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Leeís Houghton makes extra effort

Sport: Basketball (girls)  Posted: March 7th, 2008

Lee’s Houghton makes extra effort
By Jessica Bloch
Friday, March 07, 2008 - Bangor Daily News

AUGUSTA, Maine — For a few days last week, Dana Houghton lingered in the Lee Academy gym for a little longer than her teammates while the 5-foot-8 senior forward worked on her shooting.

All her extra gym time came in handy Wednesday night in the Class C state championship game at the Augusta Civic Center. Houghton had 12 points in the 59-47 win over Madison — points the Pandas needed as they pulled away from the Bulldogs.

"I was not surprised and I was very pleased to see it," Lee coach Ron Weatherbee said Wednesday in the moments after the team received its third gold ball in four years. "We’ve done a lot of work shooting in the gym as a team in the last week and a half. Then she went in and did extra and that made a difference tonight. She shot well all night."

She was also one of three Lee players to register a double-double with her 10 rebounds.

Houghton went 6-for-16 from the floor and hit three of four shots in the third quarter to help the Pandas erase a 24-21 deficit early in the period.

It was the manner in which Houghton scored that stood out. It wasn’t that the tallest member of the team stuck inside trying for layups. She hit a variety of mid-range pull-up jumpers off passes that were kicked out from players such as Amanda Gifford and Karin Bird who dribbled inside and looked for the open teammate.

Lee’s dribble penetration hurt the Bulldogs all night. The Pandas were able to get a couple of 3-pointers that way, too.

"They did drive to the basket, dish it out, and when they’re hitting those 3’s they’re very good," Madison coach Al Veneziano said.

Houghton’s extra work went something like this: She would go into the gym and have to make 20 shots from one spot on the floor before she could move to the next spot. She did that three or four times this week.

"I think that helped a lot. I haven’t shot like that, probably, in my whole high school career," Houghton said after the game. "But I’ve just been going to the gym and working. I just shot it, they were going in, so I kept it up."

Super substitute Laci McLaughlin had a good night off the bench, scoring four points to go with six rebounds. Both of her field goals came in the third quarter, too.

While the Pandas were celebrating their gold ball Wednesday night, Houghton said someone else was on their minds.

Sarah McLain, a 14-year-old from Springfield who was killed in a lightning strike on July 20, 2003, would have been a senior this year.

McLain was hit by lightning during a youth soccer game in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

"We kept Sarah in the back of our minds," Houghton said. "We do all this for her because if she was here she’d be with us, cheering with us and helping us win. We were all pretty close to her."

How Sweet It Is (Plus WIZ Final Top 10 Teams)

Sport: Basketball (boys)  Posted: March 6th, 2008

How Sweet It Is (Plus WIZ Final Top 10 Teams)

Wow! What a week! After postponements the Gold Balls are finally all handed out.

To Cheverus, Maranacook, Winthrop and Central Aroostook "How Sweet It Is!" This is the ultimate goal for every team when the season starts and only one team from each of the four classes get the honor of winning that Gold Ball. All four games that were fought for that Gold Ball were outstanding games and all four teams that were runner-ups having nothing to hang their heads for as all four Bangor, Cape, Calais and Richmond had outstanding seasons.

In Class A- The Cheverus Stags defeated the Bangor Rams 49-41 to take home the Gold. Many believe this was a huge upset but The WIZ considers it a minor upset at best. The two teams Cheverus and Bangor are the two best teams in the state without question. The games was close until midway through the 2nd quarter when Bangor's Jon McAllian heated up hitting 3 threes and a deuce for 11 points to give the Rams a 10pt. lead at the half 24-14. In the 3rd quarter the Cheverus Stags came out with the determination that they were going to win this game as Mick DiStasio decided to take this game over on the offensive end hitting two 3's and two deuces in the period and along with a stifling pressure defense the Stags outscored the Rams 15-6 to cut the lead to 1pt. after 3 periods of play 30-29. In the 4th quarter reserve Stag Will White canned a big 3 with 6:56 to go and that gave the Stags a 2pt. lead 32-30. That was a huge shot which made a huge statement at the time. The Stags were here to win and they never trailed again. DiStasio scored 19 of his 23pts. in the 2nd half and the Stags awesome defense held high scoring Jon McAllian to 1pt. in the 2nd half and Ryan Weston to just 5pts. The story to this game was the Cheverus game plan. You have to give Coach Bob Brown and the Cheverus Stags credit they stuck to their game plan and it worked to perfection as their pressure defense really rattled the Bangor Rams and it caused numerous turnovers which was the story of this game. Congrats to both teams on outstanding seasons.

In Class B- Maranacook Takes Home the Gold

Congratulations to the Maranacook Black Bears on taking home the Gold Ball on Friday night. What a great game this was. All the hype, all the predictions and all the fan-fare leading up to this game and it did not disappoint. Weather you are a Maranacook fan or a "Hoop Junkie" you have to feel good for Maranacook. The "Big Three" Ryan Martin, Will Bardaglio and Mike Poulin have played together for a very long time and all three have played varsity since their freshmen year. They won the Gold their Sophomore year beating Mountain Valley 73-58 and last year as Juniors they were minus Bardaglio (Mono) and they were beaten early on in the Quarter-Finals by MCI 58-50. As I have said all year the Black Bears were on a mission and now that mission is accomplished as the "Big Three" put this game away in the fourth quarter. Cape played an outstanding defensive game and it looked like Cape might pull away in the 3rd quarter when they came back to tie it and then take a 4pt. lead, but the skilled and experienced Black Bears would not fold. With about two minutes gone in the 4th and final quarter the game was tied at 40-40 the "Big Three" took over and that's what they do, they shoot the three. Bardaglio hit a 3, then Poulin hit a 3, then Conrad Gilman sets a great screen and Martin buries the wide open 3 to cap an 11-6 run as the Black bears led 51-46 with 3 minutes to go and the Capers went cold and would not score again. Cape has to foul down the stretch and Martin goes 4-4 at the line as the Black Bears win the Gold by a final score of 56-46. Martin led all scorers with 26 (4-3's) Bardaglio had 13 and Poulin 7. A great season for both teams as Cape had not been to the State game in twenty years. For the Capers Alex Bowe had a great game scoring 15 points. The Sophomore Andrew Dickey had a tremendous game scoring 13. Shaine Burks a great defensive effort on Martin scored 8 and the big guy
Ian Place
chipped in with 6 points.

In Class C:

The Winthrop Ramblers take home the hardware as "Sam The Man" Sam Leclerc led his Ramblers with 28pts. to get the huge win over the Calais Blue Devils 73-62. There is a reason why Sam Leclerc is the #1 player in WIZ Rankings. There may be one or two better shooters in the state but Sam is the best overall high school player in this state. He is the complete package that does it all, scoring, assisting, defensively, stealing and rebounding plus add on the highest basketball IQ and there is no one that really compares to the level he is at. The Ramblers playing without defensive specialist Tim Gingras had players "Step-it-up" Andrew Smithgall and Skyler Whaley shared the roll that Gingrass usually plays and both had a huge game shutting down high scoring Rod Tirrell. Erza Damm also had a big game for Winthrop scoring 15pts. and Larry Foster came up big in the 2nd half grabbing a pile of rebounds and hitting some key buckets. The Ramblers shot right out to a 20-10 lead at the end of the first quarter, they led at the half 36-28. led after 3 periods 52-47 and won by a final of 72-62. The Blue Devils looking to 3-peat also saw their great win streak come to an end at 63 straight wins. What a great run for Calais but they struggled in this game. They tried in vein to comeback but every time Winthrop had an answer. Rod Tirrell and Sam Bell led Calais each scoring 16pts. A great season for both of these teams.

In Class D- Wow! Another exciting game. It looked like the Richmond Bobcats were going to be taking home the Gold, but Manny "The Man' Martinez said No Way! Give me that Gold Ball! Manny at 5'7" made a heroic last second shot as he floated a soft shot off the backboard over 6'10" Marc Zaharchuk with one second left to give his Central Aroostook Panthers the big win 53-52. The Bobcats led most of the way even though the game was tied at the half 30-30. And the Bobcats led by 5pts. after 3 periods 47-42. Zaharchuk was in foul trouble most of the game and the Panthers would not go away. They kept chipping away and the lead changed hands late in the game and when Zaharchuk scored to give the Bobcats the lead 52-51 it looked like Richmond had the win but "The Man" Martinez drove around two picks and dropped the floater off the glass over Zaharchuk to give the Panthers the win and they take home the Gold Ball. The Panthers completed the season with a perfect record of 22-0. Martinez led the Panthers with 20pts. Brewer had 12 and York had 10pts. For Richmond Zaharchuk ended up with 13pts. and Eric Murrin who canned 5 three pointers in the first quarter (tied at tournament record) led the Bobcats with 17pts. Congrats to both reams on an outstanding season.

Undefeated Teams:

Undefeated teams drop to two teams to finish out the season as Bangor and Calais drop off this week.


Central Aroostook-----22-0

As we head into The WIZ Final Top 10 Teams there is a big change at the top. Bangor has had that spot for 12 straight weeks but with Cheverus beating them in the State game the Rams drop to # 2 as the Stags take over the # 1 spot by winning the game that means the most. As I said earlier Cheverus and Bangor are the top two teams in the state without question. Maranacook with their perfect record of 22-0 get the 3rd spot.

WIZ Final Top 10 Teams 2007/2008 Season:

1.Cheverus--------19-3 The Stags did it! They take down Bangor! 49-41! They steal the Gold! What a game! Down 10 at the half! Stags pressure D! DiStasio's Hot Hand! Brownies game plan! Execution at its best! Stags get the Gold! And Stags are # 1!

2.Bangor-----------21-1 Great season for the Rams! 21-0 heading to the States! Lose a tough one to the Stags! 49-41! Finish up 21-1! Not what they wanted! But that's the way it goes sometimes! Runner-ups! And definitely # 2! Congrats on a great two years!

3.Maranacook-----22-0 Mission Accomplished! Black Bears did it! Beat Cape! 56-46! Looked like Cape might take it! But the Black Bears wouldn't fold! The Big 3! Light-It-Up! Ryan! Will! Mike! 3-Point Landers! They got what they wanted! It is Shiny! It is Pretty! And it is Gold! Congrats Black Bears!

4.Thornton---------18-3 A great season for the Golden Trojans! Made it to the Semi's! Lost to # 1! 40-31! Morse! Winnie! Martin! Great year! Great job Coach Davies! A very fun team to watch! Would have like more! But that's BBall! Golden Trojans get the # 4 spot!

5.Edward Little----16-5 A good season for the Eddies! 4 of the Losses come from Bangor! They make it to the Semi's! Lose too! Who else! Bangor! 61-54! Still a great season! The Eddies were tough! Would love one more shot at the Rams! But it won't happen! This baby is over! Congrats! Great season!

6.Winthrop--------21-1! Ramblers! Ramble home the Gold Ball! Sam "The Man' Leclerc! Drops in 28! Erza Damm throws in 15! Ramblers beat Calais! 72-62! Ramblers take home the Gold! They did it! They stopped the unstoppable! Congrats! Doesn't get any better than this! Great job! Great year! How does it feel! Baby!

7.Calais------------19-1! A great season! A great Run! A great streak! 63 Straight games! Two Gold Balls! Wanted a 3-Peat! But it all stops! They make it to the State Game! They lose to Winthrop! 72-62! Unbelievable streak! All good things come to an end at some point! Congrats! It was awesome Baby!

8.Cape Elizabeth---19-3 What a season for the Capers! Make it to States! First time in Twenty years! Gave the Big 3 a run for their money! But come up short! Lose to Maranacook! 56-46! State Runner-Ups! And # 8 WIZ Rankings! Congrats Coach Ray! And Congrats Capers!

9.Camden--------20-2 Windjammers also a great season! Made it to Semi's! Lose to # 3! 84-72! Not what they wanted! But still a great team! EM Runner-ups! And # 9 in the State! Congrats Coach Hart and the gang!

# 10----- A Tie:

10.Central Aroostook---22-0 Undefeated! And State Champs! "The Man" Manny Matinez! How does it feel Baby! The Floater! Kiss the Glass! Nothing but Net! And over the Big Guy! Wowzer! The Panthers steal it! The little man comes through! Panthers 54! Bobcats 53! It's Beautiful! It's Shinny! It's Gold! And it belongs to the Panthers! State Champions! Congratulation!

10.South Portland------15-5 A fantastic season for the Red Riots! Made it to the Semi's! Lose to # 1! 63-49! Great job Coach Conley! Team wanted more! Will have to wait till next year! Watch out for the Riots! Next year! Could be very interesting!

Teams Knocking at the Door:

No teams knocking! This Baby is all over!

Til' Next Week:
It is Shiny, It is Beautiful, and yes it is Gold! And 4 teams got one! How Sweet It Is! Congrats to all teams on a great season! It was a wild ride and a great finish!


Return to glory? Pentucket looks to clinch its second consecutive sectional title tomorrow

Sport:   Posted: March 6th, 2008

Return to glory? Pentucket looks to clinch its second consecutive sectional title tomorrow
By John Shimer
Staff writer

Pentucket has built one of the finest girls basketball programs in the state at any level over the past two seasons.

Under the watchful eye of second-year coach John McNamara, some of the more notable exploits include a 43-4 record, a Division 3 North crown a year ago, and a repeat trip to the Division 3 North title game at The Tsongas Arena tomorrow at 10:45 a.m.

But that's old news to Pentucket and its rabid following. With Swampscott now in the rear-view mirror after a semifinal loss to the Sachems, Pentucket is now focused on the upcoming challenge of playing Winthrop for the chance to repeat as North champs.

According to McNamara, who attended Winthrop's last two playoff games and two other regular-season games — the Vikings caught fire at the right time.

"This will be a difficult chore because they can put points on the board," McNamara said. "Their best player Courtney Finn (over 1,300 career points as a junior) has been lighting it up in the tournament, scoring 30 points (against Triton), 42 points (against Watertown), and 27 points (against Weston)," said McNamara. "They returned four players off last year's team that went 20-0 in the regular season and several girls off the team that went to the (TD Banknorth) Garden in 2006, so they have big-game experience."

In fact this same matchup nearly came to a fruition a year ago when Winthrop was the North's No. 1 seed. The Vikings were undefeated before tournament play before losing in the semifinals to Wilmington in overtime, 48-46. Pentucket narrowly defeated Wilmington in the next final, 41-39. And despite the fact that Winthrop lost to Swampscott twice in the regular season, McNamara is not taking anything for granted.

"We can't look past them," said McNamara of the team that has gone 40-5 in the past two seasons. "Typically they play a lot of zone and zone trapping, whereas Swampscott face-guarded us all over the court. But after the success the Big Blue had, Winthrop may try to do the same stuff."

In particular, Pentucket had major problems inbounding the ball due to the Swampscott pressure. Although McNamara said his team has been working to correct those issues, he added the Big Blue deserved a lot of the credit due to their athletic ability.

"We talked about the pressure and how it affected us. Some was execution and fundamental stuff, but not a lot of teams can play defense like Swampscott because they had a lot of speed, desire and quickness," McNamara explained. "In the past couple of days of practice, we have worked on executing better picks, coming to the ball harder, and making more assertive passes. We didn't reinvent things, but we were trying to focus on execution."

As always, McNamara said his Sachems have been honing what got them to the Garden last year and back to the Tsongas this year — their defense.

"We always are working on our defense to see what matchups best suit us. There's a lot of scouting, and we like to have a good handle on the other team for working on our defensive schemes," stated McNamara. "It's fun to scout and prepare for teams in the state tournament that you haven't played. But it's tough to prepare for Finn, who can shoot or go the hole with a scoop shot or a reverse layup."

Division 3 North Girls Final

No. 2 Pentucket vs. No. 5 Winthrop

at Tsongas Arena tomorrow, 10:45 a.m.

Pentucket Sachems (20-2)



G%Ashley Viselli%5-10%Soph.%10.8

G%Erin McNamara%5-5%Soph.%9.7

F%Andi Attenasio%5-10%Jr.%9.4

F%Holly Jakobsons%5-8%Soph.%3.9

C%Kirsten Daamen%6-3%Jr.%10.8

Key reserves

G%Emily Lane%5-4%Soph.%3.6

Coach: John McNamara (2nd year, 43-4)

Winthrop Vikings (19-4)



G%Nicole Giaquinto%5-7%Sr.%13.9

G%Courtney Finn%5-9%Jr.%22.0

F%Katerina Mallios%5-9%Jr.%11.9

F%Kristen Finn%5-9%Sr.%10.1

C%Johnna Fisher%6-0%Frosh.%3.0

Key reserves

G%Abby Belcher%5-5%Soph.%2.0

G%Laura Beringer%5-5%Soph.%1.0

Coach: Peter Grimes (6th year, 82-49)

Scary Ghosts thump St. Bís

Sport:   Posted: March 6th, 2008

Scary Ghosts thump St. B’s

Bernardians finish 17-5-1


BILLERICA— It looks the MIAA Ice Hockey Committee got it right.

Back on Feb.23, the committee debated whether Westford Academy or St. Bernard’s deserved the final spot in the Super 8 play-in round. In a 4-3 vote, it chose Westford.

The top-seeded Grey Ghosts, who lost that play-in game in a shootout to Waltham, certainly looked like the better team last night, blasting the fourth-seeded Bernardians, 9-2, in a Division 1 North semifinal at Chelmsford Forum.

It was the first meeting between the schools since the early 1990s, when both teams were part of conferences in Central Mass. The Grey Ghosts left in the early ’90s, while the Bernardians followed suit a few years ago.

“Westford transitioned very well, made some great passes, and finished off their chances,” St. Bernard’s coach Kevin Lizotte said. “Every time we turned the puck over, it seemed like they ended up with a two-on-one or a breakaway. They did what they needed to do.”

Westford coach Bob Carpenter agreed, noting the game was far closer than the score indicated.

“The puck seemed to bounce our way,” he said. “St. Bernard’s is a good team and we had to make plays to win. All our goals came off our ability to make good transition passes. They didn’t give us anything.”

Curtis Nikitas and John Brooks scored for St. Bernard’s. Pat Sullivan had three goals to pace the Grey Ghosts, while Mike Young, Derek DiRubbo, Jim Houghton, Craig Cardone, Steve Miccile and Ryan Mumford added goals.

“They were the better team,” Lizotte said. “They created better scoring chances and they finished them.”

The game was tied, 1-1, after the first period, but Westford took command in the second period, scoring four times — including all three by Sullivan — to take a commanding 5-2 lead.

The Bernardians (17-5-1) trailed, 4-2, late in the second period and created a great scoring opportunity, but Curtis Serafini (24 saves) robbed Matt Lemire with a point-blank stop. Seconds later, Sullivan capped his hat trick, scoring on a breakaway with 30 seconds left on a perfect feed from Dana Sanderson (two assists).

Westford (18-3-2) tacked on three goals in the opening 2:50 of the third period to ice the game.

“That was a tough goal,” Lizotte said of Sullivan’s third. “We were still in the game at 4-2, but when they went up 5-2, you could see the kids’ heads go down. You hope that doesn’t happen, but sometimes in a game like this it does.”

The Grey Ghosts used their speed to control the early portion of the game, taking a 1-0 lead on DiRubbo’s rebound goal at 6:12. The goal seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the Bernardians, who tied the game on Brooks’ goal just over two minutes later and dominated the final six minutes.

Westford took command early in the second period as Miccile and Sullivan scored 1:32 apart to give the Grey Ghosts a 3-1 lead.

Nikitas scored on a nice wrist shot to pull St. Bernard’s within 3-2 at 9:31, but Sullivan scored a power-play goal and his breakaway goal in the final 2:31 of the second to give his team a commanding lead.

“That second period could have gone much differently if we don’t finish our chances,” Carpenter said. “Curtis had to make a lot of stops (13 in the period) and we had to really work to score. Like I said, this game was much closer than the score makes it seem.”

Hopkins's hot hand in net keeps Waltham in the hunt

Sport:   Posted: March 6th, 2008

Hopkins's hot hand in net keeps Waltham in the hunt

By Matt Porter  |  March 6, 2008


Waltham goalie Steve Hopkins saved 38 of 40 shots in Saturday's 2-0 loss to Catholic Memorial. Waltham goalie Steve Hopkins saved 38 of 40 shots in Saturday's 2-0 loss to Catholic Memorial. (ROBERT E. KLEIN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

Though his team lost, Waltham High goalie Steve Hopkins made the remarkable look commonplace on Saturday.

A shot from the slot - snared with the glove. Redirected blasts from the point, one-timers from the circle, breakaways - Hopkins was there. When the final buzzer sounded to end the first-round Super 8 game, he had turned aside 38 of 40 shots from top-ranked juggernaut Catholic Memorial.

He could hardly be faulted for the two he let in. Despite the 2-0 score, it was an effort that left Hawks fans at the DCU Center in Worcester bowing in appreciation, and longtime watchers of the local hockey scene comparing Hopkins with standouts of the past.

Catholic Memorial coach Bill Hanson likened Hopkins to former Waltham goalie Bryan LaFort, who put on a similar show two decades ago. Just like Hopkins, LaFort was nearly perfect in a 2-0 loss to Hanson's Knights in the 1988 Division 1 tournament. That game, the coach said, prompted Boston University to ask for LaFort's services. That June, he was drafted by the New Jersey Devils.

Hopkins, a senior, should receive some extra looks from colleges after the season. But before the scouts come calling, Waltham coach John Maguire thinks he might need to call a chiropractor.

"His back's getting a little sore from carrying us," the coach said.

Though Hopkins (1.41 goals-against average, 10 shutouts) has put up zeroes all season, the players in front of him have been following suit.

The Hawks haven't scored a goal in more than 113 regulation minutes, and they'll need to fix the power outage as they face BC High in tomorrow night's second-round match at 6 p.m. at Tsongas Arena in Lowell.

The Hawks' last goal was a shorthanded tally by Kyle Thomas 15 days ago, in the second period of the Cape Cod Classic tournament against Austin Prep. They've been dry ever since. They won that game in a shootout, and beat Westford Academy in the play-in round, but Maguire is worried with the lack of firepower.

"We have to get it jump-started. You don't win too many games like this. It's not a recipe for success."

Luckily, Waltham has a missing ingredient back. Danny Rowland, who was second to Thomas in Greater Boston League scoring, with 18 goals and 18 assists, missed three games after he was slashed on the wrist, but returned against Catholic Memorial.

"He says he's 100 percent," Maguire said. "He certainly played that way the other night. We're going to need him to get our offense going."

BC High might need a similar kick-start. The Eagles have a premium keeper in Sam Marotta, but have struggled to score, at times.

"Hopefully that continues," Maguire said. "We as coaches wish we had more guys who can score. But we have Thomas, Rowland, [Adam] Dellaire, so hopefully we can pop a few and make it easier on Steve."

Quick to take flight
It's been a wild ride for the girls' team at the Rivers School in Weston. Less than four years ago, Rivers was a new program that was doing more teaching than anything. This season, the team was the favorite to win a title - again.

The top seed going into the Division 2 New England Prep School tournament, the Red Wings (16-3-2) lost in the quarterfinals on Saturday to a Middlesex team that had beat them, 2-0, during the regular season.

"I thought we played pretty well. We didn't capitalize on the opportunities we had, and our opponent did," said coach Kristin Harder, who has been with the team from its inception. "We had 36 shots and put one in, while [Middlesex] had 19 and put two in."

For a program only four years old, the Wings have grown faster than Jack's beanstalk. They became a varsity team in year two and made the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council tournament that spring. They were finalists last season.

No one likes to wait. So, don't fault them for wanting to get out of the basement so quickly.

"Yeah, I don't think any of us wanted to stay there," Harder said with a laugh.

"I think one of the keys to our success over the past three years - we weren't too successful the first year - is the willingness of the kids to work hard. It's not easy to go from bottom-dweller to competitive," Harder said.

Key players to watch for next year include Jillian Dempsey, who as a junior led the team with 31 points, and senior-to-be Becca Nichols, of Waltham, a relentless forechecker and a shut-down penalty killer.

"She's the one who you put out there when the game's on the line and you're up by one," said Harder. "Other teams have a very hard time breaking out when she's on the ice."

Western showdown
The century-plus old Needham-Wellesley football rivalry has been well chronicled. But if the two respective boys' hockey programs take care of business tomorrow night, the neighbors will square off in the Division 1 South final.

The Rockets didn't take a step back after their Super 8 play-in loss to Xaverian, and toughed it out against Framingham, 3-2, in the quarterfinals on Saturday. They'll face Marshfield (17-5-1) at 5:15 p.m. at the Gallo Arena in Bourne.

After that game, Wellesley will tangle with high-powered Falmouth (15-6-3), a big winner in its two tournament games thus far. The puck will drop at 7:30.

Short shifts
Upset special: Second-seeded Marlborough (14-3-4) losing, 3-1, to Auburn Monday night in the quarterfinals of the Division 3 Central tournament. A magical run continues for the Rockets, who went into the tournament with an 8-9-3 record. Just goes to show that - you knew this line was coming - anything can happen in playoff hockey. . . . Meanwhile, Hudson (15-3-3) continued its late-season surge, shutting out Shrewsbury 3-0 behind a stellar effort from junior goalie Derek Vasselin (23 saves) to earn a trip to last night's semis opposite Auburn.

For Clippers, thrill of victory linger

Sport:   Posted: March 6th, 2008

For Clippers, thrill of victory lingers

By Julian Benbow | March 6, 2008

Newburyport players had plenty to celebrate after the winning goal in Sunday's tournament victory over Gloucester. Newburyport players had plenty to celebrate after the winning goal in Sunday's tournament victory over Gloucester. (Dominic Chavez/Globe Staff)

Paul Yameen stayed on the ice at Rockett Arena a little longer than everybody else.

He stayed after junior forward Kevin Holmes karate-chopped the winning goal with 9.3 seconds left, the way a lumberjack chops down a tree.

He stayed after his Newburyport Clippers, 6-5 victors following a manic 45 minutes of hockey against all-in Division 2 North favorite Gloucester, stormed to the corner of the rink near their net into a vertical pig pile. (The more chaotic horizontal versions have fallen out of favor with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.)

He stayed after shaking hands with Gloucester head coach Don Lowe, a coach made from a similar mold, a former assistant still relatively new to a job that came with decades of tradition.

Yameen stayed longed enough to walk almost by himself into a sea of Clippers fans, some old players, some parents, some kids he'd had in one of his classes that week.

After taking it all in and thinking about whether this was one of the biggest games he's ever added to the win column, all Yameen could say was, "Absolutely."

For a second, it felt like Clippers hockey circa 1995, when Newburyport went to the state final at the Garden. Before Yameen took over as head coach five seasons ago, that feeling was missing. He wanted to restore it. Yameen has taken the Clippers to the state tournament every year but his first as head coach, reaching the first round in 2006, the quarterfinals last season, and the semis yesterday.

"There's a lot of tradition in this program," he said. "We did go through a lull there, and I don't know what the reason [was]. But when we came in we stressed a few things and this team's really bought into that."

By now, the Clippers' single season turnaround is well documented. They started the season 6-6-1, and had as much chemistry as Exxon and the Atlantic. Some players knew about the history of Clippers hockey, others had no idea. For the most part, they knew one another. If they didn't take a class together, they at least lifted weights in the same gym at some point.

But they didn't know that, say, Derek McCoy and Derek Freeman are the type to clean up the mess around the net. Or that Holmes and Kyle McElroy are the well-rounded guys with the nice shots. Or that Colin Cusak is one of the best playmakers on the team, but he's also pretty unselfish. It took them 13 games to figure that out.

"It's good to get past that point," Holmes said. "We had a difficult first half, but after that things started to click and passes were being made and the bounces were going our way."

From there, the Clippers won seven straight games to end the season, mostly because they figured out a way to get the most out of a ton of talent. Those five guys all have 30 points or more and have developed a winning chemistry. (Holmes poked in the winner - his third of the night essentially on a locker room dare going into the final period, and McElroy played the quarterfinal game with a pulled groin.)

"The thing about Newburyport is that we'll always have a quality program on the ice," McCoy said. "I think the problem with Newburyport at one time is that we may have lost a little pride, but I think that in the last four years that I've been here, pride has been at an all-time high."

St. Mary's girls stay cool
Give St. Mary's of Lynn girls' hockey coach Frank Pagliuca some credit for managing to understate things after watching one of his girls get pancaked to the ice, seeing another bullied in the corner, and having his goalie take a jab after the whistle while trying to protect a 7-1 lead last weekend in a Division 1 quarterfinal against Boston Latin.

"It's a physical game," he said.

Touche. And, yes, taking a 7-3 win and moving on to tonight's semifinal against Arlington eases the pain, but still, being the top seed in the bracket means it'll be like "Ali-Frazier on Ice" for the 23-0 Spartans from here on out.

They had to deal with the same rock 'em, sock 'em hockey in their tournament opener against Framingham (an 8-0 win). The catch is that in their situation, they're almost better off taking the punches, rather than being goaded into a penalty by a team trying to sneak back into the game.

"You have to be aware of that," Pagliuca said. "You get up by a lot of goals, you can't let teams back into games. The easiest way to get teams opportunities is to take penalties, which creates power plays. We want to play five on five. You don't want to put yourself in situations to allow teams to creep back in."

It doesn't mean the Spartans are pushovers (which is why Caitlin Gottwald or Abby Gauthier sometimes push back); it just means they have to be smart.

"I thought we did a good job of protecting our goalie after the whistle without overexerting ourselves and taking dumb penalties," Pagliuca said.

Not lost on the Spartans is the loss they suffered in last year's Division 1 North final against Arlington Catholic. That game came down to a shootout.

The three things Pagliuca wanted his players to take from that game: growth, consistency, and discipline.

"Obviously last year was a disappointing finish. We take it as a learning experience. It helped the kids grow and it gave us more of a consistent play, to be disciplined."

Two squads enjoy stellar runs
When Dan Parisi, Matt Pickens, Matt MacKay, and T.J. Gibbons took the ice for Wakefield as freshmen, the Warriors were a lowly two-win team. They went from cellar dweller to tournament team in two seasons, losing in the first round last year. Now, on their last leg of their high school careers, the foursome has led Wakefield to the Division 1 semifinals, stunning second-seeded Winchester, 2-1, in the process. Their final four matchup was last night against Austin Prep. . . . The Marblehead boys' hockey team is another surprise. After reaching the tournament with a losing record last year, the Magicians went 10-10 this season, stunned Northeastern Conference Small champion Swampscott in overtime, and then did the same to Boston Latin in a 4-3 shootout win to reach the semifinals in the Division 3 North bracket

For goalies, puck stops are all in a day's work

Sport:   Posted: March 6th, 2008

For goalies, puck stops are all in a day's work
Different styles, attitudes abound

By Sapna Pathak, Globe Correspondent  |  March 6, 2008

Her position on the ice prompts quick responses that are right to the point.

And Meghan Grant expects nothing less.

"Whenever I tell people I'm a goalie, they say I have to be crazy," said Grant, a junior on the girls' hockey team at Austin Prep in Reading.

"I mean, you kind of do have to be crazy to want to get shot at constantly by the best players in the state. You also have to not be sensitive to accept criticism and in your own world so you stay focused even if you let a goal in."

There is arguably no more important position on the ice than between the pipes. Stellar play propels teams to great heights while subpar performances can derail high hopes. Grant is just one of a number of area goalies who have put together sensational seasons.

A two-year starter for the Cougars, Grant got her first taste of the position when she stepped into goal in matches against her two older brothers, Peter and Matt. At age 8, she joined her first travel team. At 10, she was working with her first goalie coach, Mike Gergosian, who mentors the goalies on the Boston University men's team.

Gergosian helped develop Grant's upright stance while refining her movement, positioning, and skating skills.

"Each goalie has their own style and stance, so a coach really tries to improve on that," said Grant. "I would say my style is original. It looks like I've never been coached to a point where someone can tell. I'm a standup goalie because I think I do better in that position, I can see the ice easier."

A year ago, Grant backstopped Austin Prep to the Division 1 finals against Arlington Catholic. The 1-0 loss did nothing to rattle her confidence and everything to propel her to train even harder during the off-season. She spent four days a week working on leg strength in the weight room and cardiovascular endurance through running short, timed sprints.

Grant finished the regular season ranked second in the Catholic Central League with a 1.10 goals-against average. Before his team fell to Wakefield, 3-1, in Sunday's Division 1 quarterfinal, Cougars head coach Jim McGonagle simply called his keeper "the best goalie in girls' hockey in the state."

"What she did for us as a sophomore in last year's state championship was amazing," said McGonagle. "She's by far one of the best players on our team, and she really carried the defense with a strong sense of leadership."

When the 5-foot-6-inch Grant takes the ice, it's with a pregame conversation with brother Matt fresh in her mind. A former goalie at Melrose High, Matt gives his sister advice about keeping the right mindset before each game.

"He talks to me and tells me a relaxed goalie is a good goalie," said Grant. "Aside from crazy, I'd say a good goalie also has to be focused and in the zone."

Jeff Wyer is the two-year starter for the Reading High boys' team. After playing goalie during tournaments on his youth hockey team, Wyer came to revel in the responsibility that comes with being the final line of defense.

"I like the idea of being able to control a game with how you're playing that night," said Wyer. "Being the center of attention can be nice, but it can also be tough when you could possibly be the reason your team lost. It can be real hard to let things go because you're the last line on defense. Part of being a good goalie, though, is learning how to put it behind you."

On Saturday, Wyer preserved a 2-1 win over BC High, the only team to defeat the Rockets in the regular season. Tonight, the 21-1-0 Rockets take on Catholic Memorial in Super Eight action at Tsongas Arena.

Wyer uses a butterfly style derived from working with a private goalie coach, Brian Daccord, for the past eight years. Although Reading was outshot last Saturday, Wyer's aggressive approach kept his nerves intact.

"I like to go down to my knees on a shot, throw my hands up and take up as much space as I can. It's a lot easier if a shooter can see less of the net," said Wyer. "When I was younger, me and Brian worked off of athleticism, but as you get older, you work on movement and perfecting the technical positions."

Nina Riley's first time in net was unforgettable.

"I was 6 and we were playing at Stoneham Rink," said the Lexington High goalie. "I only let in one goal in my first game as a goalie. I loved it. I remember telling my dad on the way home that I didn't want to play hockey because I only wanted to be a goalie."

With a father who played goalie for Lexington High and an uncle who did the same before suiting up at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Riley is keeping her family's legacy alive. She just wrapped up her second season starting for Lexington.

The two-year starter recently ended her sophomore season with a 2-1 loss to Arlington in the Division 1 girls' hockey quarterfinals on Saturday. With her father, Tom, on the opposite side of the rink, Riley looked to him after the Spy Ponders scored on a deflection in the first period.

"My dad's usually there at all the games," said Riley. "When I let a goal score, I usually look at him and he'll signal with his hands, to settle down or calm down. I was more nervous last night because it was a big game, but once the puck drops, my heart beats faster and my adrenaline goes up. You have to be tough and can't get rattled in a game like that, even if you lose."

Parker helps Assumption to record-tying season

Sport: Basketball (girls)  Posted: March 6th, 2008

Parker helps Assumption to record-tying season

By John Cochin
Sports Editor


staff photo by EJ Hersom Sanford's Kayla Parker lays up a shot during the 2006 Maine Class A finals. Parker is now a sophomore at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. and is one of the top players on the team, helping them post a record-tyinig 21 wins thus far this season.

SANFORD—Former Sanford High School basketball standout Kayla Parker has continued to shine at the college level.

In the final week of the regular season, she scored 14 points to help Assumption post a 59-58 win over Bentley to improve the Greyhounds' record to 21-6 at the time.

The 21 wins tied the school record for wins by a women's basketball team.

They closed out the season with a 21-8 record and drew a first round bye in the Northeast-10 Conference playoffs taking place this week.

This season, Kayla, a sophomore, led the team in blocked shots with 28 and was third in scoring with 270 points. She was second in points-per-game with a 10.0 mark, and second in rebounds with a total of 130.

Kayla's best two games were a 76-61 win over Molloy College in which she scored 23 points, and a 64-46 win over Bentley earlier in the season in which she scored 22 points.

As a varsity player last season, she was named to the Northeast-10 Conference All-Freshman team when she averaged 10.5 points per game for the Greyhounds. That season she scored in double figures in 15 games, including 11 of the final 12 games of the season.

Kayla led Sanford High to the Class A state championship in 2006 and was named Miss Maine Basketball, the highest honor a Maine schoolgirl basketball player can achieve. That was just the final honor she received that year. Previous to that, she received the Lisa Blais Manning Award given to the most outstanding player in the SMAA, the Edward "Red" McCann award, given to the outstanding player in the Western Maine Class A tournament, and was named a first team SMAA All-Star.

She averaged 17 points that year and pulled down an average of 12 rebounds per game.

One Assumption teammate, Megan Urban, was a former opponent of Parkers. Urban played for Deering High when Parker was a sophomore at Sanford. Urban, a senior at Assumption, was fifth in scoring with 212 points and second to Parker in blocked shots with 26.

Lee seniors claim another state title

Sport: Basketball (girls)  Posted: March 6th, 2008

Lee seniors claim another state title

Lee Acadamy's players celebrate on the basketball court after winning against Madison Area Memorial High Schoolin the Class C Championship game at the Augusta Civic Center Wednesday evening. (Bangor Daily News/Gabor Degre)

By Jessica Bloch
Thursday, March 06, 2008 - Bangor Daily News

AUGUSTA, Maine - Once the team picture was finished, the younger members of the Lee Academy girls basketball team got up and walked away from their spot in the Augusta Civic Center.

That left just the six seniors, who then got down on the floor with the Class C state championship gold ball, leaned in and found spots to kiss the trophy as the flashbulbs continued to pop.

It took all six of them, but the Pandas’ senior class got it done Wednesday night in the Class C state title game against Madison. Thanks to a strong second half and stellar defense down the stretch, Lee Academy earned a 59-47 victory over the Bulldogs.

Lee’s Amanda Gifford led the way with 18 points, 12 rebounds and six steals as the senior group claimed their seventh state championship in four different sports in four years. Coach Ron Weatherbee’s seniors were making their 10th appearance in a state title game.

For the group, Wednesday’s win was the most memorable considering the program’s move from Class D to Class C this year. Lee won the Class D states last year.

"I think was the most meaningful one," Gifford said. "We’ve said before it was the one right after [former Lee star Shelby Pickering] graduated, our junior year [2007] but this one is. We moved up to Class C, people thought we couldn’t do this, and it just doesn’t get better than this."

Karin Bird added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the 18-3 Pandas. Dana Houghton scored 12 points — it was the best shooting performance of her career, she said — and had 10 boards and three steals. Brooke Harris scored four points and had three steals in a tough defensive effort.

Aarika Ritchie was limited because of foul trouble, but had a key basket late in the fourth quarter. Laci McLaughlin came off the bench for four points and six rebounds.

"They have a lot of weapons when you talk about Gifford and Bird," Madison coach Al Veneziano said. "They also got some points from Houghton tonight. ... You can only shut real good players down for a short period of time."

Madison’s Margo Russell led all scorers with 25 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. The 5-foot-10 center drained a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 21 seconds left in the game to cut Lee’s lead to 48-44, but the Bulldogs (20-1) managed just three points from there.

Momentum swung back and forth in the first half, but Madison went into the locker room with a 22-21 lead after scoring twice in the final 25 seconds of the second quarter. Lacey Ashbrook drove inside for the first basket of the third quarter, but the Pandas answered with a 12-2 run — Gifford had six points in that span and forced two turnovers — that gave them a 33-26 lead.

Lee had a 12-point edge at the end of the third.

"At halftime we went in and talked about our defensive intensity. The second half, we knew we needed to get some traps on and pressure the ball more," Gifford said. "Our defense was what picked up our offense."

The lead was 13 points in the fourth when Russell single-handedly tried to rally Madison. She scored off an offensive rebound and on the Bulldogs’ next possession, she put in a pass from Brittany Rich.

Russell then hit two free throws and drained a 3-pointer with 3:21 left. Gifford said the Pandas knew Russell could shoot, because she played with Russell, Ashbrook and Madison forward Briann Emery on an AAU team.

That stretch was the first time the Bulldogs were able to go inside to Russell, who was bottled up against Lee’s 2-3 zone with Houghton in the middle.

"They doubled inside and I thought they did what they had to do there," Veneziano said. "They got double-teams in there, attacked our inside players very much like they needed to."

Houghton, a 5-8 forward, was in the middle of the zone.

"We knew she was strong underneath so I knew I had to get around her," she said. "I can always count on help-side so as long as I got around her and we didn’t allow the entry pass, I always had someone helping out on defense."

Ritchie stepped in after Russell’s 3-pointer. After going 1-for-7 in the first three quarters, drove inside and dropped in a jumper in the lane with 2:53 left to push the lead back to six.

"We had that lull when they came back so I thought I’d get things going, get in the lane and maybe get fouled or throwing up a shot," Ritchie said. "I guess it kind of got things going. That, and Amanda’s awesome defense and Dana sticking those shots."

Later in the fourth, Houghton stole the ball from Russell after the center had grabbed an offensive rebound. Houghton found Gifford, who ran down the court for a layup. She made the basket and was fouled on the play, converted at the line, and the Pandas had a 55-44 lead with 1:33 left.

All that’s left for the Lee’s seniors is softball season.

Lee won Class D state basketball championships in 2005 and 2007, along with soccer states in 2005 and 2006. The Pandas also earned the 2006 state softball crown and won the 2004 cross country Class D state title, the final year that sport had Class D.

The only year they did not advance to the state final was the 2005-06 basketball season, when Lee lost to Greater Houlton Christian Academy in the EM Class D quarterfinals.

Ramblers end Devils' streak at 63

Sport: Basketball (boys)  Posted: March 6th, 2008

Ramblers end Devils' streak at 63

Winthrop seniors Larry Foster (left) and Sam Leclerc (center) go for a rebound against Calais senior Nathan O'Neill in the second half of the boys' Class C State Championship against Winthrop on Wednesday, March 5, 2008 at the Augusta Civic Center. The Blue Devils lost 72-62. (Bangor Daily News/Bridget Brown)

By Ernie Clark
Thursday, March 06, 2008 - Bangor Daily News

AUGUSTA, Maine - Sam Leclerc had been waiting for this opportunity for two years, since he had watched Calais carry the gold basketball off the Augusta Civic Center floor after the 2006 Class C state championship game.

Leclerc and his Winthrop Ramblers were on the losing end that night, one more victim in a 63-game Calais winning streak that had earned the Blue Devils back-to-back Class C boys basketball state titles in 2006 and 2007 and carried them back here for a third straight championship game.

Given a second chance two years later, the 6-foot-1 senior guard wasn’t about to be denied again as he returned to the site of that earlier frustration and led Winthrop to a streak-ending 72-62 victory over Calais in the 2008 state final Wednesday night.

"It means everything," said Leclerc. "Ever since the night we went home from that state game after we lost, I’ve been working hard for this one. We’ve all been working hard in the gym, and this has been our goal this year from Day 1."

Leclerc, a second-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine choice as a junior, scored 28 points to go with eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals as the Ramblers shook off a proud Calais team that trailed nearly all the way but wouldn’t be put away until the game’s final minutes.

Leclerc lured the Calais defense to him with his four 3-point goals, then dribbled around the Blue Devils for drives to the basket or for passes to open teammates.

"When he got loose in the open court we were at his mercy," said Calais coach Ed Leeman. "He’d blow by one, then two, and the shots they were getting were uncontested 10-footers. They made a lot of them, and a lot of it was due to his dribble penetration."

Ezra Damm added 15 points and Andrew Smithgall scored 10 for Winthrop, which claimed its first state championship since winning back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993.

The Ramblers (21-1) succeeded despite being without 6-foot-3 senior forward Tim Gingras, another veteran of the 2006 team who was suspended for the game due to an off-court incident.

But Winthrop coach Dennis Dacus replaced Gingras by committee, and Zach Farrington, Smithgall and Skylar Whaley combined for 22 points and some solid defense against the high-scoring Blue Devils.

Calais, meanwhile, struggled with its perimeter shooting, making just 1 of 12 3-point tries and shooting just 40 percent from the field (26 of 64) for the game overall. The Blue Devils also made just 5 of 13 free throws.

"We were impatient offensively, even early on we were impatient and didn’t move really well," said Leeman. "Winthrop did a good job of denying that first entry to the post, but we just did not move and screen away. We were uncharacteristically impatient, and it hurt us.

"I thought if we could have made Winthrop play defense a little longer it probably would have helped us with the outcome of the game, but I’m not going to take anything away from Winthrop tonight. They deserved it."

Winthrop never trailed after Farrington hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Leclerc scored from beyond the arc to give the Ramblers an 11-8 lead with 2:50 left in the opening quarter.

Leclerc’s shot ignited a 12-2 Winthrop run that also featured two free throws and an assist for a layup by Damm that helped the Ramblers take a 20-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.

"When I came out and hit a couple of shots, their whole defense starting coming after me," said Leclerc, who scored 17 first-half points. "They sent a couple of double-teams while I was just at the top of the key. I was drawing them and I was able to get it to my other guys, and they were finding the open guys and we were converting."

Calais guard Sam Bell broke loose for nine points in the second quarter as the Blue Devils stayed within 36-28 at the break, but Bell and junior forward Cal Shorey each picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter, leaving Calais in a considerable quandary.

But Calais (19-1) proved resilient, with Nathan O’Neill stepping up defensively and freshman Cam Shorey filling in for his brother while Eastern C tournament MVP Rod Tirrell began to find his offense.

By the time Bell and Cal Shorey returned to the lineup at the start of the fourth quarter, Calais was still within 52-47.

Shorey immediately scored on a follow-up shot to pull the Blue Devils within three, but Leclerc reassumed control of the game.

He pulled up for a fast-break jumper, then fed Damm and Whaley for short-range baskets that stretched Winthrop’s lead back to 58-49 before Tirrell answered with a layup for Calais.

Damm countered with a nice spin move through the lane, and Smithgall added two layups off feeds from David Ketchen and Leclerc to extend the margin to 64-51 with three minutes left.

The Blue Devils used defensive pressure to pull back within 66-57 as Cam Shorey converted a three-point play and Bell scored off a turnover and added 1 of 2 from the line, but that was as close as Calais got.

Bell and Tirrell each finished with 16 points for Calais, while Cal and Cam Shorey each scored nine and O’Neill added eight.

"I think they outplayed us in every aspect, to be honest with you," said Leeman. "We were hanging around, and I was kind of hoping this might be one of those where we could hang around long enough to have a chance, but they were focused. They weren’t going to let us back into it."

Sabis going to finals

Sport:   Posted: March 5th, 2008

Sabis going to finals
Wednesday, March 05, 2008

AMHERST - This one was thrice as nice.

The Sabis International Charter School boys basketball team defeated New Leadership for the third time this season, the latest being the sweetest.

The Bulldogs were too much last night in registering a 66-50 victory in a Western Mass. Division III semifinal at Curry Hicks Cage at the University of Massachusetts.

No. 1 Sabis improved to (21-1) in its quest to win a third straight sectional title.

"It was nice (to play New Leadership), this will keep them quiet for a little while," Sabis senior forward Quinton McMillian said.

No. 4 New Leadership finished at 17-6.

Sabis advances to Saturday's final against the winner of last night's tripleheader nightcap between Frontier and Pioneer Valley regionals. Tip-off for the final is 12:30 p.m. at The Cage.

"It's a (great) rivalry, the kids all play against each other all year and our kids respond to it," Sabis coach Jim Mack said. "And it's a struggle every time against New Leadership."

Sabis took command late in the first half, but could never quite shake free of its rival in a battle of charter schools from Springfield.

"We knew they were going to come out tough, because they hadn't beaten us in a while," Sabis sophomore Andre King said.

King led all scorers with 26 points, making good on 12 of 13 foul shots. McMillian added 22 points.

The Bulldogs never led by fewer than six points after the opening minute of the second half and the final margin was their largest of the game.

Sabis pushed the lead as high as 14, at 39-25 with 2:10 left in the third, and took a 41-32 edge in the fourth.

New Leadership stayed within striking distance, despite making five field goals during the middle two quarters.

The Wildcats cut the deficit to six, at 42-36 with 6:30 to play, and were within seven with the ball before Sabis converted twice off successive steals to make it 50-39 with 4:32 left.

New Leadership built its biggest lead at 18-12 near the midway point of the second quarter, before the Bulldogs closed the half with a 12-2 run.

"We have come out slow against them every time and I think we turned it over 13 times in the first half," Mack said.

McMillian scored four straight baskets for Sabis, while its defense held New Leadership to one field goal - an offensive rebound - on its first 11 possessions of the third.

"Quinton is the heart and soul of our team ... he does so much for us on defense, and to score like he can," Mack said.

Nick Holland added nine points for Sabis, while eight-graders Kamli Bey and Jesus Sanchez played big-time minutes.

"They are grown men, they play like it," McMillian said.

Madroy Mabry led New Leadership with 11 points, and Eric Brown added 10. The Wildcats made 27 trips to the foul line, but missed 17.

Tantasqua gains Central final

Sport:   Posted: March 5th, 2008

Tantasqua gains Central final
Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Two teams that played in the season opener squared off again last night with a spot in the Central Massachusetts Division II title game on the line.

Time had not changed the relationship between the two all that much.

Senior forward Brian Vayda scored 23 points, including the 1,000th of his career on a jumper in the second quarter, and Tantasqua Regional of Fiskdale smothered Uxbridge 59-46 in a boys basketball sectional semifinal at WPI's Harrington Auditorium. The lead reached 22 at 57-35 with 4:58 left, a better reflection of the game than the final score.    

The top-seeded Warriors (22-0) are the defending state champions, and they ran their win streak to 47 games. The fourth-seeded Spartans finished at 17-7.

"Defense is what we emphasize in practice and in games," Vayda said. "Uxbridge can shoot the ball well, and they have a talented big man (Andrew Groth). We knew we needed to concentrate on that the whole way."

Second-seeded St. Bernard's (19-3) also advanced to the final, pulling away from third-seeded Oakmont (17-5) for a 68-54 victory in last night's first semifinal. Saturday's championship game is a rematch of last year's sectional final, won by Tantasqua in overtime. Game time is 5:15 back at WPI.

"This is going to be one of our biggest games ever," Vayda said. "They are a very good team."

Tantasqua and St. Bernard's did not play in the regular season, but Tantasqua and Uxbridge did. The Warriors won that first game, 53-30, and their advantage in talent and size remained front and center last night. If it wasn't the press, it was the pressure on the ball, or it was the intimidation factor inside created by the likes of the 6-foot-5 Vayda, or it was simply the overall balance and confidence of a champion.

"Offensively, we have some things to work on," Tantasqua coach Jeff Child said. "Our defense has been carrying us. I think we were a little more of an offensive threat last year. We had a three-headed monster of sorts. This year, we rely more on Brian."

Life's not so bad, though, when you have to depend on a smooth, athletic player with the ability score from underneath or from the 3-point line - not to mention any spot in between. Child would like to see a few more touches for Vayda in the post, but opponents use double teams and junk defenses to force others to carry the load.

WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS DIVISION II Taconic 66, Hoosac 52: Jeric Tyler and Jake Rand led a balanced Taconic attack with 15 points each as the top-seeded Braves advanced to the Western Massachusetts Division II basketball final with a semifinal win at Curry Hicks Cage.

Trevelle Spratling added 10 for Taconic (18-4), which will meet the winner of tonight's South Hadley-Drury game for the Division II title. Saturday's championship game at the Cage will begin at 4.

Sophomore forward Robbie Burke had a big night for fifth-seeded Hoosac (13-9), scoring 25 points.

Ron Chimelis

division 1 north semifinal: No. 2 Lowell 68, No. 3 Everett 60

Sport: Basketball (boys)  Posted: March 5th, 2008

division 1 north semifinal: No. 2 Lowell 68, No. 3 Everett 60
LAWRENCE -- For a fleeting moment, Lowell was on the ropes. Everett had stormed back from a 15-point, first-half deficit to take its first lead of the second half when Jerome Cohen laid Isaac Johnson's inbounds feed off the glass with little more than four minutes to play.

Someone had to go home. Lowell was more than happy to be that team.

The Raiders never landed a real knockout punch, but instead answered with a couple of haymakers. On the next trip down the floor, sharpshooting Jaime Shannon splashed a 3-pointer from the wing and Nathan Simpson followed with a crowd-rousting two-handed jam as Lowell regained control of the tilt and emerged with a 68-60 triumph in a Division 1 North semifinal in Lawrence.

While Everett goes home with its season over, the second-seeded Raiders head home to meet Merrimack Valley Conference rival Central Catholic in the sectional final Saturday at Tsongas Arena in the shadow of Lowell High School.

"We were able to finish the game tonight," said Lowell coach Scott Boyle, whose squad overcame a woeful second half at the charity stripe (4 for 14) to prevail. "These seniors have been with me for three or four years now and they have that big-game experience."

Lowell led by as much as 10 in the first quarter and 15 before the half as Nick Schermerhorn's 3-pointer from the corner gave the Raiders a 36-21 advantage with 3:20 to go before the intermission.

Everett simply wouldn't go away. Riding an absolute stubbornness to roll over by Johnson, the Tide rallied time and time again. A jumper by Johnson pulled Everett within three (50-47) after three quarters and, with help from Cohen, the Tide pulled ahead with 4:30 to play.

It was short-lived, however. Shannon splashed a 3-pointer when the defense collapsed on a driving Jethro Collie as Lowell regained the lead. Everett couldn't muster the tying basket with a couple opportunities and Simpson forced a turnover near midcourt. He raced in ahead of Cohen and delivered a two-handed jam that re-ignited the Lowell faithful.

Sprinkle in a steal/layup combo for Shannon, as well as a downright filthy fadeaway by the senior guard a short time later, and Lowell had some breathing room. Senior Matt Welch inserted the dagger with just over a minute to with a triple of his own that put the Raiders on top, 66-57.

It also ignited a "We want Central!" chant from the Lowell faithful. It echoed the sentiments of a similar chant those Raider supporters started as Central was dispatching top-seeded Charlestown in overtime Tuesday in Reading.

The two MVC rivals split the season series with each team winning their home game.

"They're definitely our biggest rival," said Welch. "We match up so well. It should be a great game and there should be a good crowd there."

Shannon and Welch finished with 14 points apiece Wednesday to pace the Raiders. David Brown kicked in 10 more for Lowell, which also got steady bench contributions from Collie and Julian Scott (combined 13 points).

Everett leaned on Johnson to simply remain in the game late. Big man Jerome Cohen tossed in 18 points, but fouled out with 2:19 to go and the game slipping away. Johnson scored 15 of his team-high 22 points in the second half. Only four players scored in the second half for Everett, while no other player besides Cohen and Johnson contributed more than a bucket.

Winthrop dethrones Calais

Sport: Basketball (boys)  Posted: March 5th, 2008

Winthrop dethrones Calais
The Ramblers stop a 63-game winning streak and beat the two-time defending state champions in the Class C boys' final.

By GARY HAWKINS, Blethen Maine News Service
March 5, 2008

AUGUSTA -- Knowing it would take a nearly perfect game to end Calais' 63-game winning streak, the Winthrop' boys basketball team came up with one Wednesday night in the Class C state championship game.

Backed by the all-around play of senior point guard Sam Leclerc, the Ramblers led at every checkpoint in posting a 72-62 win for their first Gold Ball since 1993. They finished the season at 21-1, while Calais, the two-time defending state champion, finished 19-1.

Leclerc had 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. He scored at the end of each quarter - capping the first quarter with a 3-pointer at the buzzer - to help the Ramblers extend their lead.

"(Coach) told me I was going to have to take a lot of shots tonight," Leclerc said. "I came out and I was playing well, and thank God I hit some."

Leclerc had plenty of support. He needed it considering the absence of defensive stopper Tim Gingras, who didn't play after violating the school's conduct code.

"We weren't happy with it," Winthrop Coach Dennis Dacus said of Gingras. "But once we got over it, we said 'you know what, we've been a team of step-ups all year ....' I know the kids were going to step up and that's exactly what happened."

Dacus rotated juniors Andrew Smithgall and Skyler Whaley through Gingras' position, and they produced at both ends of the floor.

"My role was to go in and shut down (Rod) Tirrell," Smithgall said. "If I didn't do it, then Skyler came in and played good defense. We didn't allow him to shoot the 3."

Tirrell, who made five 3-pointers in the Eastern Maine championship game, finished with 16 points and didn't make a 3-pointer. Smithgall finished with 10 points, many of those off penetration from Leclerc, while Whaley added three points and three rebounds.

The Ramblers got off to a quick start as Zach Farrington and Leclerc each hit a pair of 3s to stake them to a 20-10 lead at the end of the first quarter. Leclerc hit a 3-pointer and converted a three-point play in the second quarter and also got Calais guard Sam Bell into foul trouble.

"We didn't have an answer for him tonight," Calais Coach Ed Leeman said. "He's a great player and he just was not going to be denied. I think that was his mind-set tonight."

Calais beat Winthrop in the state final two years ago, in part because Leclerc fouled out late in the game after the Ramblers had taken the lead. He finished with four fouls, as did Bell, but didn't come off the floor.

The Blue Devils made a run at the lead midway through the third quarter and tied the score at 38 on a basket by Nathan O'Neill and two from Tirrell.

But senior Ezra Damm, who finished with 15 points, converted a three-point play on a tough drive in traffic, and the Ramblers led from that point on.

Leclerc, held scoreless for most of the third quarter, closed with a 3-pointer from the right side and a foul-line jumper to give the Ramblers a 52-47 lead.

Smithgall scored a pair of layups in the fourth quarter off assists from David Ketchen and Leclerc, and Larry Foster also scored four points, finishing with seven for the game along with 12 rebounds.

"These guys are big and they're strong, but our quickness just hurt them," Foster said.

Poor free-throw shooting also hurt the Blue Devils, who went 5 of 13 from the line, while the Ramblers made 13 of 19.

"If the foul shooting was a little bit better, that game gets a little tighter," Leeman said. "Instead of being eight or 10 (points), it might have been four or six. Then who knows, maybe those uncontested shots they have, they think about them a little bit, but maybe not.

"They were ready to play. I think they outplayed us in every aspect."

Gary Hawkins - 621-5638

Madison falls at finish

Sport: Basketball (girls)  Posted: March 5th, 2008

Madison falls at finish

Lee Academy holds off a comeback bid by the Bulldogs to win the Class C state championship.

Blethen Maine News Service
March 5, 2008

Blethen Maine News Service
Blethen Maine News Service
Briann Emery, right, of Madison scrambles for a loose ball with Amanda Gifford of Lee Academy during the second half of Lee's 59-47 victory in the Class C girls' basketball state championship game Wednesday night at the Augusta Civic Center.

AUGUSTA -- The Madison girls started five seniors this season, and all of them were fully aware that Wednesday night´s Class C state final was their last game together.

Trailing Lee Academy by 13 points, the Bulldogs went on an all-or-nothing run, scoring nine straight points to get within four with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter.

But it was also the last game for Lee´s all-senior starting five, and as Madison´s Margo Russell prepared to take a free throw in the middle of that stretch, Lee guard Amanda Gifford glanced at a teammate and said, "We´re not gonna lose this."

Thanks to Gifford, Brooke Harris, Aarika Ritchie and Karin Bird, Lee didn´t. Those four Pandas combined for the next 11 points as Lee salted away a 59-47 victory at the Augusta Civic Center.

It's the second consecutive state title for Lee (19-3), which won the Class D Gold Ball last year. Madison, which has never won a boys' or girls' basketball state title, finished 20-2.

"I can´t even talk right now -- I´m so emotional," said Gifford, who finished with 18 points and created several steals. "Senior year, there´s nothing left. We wanted to leave it all on the floor."

The teams appeared evenly matched from the outset. Madison had an inside advantage with Russell, a 5-foot-10 senior, but Lee also had some firepower. The Pandas often used two players on Russell, but she still finished with 25 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots.

"Our hope was that we could play defense enough on the interior to force them to either shoot the 15-footer or the (3-pointer)," Lee Coach Ron Weatherbee said. "We haven´t played much zone this year, but we played some zone, even thinking, 'Hey, if we pack it in and have them shoot, it's 15 feet. See if they can make those.' "

In the first half, Madison made enough of those shots to take a 22-21 lead. Lacey Ashbrook (10 points) made two 3-pointers in the first quarter, and Briann Emery also made a 3 in the second quarter.

In the final minute of the first half, Emery made a brilliant play to save a rebound from going out of bounds and, in the same motion, hit a cutting Ashbrook for a layup. When Jessica Hayden followed with a short jumper, Madison led at the break.

Madison pushed that lead to three points when Ashbrook began the third quarter with a driving layup, but the Pandas won the game in the next five minutes.

Gifford, a lefty shooter who is heading to Bates College, hit three straight baskets to give Lee a 27-24 lead. Dana Houghton (12 points) began knocking down jumpers from the right corner, and the Pandas began showing their offensive talents.

In all, Lee had five players score baskets in the third quarter, combining to shoot 9 for 15. After scoring just 21 points in the first half, the Pandas put 24 on the board in the third quarter to go ahead 45-33.

"In that first half, we had some good looks. We just didn´t finish at times," Weatherbee said. "In the second half, Dana, for one, made a number of shots from 10, 12, 14 feet that she missed in the first half."

While Lee was on fire, Madison went cold. The Bulldogs committed four straight turnovers after Ashbrook´s basket, then followed that up by missing three consecutive 3-pointers as the lead slipped away. Russell, meanwhile, went nearly four minutes without taking a shot.

"(The 3-pointers) were the same shots we took earlier, and they did go in, so you´ve got to feel good about those," Madison Coach Al Veneziano said. "I always look to go inside, but that´s a decision they´re making on the run. They went earlier, we´ll accept that."

Lee led 48-35 with a little more than five minutes to play before Madison went on its 9-0 run. All nine points were scored by Russell, who had 19 of the Bulldogs´ 25 points after the break.

Russell´s points came on two inside baskets, a pair of free throws and a deep 3-pointer to pull Madison within 48-44 with 3 minutes, 20 seconds to play.

But Lee responded with a runner by Ritchie, two foul shots by Harris and a three-point play by Gifford off a steal by Houghton.

Russell, Emery, Ashbrook, Brittany Rich, Danielle Hebert, Jessica Hayden, Jennifer Hutchings and Mykayla Stoutamyer each played their final game for Madison, and the scene of the Bulldogs bench in uncontrollable tears belied Madison´s remarkable season.

"It´s very emotional for them, because they put a lot of time and effort into everything they do," Veneziano said. "They answered every challenge. They played very hard, every single game."

Matt DiFilippo -- 861-9243

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