynn all bleed Marblehead red and black, having played for the Headers in the 1970s, or, in Flynn's case, in the late 1980s. Jackson, Colby and Conn are all members of the Marblehead High Hockey Hall of Fame who went on the play at Colby College, the University of Vermont and the University of Maine-Orono, respectively. Colby also played professional hockey for the Phoenix Road Runners of the Pacific Coast League. Flynn backstopped the Headers in the late 1980s, graduating in 1989. He took home Item Player of the Year honors that season.

Tarmey played for Lynn Classical during the 1970s and went on to build an impressive coaching resume. He was the head coach at Malden Catholic before making his move to the Winchendon School, where he started the hockey program and earned New England Prep Coach of the Year recognition. He took "his game" to the college level, where he served as head coach at Curry College and later as an assistant coach at Bentley College.

"We wouldn't be where we are without these four assistants," Jackson said. "It's like we have five head coaches. Everyone has equal say."

When the Marblehead High hockey head coaching job opened up five years ago, Colby got the job and Jackson became an assistant. Colby remained head coach for three years; in the third, the team went 15-4-1 with 10 seniors paving the way. Two years ago, Colby and Jackson essentially swapped roles when Colby's work commitments, which included traveling, made it difficult for him to be head coach.

Jackson said as much as he wants to win, he and his other coaches also want to give the players a sense of what tradition is and what some of the Marblehead teams of the '60s, '70s and '80s accomplished.

Jackson, who graduated from Marblehead High in 1975, said when he was a sophomore and Colby was a senior, the team beat Malden Catholic in the final regular-season game to go 19-1. Jackson said Colby scored all four goals. The game was played at the old Lynn arena on Boston Street. Jackson said there were thousands of people crammed in the rink and they were standing five deep. The line to get in went out the door and down to the old Stop and Shop parking lot.

"It was just one of the most astounding experiences," he said. "One of our goals is to bring that tradition back."

When Jackson was a senior, Conn was a sophomore. Jackson said any player who gets a little anxious waiting for his turn to get a chance need only look at Conn, who he said as a sophomore only played about four minutes.

"He sat on the bench, waited his turn," Jackson said.

Conn had 99 points his junior and senior year, and at the University of Maine at Orono, he earned All-America honors. His 206 points in college makes him one of the school's all-time leading scorers. Conn was also the head coach at Swampscott High for eight years, and like Colby, he played some pro hockey.

Flynn, a special agent with the Office of Law Enforcement, Department of Commerce, has proven his worth as a goalie coach over the last few years. Two years ago, he worked with Marblehead goalie Sam Gifford, who ended up being named the Northeastern Conference MVP. This year's stopper, Aaron Reny, has only allowed five goals in the first four tournament games. He has two shutouts.

"Aaron worked really hard all last year," Flynn said. "He started 18-20 games and I think he learned a lot. He turned mistakes into positives this year. He's been the backbone of the team and he's a good kid."

Tarmey is the guy behind the defense, and it's the defense that has kept the Headers alive during some very tough tournament games.

"Mark has done an outstanding job (with the defense)," Colby said. "We really don't have a lot of top goal-scorers. We adopted a kind of team defense and it's jelling right now."

Colby said all the coaches are obviously very pleased with the results.

"We complement each other," he said. "Each one has his own strength that he brings to the table."

Colby said he believes his biggest contribution to the program has been his role in bringing together this coaching staff (they've been together five years).

"We knew we wanted to bring the program back. We knew it had potential," he said.

"Coach Tarmey is the guru of our coaching staff," Jackson said. "We're just tickled pink with the fact he came into the picture five years ago. His knowledge, experience and his relationship with the kids are just unbelievable. Marblehead is lucky to have him."

It's Jackson, however, who keeps everyone rowing in the same direction.

"He's a tremendous administrator and organizer," Colby said.

Saugus' Vecchione sends MC to Garden

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Saugus' Vecchione sends MC to Garden

By Matthew Roy / For The Item

Malden Catholic's Jason Yeomelakis celebrates his goal against Catholic Memorial with teammates Evan Yanovitch, left, and Christian Roberto Wednesday in the Division 1A tournament at Tsongas Arena in Lowell. (ITEM PHOTO / REBA M. SALDANHA)

LOWELL -- Three years ago, Mike Vecchione was sitting in the stands at TD BankNorth Garden watching the Saugus High hockey team lose in overtime in its quest for a third straight state title.

Well, Vecchione's seat on Sunday at the Garden is going to be a little better this time.

The freshman scored with 2:37 left in regulation to help Malden Catholic, coached by another Saugonian, Chris Serino, to a 3-2 win at Tsongas Arena over Catholic Memorial in the semifinals of the Division 1A hockey tournament.

The Lancers will now take on another upstart and fellow first-time finalist, Reading, on Sunday (7:30) in the title game. The Rockets, seeded fifth despite losing only once, became only the third public school to make the 1A final (Weymouth last year and Medford in 1993) as they put an end to Xaverian's remarkable run with a commanding 5-2 win in the night's first semifinal.

But for Vecchione, getting to the Garden was beyond his wildest dreams, let alone playing for a state title there.

"It's crazy," Vecchione said. "Words can't explain this. It's just amazing."

The game-winning goal was simply a thing of beauty.

After the two teams had played a very defensive third period and the game looked like it would be heading for overtime, the Lancers finally found a crease in the Knights' defense.

Alex Minter, another freshman, made a pass through the legs of a CM defender to Vecchione in the right circle. Vecchione didn't wait long to slide his shot between the pads of Tom Conlin and spark madness in the MC student section.

"Alex made a great pass and I looked and saw the 5-hole open," Vecchione said.

Vecchione's goal was the cap to a spectacular comeback from Malden Catholic. The Lancers trailed 2-0 after the first period and probably would have been behind by even more if not for several spectacular saves from goaltender John Carbonneau.

"Obviously it's nice to win the game and give the kids a chance to play for a championship," Serino said. "But it's a little sweeter to do it when you're down 2-0 and come back ... John made five or six big saves in the game, and to move on, you have to have that."

In the 17 years the Division 1A, or Super 8, tournament has been in existence, no team has been more dominant than Catholic Memorial.

Simply put, the Knights have been the kings of the Super 8 in a way like Boston University is during the Beanpot. CM has won an astounding 12 of the 17 titles in 1A. Only BC High (4) and Arlington Catholic (1) have also laid claim to the crown.

Well, a fourth team will now join that elite trio.

"I never thought that we'd be here and going to the Garden," Vecchione said. "But everybody brought it up in the second and third periods."

The way the night started for Malden Catholic, heading to Boston on Sunday seemed to be highly unlikely.

The Knights, who have gone a remarkable two years without a title, had beaten the Lancers twice in the regular season, but both games were very competitive (3-1 and 6-4). And right from the outset, CM was out to make it 3-for-3.

Putting pressure on Carbonneau from the get-go, the Knights grabbed a 1-0 lead just 2:54 in.

Senior forward Mike Collins' hard work behind the net led to a perfect pass to one of the Knights' sensational sophomores, Derek Collucci, who one-timed the pass over Carbonneau's left shoulder for a 1-0 lead.

MC struggled to get anything started against the Knights and Conlin, who stopped all six shots he saw in the first period. At the other end, Collins again played the role of setup man when he was instrumental in the Knights doubling their lead.

Sophomore Shane Walsh picked up the second of his two first-period assists when he fed Collins on the left wing that was tipped home by, you guessed it, another sophomore. This time, it was Troy Starrett doing the deflecting as he tipped the shot inside the right post at 8:25.

The Lancers got a chance to halve the deficit late in the first when Collins was sent off for cross-checking at 10:33, but Conlin and the penalty killers held strong.

CM nearly delivered the knockout blow in the final seconds of the period when Walsh found the puck on his stick and a fallen Carbonneau in front of him. But somehow, the Lancer netminder managed to get a glove on the shot, keeping it 2-0 after one.

The Lancers needed to do something early in the second to get some momentum and their huge throng of fans back in the game. And do that they did.

It took only 85 seconds for MC to make a game of it as Joe White's nifty backhand pass in the high slot found the tape of Jason Yeomelakis, who quickly rifled a shot inside the left post.

The momentum continued as White was hauled down by Garrett Noonan on a partial breakaway at 4:44, putting MC on the power play for the second time.

And it took just 58 seconds for the Lancers to get back even as senior defenseman and co-captain Greg Crovo took a Zack Sheppard pass and fired a laser beam from the left circle that sailed under the crossbar.

CM nearly took the lead right back as Collucci was stopped on a breakaway and then rang a shot off the crossbar behind Carbonneau seconds later. The Knights would hit a second post late in the period, keeping the game tied at 2-2 heading to the third.

"In the second, I thought we did a better job offensively and of attacking the net," Serino said.

The third period was dominated by the defenses as neither team could get anything going. That was, until Vecchione's goal with 2:37 remaining.

"For a freshman to score that goal is amazing," Serino said.

But there still was 2:37 left and the Knights weren't about to pack it in. CM pulled Conlin for an extra attacker with 1:00 left and got a 6-on-4 advantage with 13 seconds left when the Lancers were called for a slashing penalty.

But MC had come too far to lose and when Carbonneau kicked Collins' last-ditch shot from 70 feet to the corner at the buzzer, the Lancers had their trip to Boston.

Quaboag strikes quickly

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Quaboag strikes quickly
Thursday, March 13, 2008

AMHERST - The 'Boag is back.

The Quaboag Regional and Lee high school girls basketball teams met in the Division III state semifinals for the fifth time in six years yesterday, and the Cougars took the fifth.

Quaboag let its play do the talking - dominating from the start for a 62-40 victory at the Mullins Center.

Quaboag raced to a 30-3 lead, while holding Lee without a field goal until the game's 13th minute. The lead was 21 at halftime and never dipped below 15 points thereafter.

"We wanted to set the tempo ... and it's all about defense for us," Quaboag senior Macey Gaumond said. "I was surprised at what it was, 30-3. We probably hoped it could be 20-10 or something like that. But what we did was great."

Quaboag (24-1) of Warren advanced to Saturday's state final against defending state champion Archbishop Williams (21-2) of Braintree. Quaboag won state titles in 2004 and 2006.

Tip-off at DCU Center in Worcester is 10:45 a.m.

Lee (19-5) was coming off its 15th Western Mass. title in 20 years, in search of its seventh state title and first since 2003.

"Today, Quaboag was the superior team," Lee coach Tom Cinella said. "I think they are the best defensive team we have played all season."

Lee turned the ball over on 11 of its first 16 possessions and it managed only three foul shots in falling behind 16-3 after one quarter.

"We put ourselves in quite a hole, unfortunately," Lee senior Nicole LeProvost said. "We really thought we needed to come out with more intensity than Quaboag and it just didn't happen that way."

Quaboag opened the second quarter with a 14-0 run to make it 30-3, before Lee made its first field goal with 3:13 left in the half.

Katie Eckert led Lee with 18 points. Three of her four 3-pointers came during the third period, when Lee cut the deficit to 37-22 with 4:40 left.

Quaboag then held Lee to one field goal during the next four minutes to close the door.

"We told the girls at halftime that we weren't going to make up the deficit all at once and we wanted to get it to 10 at the end of the third," Cinella said.

Guard Meghan Burns led Quaboag with 23 points, while post players Meaghan O'Keefe and Samantha McCann each added 13.

"Their guards were very strong and the post players could get it where they wanted inside," LeProvost said.

Burns converted from the perimeter and in transition, while O'Keefe (6 feet 2) and McCann (5-11) cleaned up inside and helped swing the ball on offense.

"Athletically, I think we overmatched them," Quaboag coach John Vayda said.

Quaboag defeated Lee by 30 in a regular season matchup in December.

"We weren't going to come in overconfident," said Gaumond, who scored nine points. "We knew how good Lee was and we know that anything can happen. We were ready."

The Cougars were coming off their sixth straight Central Mass. title and will seek their fifth state title Saturday.

The teams had split their four previous tournament matchups, with Lee (2003) and Quaboag (2004 and 2006) moving on to win state titles.

Palmer ousted by Millbury

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Palmer ousted by Millbury
Thursday, March 13, 2008

AMHERST - After 25 games, the Palmer High School girls basketball team ran out of steam - and luck.

The Western Massachusetts champion Panthers were held scoreless for more than four minutes in the final quarter, and Central Massachusetts champion Millbury emerged with a 58-48 Division II state semifinal victory last night at the Mullins Center.

Millbury (20-3) advanced to its first state final to face Wellesley at the DCU Center in Worcester Saturday at 2:15 p.m.

Palmer, which endured four draining postseason games over the past two weeks, finished a memorable season 21-4.

"It's a real tough way to end the season," Palmer coach Bernie Fontaine said. All year long, whenever we've needed a break, we've gotten one. So I can't complain about the fact that there were a couple costly turnovers at the end of the game, we missed a couple of free throws, because all year long whenever we needed something good to happen to us, something good did happen to us."

Good things happened at first, as sophomore Alyssa Orszulak's eight points helped Palmer to a 13-11 lead after the opening quarter. Millbury gained the upper hand in the second frame, outscoring the Panthers 15-9 and taking a 26-22 lead into halftime.

But a 7-0 run - all points courtesy of junior Shannon Supczak (who finished with 14) - spurred Palmer to a three-point advantage. The Panthers led by as many as seven before Millbury chipped away in the final minute to cut it to 42-39.

Then the bottom fell out for Palmer. Millbury's Chelsea Perkins (15 points) hit a long 3-pointer to tie it at 42, Julie Frankian (game-high 16 points) found her groove, and Palmer couldn't find an answer. Millbury turned on its halfcourt press, flustering the Panthers into errant passes and turnovers.

Millbury scored 11 points to take an eight-point lead before Katrina Caulfield's two free throws finally ended Palmer's cold streak with 3:34 left and made it 50-44.

Junior Megan Breault's jumper cut the lead to 50-46 with 1:40 to play, but that was as close as Palmer would come. The Panthers were forced to start fouling in the waning seconds, and Millbury hit their free throws down the stretch.

"They hit their shots, they played their game, they came out strong," said Orszulak, who finished with 14 points. "They were the same as other teams we've played, we just didn't have an answer for them this time."

Millbury focused its defensive efforts on Caulfield, a sophomore who was held to nine points after netting 27 in the Western Massachusetts final.

"It was tougher. They had some big girls," Caulfield said.

Still, after winning the first sectional title in school history, the Panthers are holding their heads high.

"I don't think anyone thought we were going to go past the first round of the playoffs," Breault said. "This whole experience has been great for us. We found out who each other was and we came together as a team."

"I told the girls in the locker room after the game that I'll never forget this season," Fontaine said. "And I'm sure they won't either."

Northampton rolls

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Northampton rolls
Thursday, March 13, 2008

Northampton 56 Westboro 38

AMHERST - One more game.

And it's on Championship Saturday, no less.

The Northampton High School girls basketball team advanced to the Division I final after defeating Westboro 56-38 last night in state semifinal action at the Mullins Center.

The Blue Devils (23-2) will meet Eastern Massachusetts champion Andover (23-3) at 5:45 p.m. at DCU Center in Worcester.

Last night, Northampton led by nine at halftime, by 15 entering the fourth quarter and by as much as 20 with less than three minutes to play.

Westboro (23-2), the central Mass. champion, was held to nine field goals as it lost for the second time this season to Northampton.

"Our defense made the difference, but we didn't play defense like we wanted to for the whole game," Northampton coach Tom Parent said. "It wasn't our best game, but it was enough for a state semifinal - to win by 18."

The Blue Devils played terrific defensively, and used a balanced attack at the offensive end.

"It hasn't sunk in yet, but I really don't know how we did this tonight," Northampton senior Iris Santoni said.

Northampton took its first double-digit lead when Jamie Bell converted off an inbounds play with five minutes left in the third.

The Blue Devils limited Westboro to just one field goal during the final six minutes of the third, and two baskets by Bell and a 3-pointer by Messer sparked a 10-3 run to close the quarter.

Westboro trailed 41-26 entering the fourth period and soon fell behind by 20, at 47-27, after Alannah Driscoll-Sbar scored inside and drained a pair of foul shots.

The Blue Devils made its only field goal of the fourth quarter on its opening possession, but they made eight straight and 11 of 14 foul shots.

"We feel comfortable there, we really make an effort to practice foul shooting in practice," Santoni said.

Northampton led by six after one period and pushed it to nine, at 27-18, at intermission.

Junior Cassy Sicard sparked the start, registering a season high of 11 points, in the first half alone.

"I'm one of those kids who gets so nervous before a game," Sicard said. "So I wasn't expecting anything like this from myself tonight."

"Cassy has been through so much and she keeps getting better and better for us," Parent said.

Driscoll-Sbar finished with 12, Santoni and Bell each had 10, Messer scored eight.

Northampton, which started three seniors, had to deal with foul trouble all game. Driscoll-Sbar picked up two fouls during a nine-second span, including her third, midway through the second period. Brighid Courtney also picked up No. 3 during the final minute of the half. She was whistled for her fourth with 6:58 left.

Sicard went to the bench with her fourth with 2:36 left in the third, a half minute after Santoni picked up her third.

None fouled out and Northampton was able to extend its lead as it held Westboro to six field goals during a 22-minute stretch that ended with 4:10 left in the game.

Annette Kristiansen, one of four senior starters for Westboro, finished with 12.

"She's so tough to defend, because she's lefty and we're not used to shading her that way," Bell said.

The teams met for the second time in less than three weeks.

Northampton was a 77-45 winner Feb. 24, when the teams met in the final of Westboro's regular-season tournament. Westboro was coming off its first central Mass. title since 2002.

Captains lead way

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Captains lead way
Thursday, March 13, 2008

NORTHAMPTON - Senior captains Brighid Courtney, Jamie Messer and Iris Santoni helped lead the Northampton High School girls basketball team to the Western Massachusetts Division I championship Saturday with a 60-49 victory over three-time defending champion Central.

Leadership and excellence, whether it's on or off the court, is common ground for the four-year varsity trio.

"They're very good students," said Northampton coach Tom Parent, whose 22-2 team played Westboro (23-1) last night in a state semifinal at the Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "They're smart basketball players, like they are in the classroom."

All three student-athletes take advance placement classes, and were accepted via early decision to Division III colleges, where they plan to play basketball.

"They have their priorities really set," Parent said. "They study. They're ready for school. They're ready for practice. They come and work hard for two hours or so, and they have other things in their lives, too.

"They're the ones who have the pasta parties and organize the breakfasts on weekend games. They're really the leaders. It's their team."

Courtney will attend Brandeis University in Watham,, Messer will go to Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., and Santoni to St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.

Saturday, against the defending state champion at Curry Hicks Cage at UMass, the senior captains helped Northampton to its first sectional title since 1992.

Messer gave an inspiring performance, a la "Willis Reed," Parent said. Messer collided with an opponent late in the first quarter after diving for a loose ball, re-injuring her back and requiring medical attention.

"I thought she was done," Parent admitted.

Messer told Parent at halftime that she wanted to play, but "when we left the locker room to play, I figured we were going without her."

One minute into the third quarter, Parent was told by the school trainer that Messer's back was loose.

"He said if we're going to use her, we've got to put her in right now," Parent said.

Messer played well the rest of the way, with the guard scoring six of her 11 points in the second half.

"Seeing the pain she was in at halftime and seeing what she did in the second half was amazing," Parent said.

Courtney, meanwhile, had one of the best games of her career, holding Central center and counterpart Esther Wallace scoreless.

"The last three weeks she's really stepped up her game," Parent said. "She probably played her best physical game Saturday against Esther. She kept Esther off the boards."

Courtney finished with nine rebounds and 12 points. She also clogged the middle when Central's athletic guards tried to drive.

"That was probably the key to the whole ball game," Parent said. "Esther's a big kid. If she gets her 10 or 12 (points), who knows what happens."

Santoni had another unsung showing, scoring 12 points and doing a good job against Central's quick guards.

"Friends of mine say after you watch Iris play, she becomes you're favorite player after a while," Parent said. "She's a hard worker. She's a little shorter than most of the other players, but she's a real athletic kid and has become an excellent shooter and tough defender."

Bombers goalie cool under fire

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Bombers goalie cool under fire
Thursday, March 13, 2008

WESTFIELD - No one had bigger shoes to fill than Alex Wiggs.

All Wiggs was asked to do was replace the graduated Mike Sullivan, the Bruce Landon Award-winning goaltender who last year sparked Westfield High School to the Western Massachusetts Division III hockey title and a berth in the state final.

Wiggs, an untested sophomore, seized the opportunity and turned a question mark into a strength as the Bombers repeated as sectional champs.    

Westfield (13-5-4) meets Gardner (18-1-4) in a rematch of last year's state semifinals tonight at 8 at the DCU Center in Worcester. The winner of that game advances to Sunday's state championship game at TD BankNorth Garden in Boston.

"I enjoy the pressure of tournament games because it makes me focus more," Wiggs said. "Someone had to fill Mike's spot."

Wiggs posted impressive numbers during the regular season. He went 11-5-2 with a 1.59 goals against average, a 92.33 save percentage after making 313 saves.

So much for that question mark.

"We knew he could play, but he was still a question mark going into the tournament because he had never been in one before," Westfield coach C.B. "Moose" Matthews said. "He stood on his head for us in the final."

Wiggs enters the state semis with a 2.50 GAA. He survived his first tourney test when Westfield won a wild 7-4 shootout with Minnechaug.

Allowing four goals was deceiving because Wiggs made several key stops when the game was close. He really came into his own in theWestern Mass. final when he helped Westfield beat Longmeadow 2-1 in a game that left little margin for error.

It was that game that Wiggs grew into a clutch goalie.

"Enormous," was the way Matthews described Wiggs' growth. "Mike Sullivan was steady and Alex has been a pleasant surprise."

Wiggs was able to shed any pre-tournament butterflies because of his calm nature. He doesn't get rattled when he does allow a goal because he's not only confident his teammates will get it back, but he will make sure he's focused on stopping the next shot.

He realizes he doesn't need to win a game by himself. He's part of a puzzle that he and his teammates hope will land them a trip to Boston Sunday.

Barron honored (Gatorade Massachusetts girls basketball player of the year)

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Barron honored (Gatorade Massachusetts girls basketball player of the year)
Thursday, March 13, 2008


That's the sports drink flavor of choice for Central High School senior Felicia Barron, who was named yesterday as the Gatorade Massachusetts girls basketball player of the year.

"The yellow kind ... I drink it all the time," Barron said.
The 5-foot-7 point guard and Springfield resident was recognized as the state's player of the year, an award that recognizes athletic and academic achievements and personal character.

"I was very surprised to win it, because there are so many great players throughout the state," Barron said. "But I was so excited when I read the letter."

Barron led the Golden Eagles to a 21-2 season, one that ended in the Western Massachusetts Division I tournament final last Saturday.

"She is the catalyst that makes us go," Central coach Bill Ross said. "She deserves everything (accolade) she gets."

Barron averaged 19.6 points, seven steals, six assists and four rebounds.

"She's a very quiet kid ... not rah, rah," Ross said. "I talked to her about the (Gatorade) award in school and she politely said, 'Thank you,' and that was it."

Barron is the state's third Gatorade award winner from Western Massachusetts. Jamila Wideman of Amherst won it in 1993, two years after Rebecca Lobo of Southwick was honored.

During her career, Barron helped the Golden Eagles win three sectional titles, reach three state finals and win the state championship in 2007.

She won the 2007 Vi Goodnow Award, chosen by The Republican, as the region's top high school girls basketball player.

Barron is a B student academically and is active as a volunteer in community services. She is a local youth basketball coach and has worked at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.

Barron will play next season at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. She earned an athletic scholarship to the Division I school.

All state winners are finalists for Gatorade's national girls basketball player of the year award, set to announced later this month.

READING 5, XAVERIAN 2: Reading enters public domain

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

READING 5, XAVERIAN 2: Reading enters public domain

By Matt Porter, Globe Correspondent  |  March 13, 2008

LOWELL - For a program with many exciting chapters in its history, Reading hasn't had many recently.

They were quickly bounced out of last year's Super 8 tournament, dropping three consecutive games by a wide margin. Two years ago, same story - three straight blowouts, three long bus rides home.

With 11 seniors on Reading's roster, this season was time to put up or shut up. And the Rockets keep putting up, last night attacking the Xaverian net in a 5-2 victory that advanced them to their first Super 8 final, against Malden Catholic Sunday at TD Banknorth Garden.

"What are you going to do?" said Reading coach Peter Doherty. "These same kids played last year, but they couldn't beat anybody."

Reading has the chance to become the first public school to win the state's top prize since Hudson in 1978. Reading came close in 1988, falling to Catholic Memorial, 3-1, in the Division 1 final. Weymouth went to the Super 8 final last year, but lost to BC High, 6-1.

Rob Toczylowski is well-versed in Rockets history, but he thinks this group is special. "Day in, day out, we leave everything at the door and play our game," he said.

The first period was scoreless, but Reading wasted no time taking the lead in the second. Off the opening faceoff, Pat Kiley got the puck and pushed across the Xaverian blue line. He lost control of the puck, but it slid on the fresh sheet of ice all the way through goalie Kyle MacDonald's pads.

At 1:51, Xaverian's Andrew White was called for tripping. On the power play, Garrett Collins ripped a big blast that MacDonald deflected into the stands, and it was apparent Collins wanted the puck again. Kiley slid a pass that Collins measured, then he uncorked a slapper that split MacDonald's pads for a two-goal lead at 2:52.

Xaverian soon woke up. Matt Glennon's chance was turned aside by Reading netminder Jeff Wyer, but John Sperzel was there for the putback. Only 36 seconds later, Wyer sprawled to make a save, and Jack Walsh roofed the rebound to tie it at 2-2.

Reading defenseman Quinlan Junta blasted home a feed from Kiley to put the Rockets up, 3-2, at 7:03. Toczylowski tied up defenders in front of the net, and MacDonald likely never saw the puck.

"That's usually my job on the power play - create some havoc," said Toczylowski. "When I was a freshman, [our seniors] taught me tricks to stay out in front, and I've been using them ever since."

Reading needed no trickery to put it away in the third period, junior Ryan Arsenault beating MacDonald for a shorthanded goal at 5:01. Toczylowski added another score at 6:15.

MALDEN CATH. 3, CATH. MEMORIAL 2: MC takes a final step

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

MALDEN CATH. 3, CATH. MEMORIAL 2: MC takes a final step

By Jeff Powalisz, Globe Correspondent  |  March 13, 2008

LOWELL - What, you didn't think a Catholic school would have a chance for the final say?

The Super 8 party is hosted by Reading at the moment. After last night's Super 8 semifinal nightcap at Tsongas Arena, it will be Malden Catholic's job to crash it Sunday night (7:30) at TD Banknorth Garden.

Malden Catholic defeated Catholic Memorial, 3-2, in an inevitable matchup of Catholic Conference powers, which had five schools in the tournament.

Malden Catholic will make its first appearance in the Super 8 final, contributing to the drought of perennial power CM (it hasn't won the tournament since 2005).

"There's no guarantees that you'll go to the Super 8," Malden Catholic coach Chris Serino said. "It's a huge step for this program. Obviously, I think it's a huge step for our underclassmen to get a taste of what it's like, and hopefully we'll get here again."

Catholic Memorial (16-3-3) defeated Malden Catholic (15-5-4) twice in the regular season, but the Lancers made sure the third time was their charm.

"It always comes down to teams from the Catholic Conference," CM coach Bill Hanson said. "MC has gotten better and better. They're very resilient."

Freshman forward Mike Vecchione ended a stalemate in the third period, spinning and firing in a shot from the slot with 2:37 remaining. Freshman Alex Minter found Vecchione for the open look.

"It was very exciting for me," Vecchione said. "It felt like a ton of weight was lifted off my shoulders at the moment. I'd never thought I'd be here right now - going to the Garden and playing for the state championship as a freshman."

The teams combined for just six shots in the final period, as the fireworks were saved until the end.

Down, 2-0, to a vigorous CM squad in the second period, MC came out with a chip on its shoulder.

The Lancers scored 1:23 in, as Jason Yeomelakis finished off a two-on-one to cut CM's lead to 2-1.

Malden Catholic's Greg Crovo knotted the score with 9:18 left in the period on a slap shot that CM goaltender Tom Conlin (11 saves) barely had a second to look at.

The Knights didn't need long to take off. Nearly doubling Malden Catholic in shots (13-7) in the first period, CM showed that it came to Tsongas on rested legs.

Derek Colucci was in the right place at the right time - the slot - three minutes into the game, beating MC netminder John Carbonneau (20 saves).

Six minutes later, Shane Walsh fed the puck in front, where Troy Starrett was waiting to Carbonneau's right. With defensive pressure, Starrett managed to lift the puck in to give CM a 2-0 lead.

"Everybody was down in the first period and yelling at each other," Vecchione said. "But in the second and third period, we worked together as a team."

And now they'll be working together at the Garden

Local girls shine in SMAA senior all-star game

Sport: Basketball (Girls)  Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Local girls shine in SMAA senior all-star game
By Joseph Shepard
Contributing Writer

PORTLAND (March 12, 2008): Deering High School was the site of the SMAA Senior All-Star games, recognizing the top senior basketball players in the region for both boys and girls in a pair of exhibition games. Teams were divided up into “Team A” and “Team B,” and games were played in two 20-minute halves, rather than the normal four eight-minute quarters.
By the end of the girls’ game, the score was knotted at 71-71, before Marshwood’s Ashleigh Locke hit a game-winning free throw with no time left on the clock to secure the win for Team B, 72-71.

The top scorers for their respective teams were Team A’s Lindsay Hanson of Gorham, who had 16 points and seven rebounds, and Team B’s Sarah Bonefant of Scarborough, who scored 18 points, with three three-pointers, and seven rebounds of her own.

“There wasn’t any pressure, we were just having fun,” said Bonefant. “We’ve all been playing together, and against each other, since our freshman year, so it was nice to get together and play.”

“It was a bit surprising at first (to make it), but we had a good time,” said Hanson. “The teams were obviously very equally matched, since it ended in a tie and there was that foul shot at the end. We just went out and had fun with it.”

Also standing out for Team A with Hanson were Noble’s Maggie Burns, who had 13 points with six rebounds, McAuley’s Shannon Wood, who scored 10 with five rebounds, Westbrook’s Audrey Shutts, who had 12 rebounds and Massabesic’s Brittany Benton, who added eight points and four rebounds.

Standing out for Team B along with Bonefant were four teammates who scored eight points: Locke, who hit the game winner, South Portland’s Kelsey Flaherty, Massabesic’s Samantha Leach, and Catherine Hess of Cheverus.

“The teams just shot around for about 20 minutes before the game, and that was about it. We introduced ourselves, and went out and played,” said Hanson.

In hopes to make the game as equal as possible, officials divided up the players and created rosters that were nearly identical in talent, even if it meant separating members that were on the same team. As a result, there were a number of showdowns between teammates during the contest, such as Jessica Aceto and Flaherty, both teammates on the Red Riots, Leach and Benton from Massabesic, but one of the bigger showdowns was found under the boards, and Audrey Shutts took on another member of the Lady Blazes, Cynthia Wescott.

That kind of competition wasn’t much of a surprise, considering both Shutts and Wescott were in the top 10 in rebounding during the season, as Shutts averaged 8.4 boards per game, and Wescott with 7.9. In the end, it was Shutts who won the battle of the boards, bringing down 12, compared to eight from Wescott.

“She’s a great competitor, she’s tough, and it was good playing against her,” said Wescott. “I love her to death, she’s a great teammate.”

Team B took a 34-28 lead at halftime, but midway through the second half, Team A began to close in on the scoreboard, coming within three points. From there, the three-pointers started to rain in, first from Leach, and then from Deering’s Porsha Lewis, giving an already excited Deering crowd more reason to cheer. Bonefant hit a three, and was matched by Hanson on the next play. Not to be outdone, Bonefant hit another, getting six points in nearly the blink of an eye.

“(Bonefant) is a very good three-point shooter, she’s a really good shooter all-around, and I wasn’t trying to compete with her,” said Hanson.

“Well, kind of,” Hanson later admitted.

Wood hit a three-pointer after a steal to pull Team A to a 71-71 tie, but on a late foul, Locke was sent to the free throw line and was able to hit the game winner with no time left in regulation.

“It’s just so much fun being here,” said Wescott. “It’s great for the girls, the outcome didn’t really matter, it was just fun coming out here and playing with a great group of girls.”

Coaching sons 'best thing in the world' for Cape's Ray

Sport: Basketball (boys)  Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Coaching sons 'best thing in the world' for Cape's Ray
By Tom Minervino
Sports Writer
CAPE ELIZABETH (March 13, 2008): The nice thing about having a son on your team is there’s always someone out there watching your back.

Just ask Cape Elizabeth boys basketball coach Jim Ray, as his youngest son Tommy is set to graduate in the spring after four years on the varsity team under dad’s tutelage, and he’ll tell you that’s true.

It was during a close home game against Yarmouth this past season when Tommy really helped his dad out.

“We came out of a pretty intense timeout and I stood up,” Jim Ray said. “Tommy comes over to me and says, ‘Dad?’ and I said, ‘What?’ I thought he was looking for clarification on what we were doing. And he said, ‘Your fly’s down.’ I started laughing uncontrollably and said, ‘Thanks for having my back, Tom.’”

When the Capers’ season concluded with a 56-46 loss to Maranacook in the Class B state finals, Jim Ray not only closed out his most successful season in his 14 years as Cape head coach, but also closed a more personal chapter. Since youth travel basketball, he’s coached sons Nick (now a sophomore studying engineering at the University of Maine-Orono) and Tommy, a recent finalist for the 2007-08 Robert E. Butler Award as the Western Maine Conference’s top senior player/sportsman (Freeport's Reid Christian and Waynflete's Lucas O'Neil were announced as co-winners of the award Monday).

Tommy's stats were solid during his senior campaign — 7.5 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals a game — but the box score only tells part of the story.

"He's what made us tick," Jim Ray said. "He does so many of the little things."

Tommy was the Capers' defensive stopper, usually drawing the opponents' top player. His contributions and consistency helped Cape to a 19-3 record that included a 16-game winning streak and the school's first Western Maine championship in 20 years.

Jim Ray was a standout player himself at Cape Elizabeth, graduating in 1980. He went on to play at the University of Southern Maine where he remains the all-time assists leader, scored over 1,100 points and is a member of the Husky Hall of Fame.

After graduation, Jim taught for a year at Fryeburg Academy before taking a position at his high school alma mater, where he teaches industrial technology today. He’d heard others talk about how tough it is to coach your own kids (and teach them — he also has Tommy in class). But Ray said he hasn’t had any problems.

“No way,” Jim Ray said. “Best thing in the world for me. I have basically been there everyday growing up with my kids. I don’t think that a whole lot of parents can say they’ve done that.”

His wife Susan coaches as well, so she is understanding of the men — and the importance of basketball — in her home, even if she’s outnumbered.

“She’s pretty patient,” Jim Ray said. “We tend to gang up on her at home,”

The father-son coaching dynamic hasn’t always been easy for Jim. While Tommy worked his way onto the varsity midway through his freshman year, Nick didn’t make the team until he was a junior.

“I remember talking with Nick about a certain instance when we were selecting teams and he wasn’t going to make the varsity team that year,” Jim Ray said. “I talked with him and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’m OK with it.’ And he was. That was the most difficult time I had with my boys and he made it easy on me.”

Basketball has always been important for the Rays, but Jim said he made sure his boys chose to play, that it wasn’t something they were forced into.

It was an easy choice for Tommy and he became deeply involved early on. When dad’s Capers lost four straight regional finals from 1999-2003, Tommy, now 18, said it hurt.

“I’d see them lose and see how upset they were. I’d tear up a couple times when I was young,” Tommy Ray said. “For my dad to get over that hump my senior year is just a great feeling.”

Not so much the win, but sharing it with Tommy is a memory that Jim will have for a lifetime

“I’ll never forget the bear hug we had when we won the Western Maine finals,” Jim Ray said. “I’ll never forget Tommy’s tears when we lost the state championship. I’ll never forget senior night for my son Nicholas. How many parents get to share stuff like that with their kids? And that’s part of my job. I’m pretty lucky.”

Tommy, a wide receiver on last fall’s football team, is still undecided about where he’ll attend college next fall, but said he’s looking to play basketball wherever he ends up. He’s looking at the University of Maine-Farmington, Colby-Sawyer and St. Joseph’s.

He added that he and fellow senior teammate Ian Place are already talking about coming back to hit the hardwood as alums.

“We always talk about coming back to play in alumni games,” Tommy Ray said. “We can’t wait to come back and play, just go out and have fun.”

When Place comes back, Jim Ray might also poke a little fun at his former center. When your players are also your son’s friends, those relationships tend to be a little closer as well.

“One day after practice we were playing some music,” Tommy Ray said. “We were fooling around, dancing around. Ian was dancing and dad comes into the locker room and around a corner and most of us were facing him so we all stopped. But Ian didn’t see him. He had his back to him, and kept on dancing. My dad goes, ‘Ian, why don’t you have moves like that on the court.’”

The elation of victory fades, as does the sting of losing. But for Tommy and Jim, the memories and the lessons are well engraved. Tommy said he’d like to one day become involved in coaching. Whether he’s playing in college next year or teaching his own kids how to play help-side defense, his dad’s message will resonate.

“He always taught us that no matter what the score is, whether you’re up 40 or down 40, play like it’s a tie game,” Tommy Ray said. “Just always play hard and good things will come your way.”

Jim plans to keep coaching the Capers even though he knows it will make it tough to catch Tommy’s games. He’ll go when he can, but said he’s got to follow the advice of his own dad.

“Something my father taught me a long time ago is as long as you’re having fun, keep doing it. If it becomes a job you’re not having fun at and don’t enjoy more days than not, it’s time to stop,” Jim Ray said. “I’m not there yet.”

Getting along just swimmingly

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Getting along just swimmingly


Brian Agro

Page Beecher


Brian Agro knew of Page Beecher but didn't know him personally in high school. Beecher, from Scarborough, was a year older than Agro, a Gray native who attended Cheverus, and while both were among the state's best swimmers, they didn't know each other socially.

That changed in college when both attended Alfred University, near Rochester, N.Y. They became good friends - and two of the best swimmers the Saxons have seen in a long time.

"It was nice to have another Maine guy there," said Beecher, a senior who lost only three dual meets in four seasons. "We had a lot in common, came from the same background. We became great buddies."

"Page and I swam in the same lane every day," said Agro, a junior. "You've got to have someone when you're so far away from home."

This winter, Beecher and Agro led the Saxons to their second consecutive Empire 8 championship and New York State Collegiate Swimming Association title. Agro was named conference swimmer of the meet after winning the 100-yard breast stroke, 200 breast stroke and 200 individual medley. Beecher swam a leg on four winning relay teams and was second in three events.

Coach Brian Striker said the only disappointment was that neither was selected to swim in the NCAA championship.

"Both made provisional times," said Striker. "But it's getting very competitive at the Division III level."

Beecher, who's made provisional times since his freshman year, said he was disappointed.

"I put 100 percent effort into it, and that's all you can ask," he said.

Beecher, who will graduate in May with a degree in fine arts, said he hopes to continue swimming competitively for another couple of years.

"He has had a phenomenal career," Striker said. "He's been a guy who's produced from Day 1, not only in the little meets but the big ones, too."

Agro has one more year at Alfred, and both Beecher and Striker expect big things from him.

"He worked really hard this year," said Beecher. "I saw a lot of improvement. He really stepped up mentally and physically."

"Each year (Agro) has improved a ton," said Striker. "Hopefully, with a little more work in the weight room and another year of training, he'll be that much better."

Agro said he couldn't have succeeded without Beecher on his side. In addition to their common interests, Beecher helped Agro make the difficult leap from high school to college, where you go from practicing maybe two hours a day to putting in five hours a day.

"The initial adjustment was just so shocking," said Agro. "It was real tough for me. I almost couldn't do it."

Agro said he had to learn to trust his older teammates, including Beecher, who had been through it already.

"There were plenty of phone calls between us," said Agro. "He would check in on me and I would check in on him to make sure we were doing this and doing that."

"The freshman year is kind of tough," said Beecher. "It's nice to have a friend up there, someone who has an idea of the program."

Agro obviously adjusted well. This winter, Beecher had 14 individual firsts and Agro 13 in dual meets. The two were on eight winning relay teams.

Not bad for two swimmers that weren't even recruited. Alfred is fortunate to have a New England recruiter who works in Portland. He saw Beecher and contacted Striker, who liked what he heard and quickly contacted Beecher. A year later, the same thing happened with Agro.

"It's pretty weird to take a phone call one random day in March," said Agro, "and then to go to the school and win states two years in a row it's nothing like I ever imagined."

Swimmers compete at New Englands

Sport:   Posted: March 13th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Swimmers compete at New Englands

By John Cochin
Sports Editor
Article Date: Thursday, March 13, 2008

SANFORD—The Sanford High School swim team, led by Jenni Roberts, competed well at the New Englands held a week ago.

Roberts placed first in the 200 IM with a time of 2:12.60 and in the100 backstroke with a time of 59.90. Alyssa Hodgdon placed seventh in the 500 free with a time of 5:42.55, and finished ninth in the 200 free with a time of 2:20.39.

Katie Bordeau took a sixth in the 500 freestyle with a time of 5:42.11 and finished 12th in the 100 backstroke in 1:04.95. Also swimming well for Sanford was Barbara Milo who placed 11th in the 200 IM with a time of 2:37.11.

Another outstanding performance was turned in by Noble's Kaitlyn McKenna who placed fifth in the 100 butterfly and second in the 200 IM.

Sanford also took a fifth in the 200 medley relay with Roberts, Amelia Stucker, Hodgdon and Katie Bordeau, and placed sixth in the 200 free relay with Katie Bordeau, Stucker, Hodgdon and Roberts.

Zach Shain finished eighth in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:07.32.
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