NORTH ANDOVER — There may be more accomplished players but perhaps none will be more important than big men Aaron Hall of Central and Connor Merinder of Andover.
Those two pivot men will play pivotal roles when the two clubs square off Saturday night (8 p.m. at Merrimack College) for the Licare Division title of the Commonwealth Christmas Classic.
Hall, a 6-6 senior, was out against Haverhill with a hamstring injury.
Raiders coach Rick Nault said, “It’s very clear Aaron Hall is the X-factor for us. When he’s not in the lineup or playing well, we’re not the same team. If I were to pick the one kid who defines how our season will go, it’s Aaron Hall.”
Andover coach Dave Fazio was asked about Merinder, a 6-5 junior, being often overlooked.
“Connor is not overlooked in our program,” stressed Fazio. “He is the mainstay and backbone of our entire team. He’s a selfless warrior and only cares about wins. He’s the heart and soul and defensive catalyst of our team.”
The stat-stuffing Merinder is averaging 9.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals for the 3-0 Warriors, who are ranked ninth in the ESPNBoston statewide poll, six spots behind the Raiders.
COMING OUT PARTY
Fairfield recruit Tyler Nelson is a state player of the year candidate and 6-5 Nick Cambio is a consensus top 15 player in the state, so Hall isn’t asked to dominate.
“He brings so much to the table,” said Nault. “He has an ability to score and rebound at a high level.”
He showed that last winter. After averaging just 2.7 points off the bench in the regular season, Hall was forced into a starting role in the state tourney as Cambio and Christmas Tourney MVP Doug Gemmell were out with injuries.
He proved to be a big-game player, averaging 10.0 points including 21 points in the North final as the Raiders advanced to the Division 1 state semis at the TD Garden.