By Hector Longo, Chris Smith, Jeff Hamrick, Chuck Frye
With all the athletic gazelles at his disposal, some might of shaken their heads at Central coach Rick Nault's decision to put big man Jimmy Zenevitch on the Dual County League co-MVP, Acton-Boxboro swingman Wes Schroll in the Raider boys' Division 1 North semifinal win last night.
Schroll plays facing the basket. He attacks the rim from the perimeter. How was Zenevitch, primarily a post player, going to handle him?
"We felt it was the best matchup for him, because he's so strong going to the basket," said Nault. "Jimmy worked his tail off and did a great job."
Zenevitch held Schroll to just 10 points, with only one field goal in the first half when it was still a game.
"He's a bigger guard, coach thought I could handle him. I'm not sure if people know it, but I love playing out there, denying the ball and keeping on the pressure," said the junior Zenevitch, who yesterday received the first of what should be a bucket of scholarship offers coming his way when UMass Lowell offered early.
"I can handle most people on the perimeter. You talk, get through picks, you have to work."
Zenevitch hounded Schroll, who averages 16.1 points a game, from the opening tap. It was as tough an assignment as he's ever drawn (outside of guarding Carson Desrosiers in practice, of course).
"I was fighting through three or four picks every position," explained the 6-foot-7 Zenevitch.
Zenevitch was merely a cog in a dynamite defensive performance by the Raiders.
"We took them out of what they wanted to do. I thought we played perfect defensively," said Nault, lauding the work outside by guys like Luis Puello, Jaycob Morales, Evan Sheehan, Andrew Ouellette and others.
"As much as (Desrosiers) changes things in the paint, they change things on the perimeter. Kids like Luis, Jaycob, those guys, they put so much effort into making things difficult for opponents. We don't have a weakness defensively."
A stalemate, except for the arm-wrestling
The Central and A-B student sections went at it from the opening tip and cheered to a memorable stalemate.
Each team brought a "Green Man" to the fray, and the Central version took the body surfing portion of the fan-test with ease.
However, when Central's Green Man pulled out of the halftime arm wrestling, he lost serious style points.
In the end, it made for a tremendously spirited night, one that both coaches appreciated.
"The distance we had to travel for an 8 o'clock game, I was actually, really stunned at how many kids came out," said A-B coach Rick Kilpatrick, with an inadvertent, not-so-subtle shot tossed toward the folks who did the scheduling on this one.
"They were awesome, both sides were. It was a lot of fun, two good, classy programs. Unfortunately the game wasn't really close but I thought it was a lot of fun."
You won't notice Chris Conlin's name, unless you pay close attention to the boxscore, but he factored in this one. The Central senior hit one shot, a three-pointer late in the second quarter. It was a big one.
Conlin had come off the bench and cost his team two points with a turnover that shaved Central's lead to 30-17 approaching the half.
Instead of getting down on himself, the sharpshooter nailed a tough, contested, wing 3-pointer before the buzzer to bump the margin back up. The three points were a huge momentum boost, pushing the lead to a much more demoralizing 16 points into the break.
CD on the dish
Of Carson Desrosiers' five assists last night, you won't find a prettier one than the interior no-look feed that found Zenevitch perfectly through three different A-B defenders. Desrosiers also worked the back door a couple times to versatile junior Evan Sheehan.
"For a big man, he's the best passer around," said Sheehan. "He finds you anywhere. You move, and he'll get you the ball. He just sees you out of the corner of his eye. Jimmy hardly knew it was coming, because it was such a great pass."
Heard at the scorer's table
Best line of the night comes from official Jim Slattery, who walked over to the guy manning the 30-second clock and said, "This is beautiful. You should be like this every time I do a game here."
Of course, the 30-second timer was fiery Lawrence coach Paul Neal, who has been known to let the officials hear his opinions on certain calls from time to time. All in good fun.
Garden tickets now on sale
A limited number of tickets for Friday's games at the TD Garden are now on sale. Central Catholic Athletic Director Pete Paladino was given 1,750 advance tickets to sell for $8, while Andover's Chris Bergeron was granted 750.
Paladino will be selling his allotment at Central today, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and Friday, if any remain, from 7:30 a.m.-12 noon, if any tickets remain unsold.
At the Garden on gameday, all tickets will be $13.
As of late last night, no official times had been slated for the Garden games which will begin at 2:30 p.m.
Obviously, the Central contingent is hoping for back-to-back games. The perfect scenario for the Raiders would be Central-Andover girls at 4:15 p.m. with the Central-Prep boys at 6 p.m.
Of course, the folks in Mansfield might look at it in a different light, since their girls will face Durfee and their boys will take on Madison Park.
She knew her role ...
When Andover freshman Devon Caveney entered last night's Division 1 North semifinal game against Westford, replacing foul-plagued star Nicole Boudreau after just three and a half minutes, she knew exactly what was expected of her.
"I felt more pressure to hit my 3s and help the offense," said Caveney. "I'm just really glad I got to play and help the team."
And she did just that, helping to keep the Warriors in the game with 11 of her 13 points in the first half, steadying the ship until Boudreau returned in the second half.
This did not surprise Boudreau.
"We know that Devon is capable and she definitely stepped up today."
Delivering from the line ...
In Andover's two-point win over Westford, free throw shooting proved pivotal. The Warriors converted a nifty 16 of 21 while Westford was just 11 of 20.
"We're confident in our free throw shooting," said sophomore Boudreau, who calmly sank two from the line with 9.8 seconds left to provide the final points of the contest.
Classy coach ...
Despite the tough loss, Westford coach Russ Coward remained positive after the game and personified good sportsmanship.
"It was a great game and we just came up a little short," said Coward. "They're a great shooting team and it's tough to keep them down. We had our chances, but they deserved it."
Both Coward and Andover coach Jim Tildsley, in what was a rare occurence, complemented the three-person officiating crew for calling an "awesome" game, the same adjective being used by each head man.
Central junior Gabie Polce sang the National Anthem before yesterday's Division 1 North semifinal. Every time Polce has belted out the National Anthem before a varsity game, Central has won. With that in mind, Polce will be signing again before the Division 1 North final on Friday.
She has sang the anthem at every home game but one for the past two years and before every state tournament game last year. That lone home game she did not sing it, the Raiders lost to Andover, she said. That was last year when Polce did not sing or play because she had mononucleosis.
"My coach (Sue Downer) is really superstitious about it," Polce said. "That's her thing. She loves to hear it."
And Polce loves to sing it.
"It's actually my way of relaxing before the game because I do get really stressed out before the game and nervous," she said.
And Polce did play well in the game, too. She scored eight of her team's 16 second-quarter points, including scoring a three-point play when Katie Zenevitch was on the bench with two fouls.
"We're going to win games by getting Katie and Melissa (Miller) the ball," Polce said. "Our strength is our big girls. And when Katie and Melissa are in foul trouble, or any other big girl, it's my time to take over."
Cheese or Pepperoni?
Peabody coach Jane Heil didn't sound too pleased about her team playing Central Catholic in Central Catholic's home town of Lawrence. The game was at Lawrence High School.
In an interview with the Eagle-Tribune the night before the game, Heil said: "This is my 29th year of coaching at Peabody High School. We are governed by the MIAA, respect the MIAA and abide totally by its rules and decisions. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if they asked us to pick up Central on the way and provide them with pizza."
The Central Catholic student section — also known as the Crazies — had a fun time with Heil during the girls game. The Crazies chanted "Let's go pizza" "Let's go cheese" and "Pepperoni."
The Central students also chanted "This is our house" when the Acton-Boxborough walked into the gym during the girls game.
"The Central spirit has been awesome," senior Zenevitch said. "They've brought it these last couple of months and they've been crazy with the cheers."
Zenevitch added that playing at Lawrence High School felt like a home game.
"I love playing at Lawrence," Zenevitch said. "I like it here because it's kind of like our home court."
PMA looking ahead
With 10 underclassmen on its roster, Presentation of Mary has promising future under Joe DeBlois, who took over the Panthers' helm two weeks before the season start after Bob Mellilo abruptly quit to take over the Haverhill program.
It will be difficult to replace seniors Kate St. Peter and Meg McDonough, who supplied crucial offense during the Division 4 North tournament, but returning starters Danielle Silva, and sophomores Rosaly Pagan and Ashley Ventolieri supply a solid base.
"This experience I think is huge," said DeBlois. "Next year we have a couple girls to replace as seniors, and hopefully we can fill their shoes. And to get experience like this, I mean, you just can't duplicate state tournament games. So for these young girls to get this experience, it should just carry over into next year."
In addition to playing three tournament games, PMA gained valuable court time preparing for those encounters.
"We've extended the season by three weeks," DeBlois said. "And we've had intense practices. We're not showing up and doing the normal practices. They were very game-specific practices. We know what we need to do. There were a lot of X's and O's. The girls really get to learn basketball IQ vs. basketball skills."
Weathering a tough schedule
The recent wild weather threw a monkey wrench into tourney preparations for the Londonderry girls basketball team and continues to affect the squad.
Going into last night Class L tourney game against Merrimack, the Lancers couldn't practice the prior Saturday, initially because the gym was scheduled to host the state wrestling championships. When the gym was set up as a shelter for local residents that lost their power, both the wrestlers and the hoopsters lost their home.
"Luckily on Sunday, Rivier College gave us a couple of hours of court time," Londonderry head coach John Fagula said, "but even then we didn't know who we were playing."
Both schools cancelled classes Monday, which postponed the game due to mutual policy that cancels all activities under such circumstances.
And after defeating the Tomahawks and advancing to the quarterfinals, the Lancers will get a whole 1 1/4 hours to prepare for No. 6 Nashua North.
"The boys have a makeup game (today) so we'll just have a little time to get ready," Fagula said. "It helps that we play most everyone so we have tapes to look at. Plus we just played North two weeks ago which also helps."
Thawing out the offense
The tell-tale signs of a cold-shooting team were on display in the first half for Londonderry.
Fighting through an 8 1/2-minute stretch of scoreless play that saw an 11-point lead become an eight-point deficit, the Lancers withered against Merrimack's packed-in 2-3 zone. Passing around the perimeter and passing up shots, Londonderry didn't try to work the ball inside, settling for long-range attempts with nobody positioned to rebound.
"It's habit to stay on the perimeter and that won't beat a decent zone," Fagula said.
Fagula knew two things would have to turn around for the Lancers to prevail and both concepts worked.
First, the Lancers increased its energy on the defensive end. That at least got the team moving and also took Merrimack out of its flow. Easy scoring opportunities increased as the Tomahawks' offense decreased.
More importantly, Fagula insisted the girls take their shots regardless of the outcome.
"I want good shooters," he explained. "If they're tentative, they won't be consistent. They're got to catch and shoot. It's almost like they have bad short term memory and forgot about the misses. But it's hard to get that concept into their heads."
It worked especially well for guard Callie King, who powered through a tepid 4 for 11 first-half shooting and drained 4 of 5 in the second 16 minutes, all from behind the 3-point arc.
"They've got to shoot with people around them," Fagula concluded. "Shooting with no one around is one thing, but they've sometimes been afraid to take shots over people."