---- — Tom Sipsey has stooped to subterfuge to get his Whittier Tech Wildcats to keep their eyes on the prize.
“He’s tried to tell us that we have to beat Shawsheen Tech and Greater Lowell to win the title, but we only have one league loss (with two games left) and Shawsheen is the closest team to us with four,” explained Wildcats senior Nathan Frongillo.
The coach and his Cats have to be doing something right. They will (or have) made it back-to-back CAC titles, and Sipsey points right at Frongillo as the main factor.
“The kid is just incredible,” said Sipsey. “Night in and night out, he’s our MVP. And that’s saying an awful lot. I mean, Justin Reyes is an incredible athlete, and look at the amazing four-year career Ryan Grant has had. And Andrew Wells is such a weapon shooting the basketball. But we just wouldn’t be here without Nathan, with everything he brings for us.”
Frongillo’s grit and toughness ooze winner, according to Sipsey and the numbers don’t lie.
In six varsity seasons (three in baseball and basketball), Frongillo is now 99-35 with three league championships and a North Sectional baseball crown.
As impressive as those numbers are, off the field and court he’s 8 for 8 in college acceptance from schools as divergent at St. Bonaventure, Lynchburg and New England College, while awaiting two more (Bridgewater and Westfield State) notices.
“That hasn’t hit me yet,” said Frongillo. “I still don’t wake up and see myself as a senior.”
Frongillo and the Cats probably haven’t recognized it, simply because there is work to do.
As good as Division 3 North might be, with unbeaten North Reading and powerhouse Danvers looking like the teams to beat, the Cats carry some dangerous firepower as well.
“We’re playing together very well right now,” said Frongillo. “We’re sharing the basketball. And I think on any given day, we can compete with anyone out there.”
First things first, though, the Cats have to appease their coach and close out the league.
Weather got in the way of that as Friday’s Senior Night festivities and home date with Shawsheen has been pushed back to this Friday.
“We’re excited to see what we can do,” said Frongillo.
not at rest
What hasn’t North Reading shown this year?
The Hornets, dominant atop the CAL at 17-0, have shown exceptional scoring depth all season long in simply blowing through an overmatched Cape Ann League. But this week, they added a new wrinkle. Within a seven-day stretch, they held a pair of teams in the 20s, 32-25 over Newburyport and 50-23 over Masco.
These are legit varsity squads. Tom L’Italien’s Clippers have already qualified at 10-6, while Masco is knocking on the door of the state tourney at 9-8.
Yet, the Hornets simply dismantled both attacks.
“Our defense has been fabulous,” said coach Joe Casey Jr. The kids have committed themselves. We have good length and that makes it tough on teams.”
Leading the way on the defensive end has been senior role player Carl Lipani, the two-time Eagle-Tribune Football All-Star and 2,000-yard rusher.
Obviously, the move from team football MVP to scrappy defensive stopper has done little to slow Lipani this winter.
“He’s a hard-nosed kid, honest to God, one of the best kids I’ve ever coached,” said Casey. “He does all the little things. He’s very humble. Carl has embraced his role. He doesn’t care about scoring. He just goes out and plays.”
Inside the Knights
Another great vignette for you to understand the mission Derek Collins is on over at North Andover.
Collins was lauded, especially here, for willing the Knights past Central Catholic a couple weeks ago. The kid was all heart and all guts.
He’s also a 100 percent team guy.
As the Knights stormed into their locker room, the senior shouted his thanks and admiration for the “White Squad” and how they were the key to the upset.
“It’s just our guys who come off the bench, guys like John Enright, Jeff Warden and Brett Daley,” said Collins. “All of those guys played so hard, and they were the real difference. I just wanted them to understand how important they really are.
“Even the guys who don’t get in much. They work so hard in practice. They make us all better.”
Collins and the Knights host their nemesis Andover tonight (6 p.m.) at Crozier in a makeup from Friday night.
The Warriors are the only team to defeat North Andover this year, once in the Christmas tourney and once in January — the only blemish on the Knights’ MVC record.
“I’m not sure why that is, hopefully we can find a way to take care of business in the rivalry game,” said Collins. “We’ve just broken down against them late in the games.”
Andover coach David Fazio was quick to point out the strange nature of the relationship between these league rivals, noting the Warriors have beaten the Knights twice, but Lowell has beaten Andover both times, and North Andover topped the Red Raiders twice and also beat Central.
“A lot of that has to do with matchups,” said Fazio, whose club needs to run the table, beating the Knights, Lawrence and Central to have a chance at a league title.
“Every time has had different matchups that work for them.”
MVC injury report
While the news as bright in North Andover with junior Brendan Miller (7.6 ppg), he has returned to practice this week and could see the floor vs. Andover, the Warriors haven’t been so lucky.
Point guard Reid Bryant has suffered a setback in his recovery from a knee injury and is now out for the year.
Meanwhile, sophomore big man Connor Merinder will have his wrist looked at Thursday as to whether he can make something of the season or whether the Warriors will need to go on without him.
“The kid has a bright future, so we have to consider what’s best for him,” said Fazio. “He wants to play. His parents want him to play. Thursday we will see.”
Both Merinder and Bryant have given all they could to the program through this winter, according to Fazio, despite each being sidelined.
“Those kids have showed up every day. They haven’t missed one. You see Connor handing out shooting shirts at our games. And Reid will be running the clock in practice,” said Fazio. “Every single day. They’re just such great kids. You have to feel bad for them.”
Stat of the year
There was no celebration or campus holiday when Brooks School welcomed David Berroa back to the lineup this week.
Maybe there should have been.
Brooks coach John McVeigh brings us this stat when it concerns Berroa.
In the games he has started and finished, Brooks is 36-1 against Class A and B teams — the only loss coming to Erik Murphy, Caleb Tarzewski and national power St. Mark’s.
Brooks is 11-13 when Berroa has been out of the lineup, and the two games in which he got hurt — breaking his leg last year and fracturing it again this year — Brooks held a double-digit leader and ultimately lost it.
“He’s been pretty important to us,” understated McVeigh. “It’s been pretty remarkable.”
This year’s injury was a hairline fracture to the same leg he hurt last season. But unlike the catastrophic break a year ago, Berroa overcame this one pretty quickly, just in time for Brooks to get set for the playoffs.
with the streakers
Sometimes we forget they are kids. Other times, we forget they are humans and how fragile they are.
Such is life at Pelham High, where Matt Regan has needed to be part-time coach and part-time counselor for his Pythons, who after rolling off six straight wins have lost four in a row.
“A student at school passed away, who lot of our kids were pretty close friends with. We really have struggled with it,” said Regan. “To be honest, I think we’re close. The energy is coming back. We are communicating again, but we still have to come together.”
At 6-6 in Division 2, Pelham has time, but the pack is extremely tight behind unbeaten, clear-cut favorite Pembroke.
Another group right there is Windham High. But the Jags are on a run that is the polar opposite of Pelham’s.
Winners of four straight, the Jags have bumped up to 6-5.
“We are starting to figure out what we are capable of defensively,” said coach Todd Steffanides, whose club has allowed just 41.3 points a night in the four-bagger.
“It’s a real team effort. David Carbonello keeps improving every night. Andrew Lowman pretty much leads us in scoring. But it’s a different guy every night – Joe Frake, Alex Whitehead with a couple big steals, Joe Lorenz with a couple big threes the other night. It’s been great.”
Salem High, at 4-8 in state, is shaping up as the team nobody wants to see come Division 1 playoff time in New Hampshire.
The Blue Devils have played all but a half-dozen games without sharpshooter Andrew Ruffen, who is the only Devils scorer in double figures at 11.3 points a game.
Salem pushed unbeaten Manchester Central to the brink on Thursday night, leading by 18 in the third quarter, before the Little Green found a way back in it.
“We’re coming together,” said Salem coach Rob McLaughlin. (Thursday night) was a huge step. I think it shoes we can play with anyone in the state. Andrew opens up so much for everyone else. I think it’s going to help us make a little run here.”
Interestingly enough, as the team looks to rise up the ladder, McLaughlin will be counting more and more on a couple of freshmen in Tim Dodier and Matt Vartanian to help carry the load.
1. North Andover (13-2) 2. Central (14-3) 3. Andover (13-4) 4. North Reading (17-0) 5. Brooks (12-4) Honorable mention: Whittier (14-2)